We are constantly bombarded with news and comment regarding climate change and renewable energy, but what are the 5 sources of renewable energy? Here we will explain each renewable source and how it is used to head towards a zero-carbon future.
What is a renewable energy source?
Renewable energy is any energy source that is not depleted or used up and, therefore, cannot be exhausted.
The sun and wind are the best examples of this. Alternative energy is another name given to energy sources which do not come from fossil fuels and has little or no environmental impact, unlike coal, oil and gas.
What is zero-carbon or low-carbon energy?
One complication is nuclear-generated energy. This source is zero carbon but is not sustainable. Producing nuclear-derived energy requires the use of a resource, normally Uranium. That said, in our bid to become a country with a net zero carbon status, there will be a heavy reliance on nuclear during the transition. Currently, nuclear-derived energy is the 2nd most prominent source of power in the world.
What are the most popular renewable energy sources?
- Solar energy
- Wind energy
- Hydro energy
- Tidal energy
- Geothermal energy
Sunlight is Earth’s most plentiful free, renewable energy source. To put its importance into perspective, the solar energy that reaches the Earth in one hour is more energy than the requirements of the whole planet for a year.
Unfortunately, the solution for harnessing all this energy is not as simple as we would like. Due to the Earth rotating and the seasons, there are variations in when, where, and how long we can access this free energy daily.
The UK is advancing quickly by adopting solar solutions to supplement energy requirements from other sources. As technology improves, even countries such as the UK, with a temperate climate, can take advantage of solar electricity generation at home and commercially.
The one thing the UK has plenty of is wind. The UK has adopted wind farms as a significant contributor to the energy available through the national grid. Wind farms are being built on land and offshore, and constant winds in parts of the Irish Sea make it a perfect environment for increasingly large wind farms. Domestic wind-generating systems are available, although they are not suitable for every property.
Hydro-generated energy is the most extensive form of energy generation currently on the planet. It has been successfully used in substantial commercial dams, such as the enormous Three Gorges Dam in China and the Itaipu dam, on the border of Brazil and Paraguay.
To give some perspective, the Three Gorges Dam produces five times more power than the Hoover Dam in the US.
An advantage of hydro is that it can store the energy, in the form of water, held behind the dam for use during peak times. Although there are environmental issues regarding building these dams and the subsequent flooding, they are a very viable source of renewable energy.
It is possible to use hydropower for domestic use, but only if your property has access to running water.
A better way to support this renewable technology is to ensure that the electricity you purchase is only from renewable sources.
Tidal energy generation is still in its infancy, and the lack of consistency of generation is still problematic due to tides. There are many projects currently testing differing systems for harnessing wave power.
In certain parts of the world where volcanic activity is more prevalent than in the UK, geothermal harvesting is a significant energy provider. Countries like Iceland use this free energy source for heat, and even hot destinations like Lanzarote use their volcanic underbelly to heat water parks and pools.
What isn’t a source of renewable energy?
Back to our original definition, an energy source that is replenished and not used up is deemed renewable. Fossil fuels, oil, gas and coal, are not renewable as they are finite and will eventually run out. These fuels also release carbon dioxide and add to climate change issues.
Also, the issue is complex. Burning coal is worse than burning wood, but wood is a renewable source when it comes from managed forests. Wood pellets, as used by the Drax power station in Yorkshire, could be considered renewable as they are made from by-products of wood processing, thereby, are recycled.
Renewable energy in the home
There are two main advantages of using renewable energy in your home, cheaper bills and protecting the planet. It is time to review your home energy policy to see what changes you can make.
Lower Bills: A new renewable energy system will come at a cost financially, but your bills will decrease as you rely less on the power-generating companies. Heat pumps are currently on trend, and the government have grants to assist in the change from gas boilers.
Get an income: If you are generating more electricity than you use, the UK Government’s Feed-in Tariff will pay you for the excess electricity you generate.
Fossil-free cars: There are some very attractive tariffs for charging EVs, especially at off-peak times. These tariffs make owning an EV more cost-effective and better for the planet.
Watch your carbon footprint: Renewable energy sources do not release greenhouse gases or pollutants into the atmosphere. Do your bit and even if you cannot go the renewable route on your own just yet, only buy renewable energy from your provider.