Renewable energy is not just a buzzword. Forms of renewable energy are everywhere today. While advancements in renewable energy sources like solar power define our future, harnessing the potential of naturally occurring energy sources dates back to ancient humans.
Hydroelectricity, solar power, and turbines are all modern forms of renewable energy with roots dating back to ancient Egypt and Rome.
Renewable energy is defined as energy produced from naturally occurring sources that are replenished organically and without human interference. Renewable energy may also be referred to as clean energy.
Nonrenewable energy, produced from oil and coal, is derived from a finite resource that faces an increasingly limited availability and supply. Sources of fossil fuels are expected to face depletion within 70 years, and a severe shortage in future decades.
To understand renewable energy, it's helpful to know how it relates to nonrenewable energy sources and its uses throughout history into the modern age.
Read on to learn more about the development of these naturally occurring sources of power and how they will shape our future energy grids.
Renewable Energy Definition
Solar energy is a popular and rapidly growing form of renewable energy in use by commercial businesses and residential homeowners today. The advantages of solar energy are numerous. Solar energy is a versatile power source that can heat water directly and generate electricity.
Solar energy is a relatively cost-effective option when compared to forms of renewable energy like hydroelectricity that require maintenance. Solar energy is well-researched and has been implemented in various forms since the 1970s and 80s.
Today, there are multiple implications for solar energy with numerous implementations including:
These systems vary in their uses for, and distribution of solar power, but work to keep homes and businesses comfortable year round. Solar energy provides a noise free source of power and is available in most climates where sunlight is an available resource. Here is an advantage over wind and hydroelectricity.
Disadvantages of Solar Energy
Sources of solar energy are less abundant in environments that are lacking natural sunlight. While solar energy may be the most effective power resource in desert climates, it may demonstrate less practicality in regions with limited daylight.
To combat this, advances in technology have vastly improved the ability of solar panels to maintain the most efficient use of direct light from the sun.
That means that today's solar panels can not only store sunlight but charge solar batteries, by utilizing excess light that is absorbed.
Hydroelectricity is one of the most common forms of renewable energy available today. The use of hydropower dates back about 100 years, to the construction of the first dams built to harness energy from water sources.
While harnessing energy from rivers and streams, a dam also serves to contain and guide a naturally occurring water supply and is often used to prevent flooding and natural disasters. Requiring no fuel, hydroelectricity is a cost-effective source of renewable energy over the long term.
Power produced by hydroelectric sources is among the cleanest forms of renewable energy. Hydroelectricity is a popular choice as a power supply to electrical grids that operate large organizations, rather than as an energy source for residential purposes.
Disadvantages of Hydroelectricity
Although hydroelectricity is a cost-effective option from a long-term perspective, the initial cost of building a dam is a prohibitive factor in the implementation of hydroelectricity for many communities.
Dams must be well maintained, carefully constructed and instituted in areas with resources dedicated to their operation. The surrounding environment and landscape is another factor to take into account when considering the construction of a dam as a potential source of hydroelectricity.
Often, dams irreversibly alter the direction that rivers and streams flow. This shift can affect species living in rivers and streams, potentially harming fish and wildlife. In some cases, dams fail, collapsing and giving way to the surrounding soil.
Such a collapse results in an immediate impact to the ecosystem that may yield devastating consequences, including significant flooding capable of destroying homes and power grids.
Turbine power, or power from wind, is a renewable energy resource that dates back to ancient humans. Turbine power was used to harness energy from the wind to guide ships during the middle ages. In this way, wind power has served as a renewable source that aides in human travel and exploration.
Today, turbine power has been modernized to harness and maximize wind energy into forms of electricity that we use every day. Like solar power, energy from wind is an infinitely renewable resource because wind extends to every corner of the earth.
Disadvantages of Wind Energy
In the contemporary age, turbines that produce energy from wind are often viewed as outdated and unattractive outliers and eyesores.
Despite the numerous advantages associated with turbine power, it is not a preferred source of renewable energy in many communities and is often not a viable resource for densely populated cities.
The energy produced by turbines depends directly on the source of wind available as well as on daily weather. As winds vary from strong gusts to mild breezes, turbine energy sources dwindle.
Geothermal energy is another renewable energy source dating back to ancient times, with its first use in the United States occurring in the city of Hot Springs, Arkansas. The town, founded by settlers in 1807, is known for the first recorded commercial use of geothermal energy.
In the United States, sources of geothermal energy are most commonly utilized in regions where high tectonic and volcanic activity occur including Idaho, Nevada, and Hawaii. Geothermal energy sources are also successfully used in Alaska.
Geothermal energy stands out as one of the cheapest and potentially cleanest forms of renewable energy in existence. Sources of power derived directly from the earth's heat do not produce greenhouse gas emissions or a carbon footprint any higher than what is released naturally.
In theory, it is possible for every home in the United States to utilize power from a geothermal energy source. As advancements in technology occur, the development of geothermal energy sources continue to grow, and the state of geothermal energy as a viable resource rapidly progresses.
Disadvantages of Geothermal Energy
As an energy source, geothermal systems are most effective when implemented in regions with a high rate of tectonic or volcanic activity.
Although geothermal energy sources could be utilized to power any home in the United States, the efficiency at which the power supplied from these sources might operate is uncertain and varies based on region.
Although the long-term implementation of geothermal energy sources is demonstrated as a cost-effective option, the initial installation and maintenance of these systems may be cost-prohibitive for residential homeowners.
Geothermal energy systems require elaborate planning and the construction of safe, efficient complexes to harness geothermal power from the earth
Before the discovery of fossil fuels, the energy produced from various forms of biomass functioned as our primary source of power. Biomass can be defined as energy harnessed from organic waste materials produced by naturally occurring sources, including chopped wood and other plant substances.
Biomass stands out as an energy source that is not derivative from another source of power—biomass is left over from already existing resources. In this way, biomass is a unique source of energy that can adapt to any environment.
Other sources of energy from biomass include manure and animal dung (useful in areas with few trees or no forestation). Biomass offers enormous flexibility in the source it's produced from and is suited to various crops and environments. It's also an energy source that is easily localized and doesn't require an international trade.
Disadvantages of Biomass
Although biomass is a cleaner alternative to ethanol, it is not an optimal source of renewable energy, nor is it the cleanest option available.
Energy produced from biomass is weaker than that provided from ethanol, and a greater amount of raw organic material is necessary to generate the amount of biomass fuel needed for use as an energy resource.
Overall, the production of biomass organic materials requires the use of vegetation and land. Most experts raise the question of sustainability, as biomass energy is directly reliant on plant and animal resources.
Looking to the Future of Renewable Energy
As you can see, renewable energy has undergone quite the makeover since its earliest uses by our ancestors. Modern forms of renewable energy are innovative, clean, and highly efficient.
As fossil fuel supplies dwindle, the use of renewable energy by commercial businesses is rapidly increasing and expected to gain further popularity as an option for residential homeowners. Adopting renewable energy systems is a vital step in reducing carbon emissions, a significant factor in climate change.
As well as slowing the rate of climate change by reducing carbon emissions, renewable energy sources reduce environmental impact. Drilling, fracking, and other forms of direct damage to the environment associated with fossil fuels are reduced or absent in the implementation of renewable energy sources.
To implement renewable energy sources in your home, consider the installation of solar panels and other forms of solar electricity. Small, consistent steps toward transitioning to renewable energy sources reduce our carbon footprint and environmental impact for generations to come.