The majority of the world’s countries continue to rely on coal, natural gases and oil for energy, all of which fall under the category of fossil fuels. The downside of fossil fuels is that they are non-renewable or finite, whereas renewable energy sources can last forever. Over time, non-renewable energy sources will become too expensive as a result of an impending shortage and will also prove to be far too damaging to the environment to call upon.
Considering the fact that the continual use of non-renewable energy sources will affect us all at some stage, it’s no surprise that a huge amount of awareness has been raised concerning the availability and research of alternative renewable energy sources.
Most of what we consider renewable energy today comes from the sun, both directly and indirectly. Solar energy is an incredibly powerful and capable source of energy that can light our homes and provide the heating we need to keep warm.
Solar power can also generate electricity that gives us the hot water we need for domestic use, as well as provide a wide range of different commercial uses. Solar power has been utilised a lot more over the last few decades, with the introduction of solar panels and many other forms of solar absorption technology.
As we continue to delve into the future searching for ways to make the most of solar power, new technology continues to be tested and developed. Solar-powered objects that would usually require natural gases or fuel to operate are incorporating solar absorption technology as an alternative.
The suns heat is also capable of driving wind which is then collected by wind turbines. Despite wind turbines looking like something out of a science fiction novel, the world has utilised the wind’s energy for centuries. Windmills were used in a very similar way to help grind grain in the past.
However, wind turbines have one sole purpose, which is to produce electricity by converting the wind energy that they capture. Wind turbines need to be tall (around 30 metres tall) so that they can reach areas aboveground that provide faster and less turbulent wind speeds.
Wind turbines have been criticised by many activists who are keen to protect the environment and local scenery, although many farmers and homeowners can significantly cut their electric bills with the help of local wind turbines.
The renewable energy chain continues with solar energy and wind combining to assist water evaporation. When the water vapour falls as rain or snow, rivers and streams collect the flowing water and capture the energy produced to create hydroelectric power. Flowing water produces enough energy to be captured so that it can subsequently be turned into electricity.
Hydroelectric power has been harnessed in many power plants that contain reservoirs, which release water into turbines that spin as a result. These spinning turbines activate a generator that then produces electricity. Of course, not all hydroelectric power requires a reservoir, with many generators relying on small canals or streams.
Solar energy assists in the development of plants and helps them to grow along with other vital growth resources such as water. The term biomass is given to the organic matter that makes up our plants. Biomass is capable of being used for transportation technology, chemicals and the production of electricity. We refer to the use of biomass as a means of renewable energy as Bioenergy.
Again, Bioenergy has been around for some time, in fact since humans first started burning wood to keep warm. Wood remains the most popular resource of bioenergy, yet we are now capable using many other types of biomass for energy, such as industrial wastes, residues and forestry. We can significantly reduce our greenhouse gas emissions with the help of bioenergy because plant growth stabilises the amount of carbon dioxide we produce when using biomass as a fuel.
Geothermal energy is an example of renewable energy source that does not come from the sun. Geothermal energy utilises the earth’s internal heat in order to produce electricity and either heat or cool homes and buildings.
The heat from the earth is clean and sustainable, with the best and most accessible resources being shallow, heated ground just a few miles beneath the earth’s surface and even extremely hot molten magma which can be found further down.
Hydrogen is regularly found in compounds but when separated into individual elements it can also be used as a form of renewable energy. Hydrogen is in many organic compounds, the most easily accessible of which is water. It is by far the most plentiful element on the planet. The process of separating hydrogen from its compounds is the essential step to converting it into electricity.
In order to separate hydrogen atoms from hydrocarbons, we need to apply heat, a process also known as reforming. Electrolysis is the name given to a process that involves the separation of hydrogen and oxygen by means of electricity. Hydrogen is also produced by bacteria and algae in some situations.
The appeal of hydrogen is that it contains plenty of energy but produces hardly any pollution when used. The use of hydrogen on space shuttles in particular is fascinating. Space shuttles make the most of hydrogen energy when propelled into orbit as hydrogen fuels the electrical systems in the shuttle. This produces a clean byproduct that the crew can drink.