With climate change and pollution continuing to be growing global concerns, experts have been exploring alternative sources of energy. Renewable energy comes with plenty of benefits, but it also has its downfalls. Today, we’re going to explore some of the advantages and disadvantages of renewable energy.
What is renewable energy?
Renewable energy is often referred to as “clean” energy. This group of energy sources has been highly developed over the years as alternatives to fossil fuels, which are known to generate high levels of pollution.
When energy is renewable, it means it comes from a natural source or process that is continuous, allowing us to consistently replenish it with no harm, no foul. For example, solar energy is one of our renewable energies. It uses energy from the sun to create electricity and power technology.
Renewable energy sources have the potential to be much cleaner, safer, and less expensive. However, there are some downsides to switching from fossil fuels like oil and gas to renewable sources like sunshine and wind.
First, let’s get into these energy sources and the basics of how they function.
Renewable energy sources
Though many of us are used to powering our phones with batteries and our cars with gas, the truth is that there are many natural sources we can harness using innovative technology. These renewable sources most often come in four primary forms: wind, solar, water, and geothermal.
The first of our renewable energies is wind. The Department of Energy, Wind Energy Technologies Office dedicates its time and efforts to researching and designing ways to generate power and electricity by harnessing the natural wind.
Wind power is collected using large objects called wind turbines. If you’ve ever driven through wide-open farmland in states like Kansas or Nebraska, you’ve likely seen these tall, monstrous structures that look like giant fans.
The turbines boast three large blades that turn around a rotor. When the wind blows, it spins the blades around to activate a generator, ultimately creating electricity. Wind turbines are typically built on “farms” across open spaces of land, but they are also constructed offshore in oceans and lakes.
Solar power, or energy collected from the sun’s rays, is split into three technology areas in the Solar Energy Technologies Office: photovoltaics, concentrating solar-thermal power, and systems integration.
Using photovoltaic panels or mirrors, experts can harness sunlight and convert it into electrical energy. Once this energy has been collected, it can be used to power electronic devices or even stored in batteries.
Solar energy can be used within everyday homes, businesses, and even applied to existing electrical grids.
Hydropower is also known as marine energy or energy systems that use moving water to generate energy and convert it into electricity. Through the US Department of Energy, the Water Power Technologies Office has been able to research, develop, and test these energy innovations.
Hydropower facilities can come as large as the Hoover Dam, but they can also be as small as irrigation ditches. Regardless, it works by directing running water through a powerhouse. The water does its job to keep the generators moving before returning to their source with no harm done.
The Geothermal Technologies Office is where professionals work to develop and create cost-effective technologies through geothermal resources. This energy source comes directly from the earth’s heat and is widely unexplored. It is considered clean, renewable power that doesn’t change or slow down.
These sources are mainly found in reservoirs of hot water. Some sit very close to the earth’s surface, while others lie a mile down or deeper. Bringing this water to the surface allows experts to harness this energy consistently and with a small footprint.
There are still a couple of other renewable energy sources that are slowly becoming more popular – though they aren’t quite as popular as the ones listed above:
- Tidal Energy
- Biomass Energy
Tidal energy is closely related to hydropower, which uses water. Tidal energy takes twice-daily currents from the ocean to power turbine generators. This type of renewable energy takes a process that happens consistently and is easily predictable.
Bioenergy is created by using biomass, which is an organic matter derived from recently living plants and organisms. Most often, burning is used to harness biomass, such as burning wood to create fire.
Hydrogen can be a bit complicated because it does not occur naturally as a gas on its own. It is always combined with another element, like oxygen, to create water. However, when hydrogen is separated from another element, it can be harnessed and used as fuel and electricity.
Advantages of renewable energy
Many eco-conscious individuals are fans of renewable energy because there are many advantages to using it. Below are some of the most impactful benefits of the renewable fuels we defined above.
Renewable energies and the processes involved in harnessing them rarely create greenhouse gases or harmful pollutants. Due to this smaller carbon footprint, users can rest easy knowing that these energies are having a positive impact on the environment.
As an eco-friendly alternative, renewable energy does not negatively impact global temperatures, climate change, or extreme weather events. Therefore, it’s become widely popular – especially among environmentalist activists.
The energies discussed in this article are described as “renewable” for a reason. Just like you can check out your favorite book from the library as many times as you want, you can also tap into these sources consistently without ever running out.
Renewable energies replace themselves naturally, so they are incredibly sustainable – especially compared to various types of fossil fuels often used.
New jobs & industries
Any time a new technology is developed, new jobs are created. The more the renewable energy sector expands, the more employees are needed to keep it operating and growing.
Consider wind power. The industry needs scientists to research and learn more about the energy source. It needs weather professionals to examine and learn wind patterns. It also needs manufacturers and architects to design turbines, as well as technicians and truck drivers.
Lower overhead costs
In the long-term, renewable energy can save boatloads of money. There are fewer maintenance costs as well as operating expenses, and since the energy comes from natural sources, there are no costs to replenish.
Experts estimate that someone using a renewable energy course can save hundreds of thousands of dollars over their lifetime.
Greater public health
Overall, renewable energy is better for the health of the earth’s population. All of the energy sources discussed above are low-carbon sources, which means they emit far fewer pollutants into the atmosphere.
Fossil fuels release harmful gases like nitrogen oxides, carbon dioxide, and sulfur dioxide – all of which jeopardize public health. Pollutants from these energy sources can cause respiratory and cardiac issues.
Disadvantages of Renewable Energy
With all of the great benefits listed above, it’s hard to imagine there are any disadvantages to renewable energy. But these natural energy sources do have some downsides, as described below.
When compared to fossil fuels, users of renewable energy get a lot less electricity for the number of resources used and collected. For example, only about 20% of solar energy collected by panels gets turned into usable electricity. Therefore, it takes several solar panels to power just one building.
Many renewable energy sources are servants of mother nature. Though they are available on a global scale, their strength and effectiveness depend on things like location, season, and weather patterns.
For instance, the mid-west of the United States might have days with very high winds, while other days see no wind at all.
Renewable energy allows many people to save money in the long-run, but it can be a costly endeavor to get started. Investing in renewable technologies frequently comes with higher upfront costs than fossil fuels.
Every kind of renewable energy requires technology to facilitate the process. This comes in the form of large turbines, fields of solar panels, large water facilities, and more. Renewable energy requires much more space to process than fossil fuels.
Energy storage is a critical component of renewable energy. Since the processes and resources are often unreliable and intermittent, anyone using renewable energy needs a place to store it.
The demand is high for storage technologies, which drives the prices up. It can be costly to add a storage unit to your renewable energy.
Overall, renewable energy sources are much more friendly to the environment than the alternative. However, they do still create pollution. Many of these processes emit greenhouse gases – the worst of all being methane. Ironically enough, many resources needed for renewable energy processes are made using fossil fuels.
Other Ways to Aid the Environment
An individual doesn’t have to switch their energy source to help make the world a better place. There are plenty of things someone can do to aid the environment:
- Reduce, reuse, and recycle objects
- Volunteer to clean up your community
- Conserve water
- Shop sustainably
- Plant a tree
- Use long-lasting light bulbs
- Don’t litter
Another way you can contribute is by using a neobank. Neobanks offer internet-only financial services rather than having physical branches, which not only cuts banking costs but minimizes a company’s environmental footprint. Neobanks, like Aspiration, can help you contribute positively to the environment.