Basics of Renewable Energy
Produced from sources such as the sun, wind, and water, renewable energy is becoming of greater importance to humanity as we strive to reduce our overall carbon footprint and greenhouse emissions. Now more than ever before, it is imperative to tap into these renewable sources. Not only to reduce our impact on the planet but also to ensure we do not fully deplete our non-renewable fossil fuels such as coal and oil.
Advantages of Renewable Energy
Aside from the environmental impacts, renewable energy provides numerous economic, health, and national security advantages, such as:
- Security, reliability, and resilience of the nation’s power grid
- Increased employment throughout the power industry
- Reduced carbon emissions and air pollution
- Increased energy independence
- Greater clean energy access for those not directly connected to the grid
- Increased affordability of energy for consumers
Types of Renewable Energy
Renewable energy generates roughly 20% of the United States electric consumption, which is expected to grow exponentially in the upcoming years. The leading sources of clean energy within the United States are:
Wind turbines, previously referred to as windmills, “collect and convert the kinetic energy that wind produces into electricity to help power the grid.”1 As a byproduct of the sun, wind is considered to be the top sustainable resource, something the United States has taken note of and increases it’s utilization by 30% year over year. Because of this growth, the power industry has implemented over 100,000 jobs throughout 41 states.
One of the oldest and largest resources of renewable energy is hydropower. Utilizing the movement of water to harness energy, hydropower accounts for 31.5% of renewable energy generation or 6.3% of the United States’ total electric output. One of the greatest examples of hydropower is the Hoover Dam but hydropower plants exist in the form of “dam-less”, water irrigation ditches located within local municipalities.
Solar energy is the process of harnessing sunlight into photovoltaic panels or mirrors designed to concentrate solar radiation. There are two main types of solar energy technologies- photovoltaics (PV) and concentrating solar-thermal power (CSP). Most are familiar with PV as it utilizes solar panels to absorb sunlight into the PV panel cells which then creates an electrical charge, causing electricity to flow. CSP uses a system of mirrors to focus sunlight onto receivers to convert the solar energy into heat, producing electricity that can be stored for future purposes or to generate large power plants.
Biomass, or bioenergy, is renewable energy derived from previously living organic material. These once living masses are converted into fuel, electricity, heat, and products. According to Energy.gov, “There are three ways to harvest the energy stored in biomass to produce biopower: burning, bacterial decay, and conversion to a gas or liquid fuel. Biopower can offset the need for carbon fuels burned in power plants, thus lowering the carbon intensity of electricity generation. Unlike some forms of intermittent renewable energy, biopower can increase the flexibility of electricity generation and enhance the reliability of the electric grid.”
Geothermal reservoirs are located throughout the United States, with the highest concentration amongst the western states. These reservoirs of hot water exist at varying temperatures and depths below the Earth’s surface. Wells of a mile or more, can be drilled to tap into the underground steam and boiling waters then driven back to the surface for electrical generation, direct use, and heating and cooling.
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1 Office of Energy Efficiency & Renewable Energy – Wind Energy Basics | Department of Energy