Earth – the spaceship that carries us through the cosmos – is amazingly resilient, but it’s also heart-achingly fragile.
If we don’t start treating it better, homo sapiens could join the estimated 95% of species that have gone extinct in the 3.5-billion-year history of our planet.
Climate change is an existential threat to our very way of life, and the continued use of fossil fuels is causing enormous damage to our ecosystem. To ensure a bright and glorious future for our world, we need to pivot to self-sustained energy.
Fossil fuels don’t only cause widespread ecological damage — they’re also not sustainable, and we’re about to run out of them. This is one of the most compelling reasons for committing to a comprehensive renewable energy plan that’ll ensure our survival for years to come.
What’s the difference between self-sustained and renewable energy?
While people often use these two terms interchangeably, there’s a difference:
Self-sustained energy is energy that never runs out, such as solar, wind, and hydropower (water). Another example of sustainable energy is geothermal energy, produced from the earth’s internal energy sources.
Sustainable energy fulfills the needs of people currently living on the earth without undermining the ability of future planetary citizens to meet their own needs. There’s a limited amount of fossil fuel resources, and if we run out of them, that’s it. On the other hand, there’s an inexhaustible supply of sustainable energy.
Renewable energy taps into resources that can be continuously regenerated. One example of this is biomass – the use of organic plant and animal matter to generate electricity, such as using ethanol to run your car.
You can make ethanol from any plant containing large amounts of sugar or components that can be converted into sugar. Because you can grow the raw materials needed to manufacture ethanol, it’s considered a renewable source. Another example of renewable energy is turning used vegetable oil into biodiesel or burning a second-generation biofuel like algae.
The best thing about renewable energy is that it produces minimal toxic greenhouse gases. Therefore, it has a much less devastating ecological impact. That’s why so many climate change experts see renewable energy as the cornerstone of efforts to curb global warming.
Renewable energy vs. carbon-free energy
Many renewable energy sources are carbon-free, which means they don’t produce greenhouse gases such as CO2.
However, not all renewable energy is carbon-free, nor is all carbon-free energy renewable.
Biofuels are renewable because we can always grow new plants. However, this doesn’t mean they’re carbon-free because they can still produce greenhouse gases.
Nuclear energy is carbon-free because a nuclear power plant doesn’t give off any heat-trapping emissions. On the other hand, it’s not renewable because atomic reactors use uranium – a material that we only have a limited amount of.
These two examples help to explain why it’s important to clarify whether energy sources are self-sustaining, renewable, carbon-free, or a combination of the above.
Why is self-sustaining energy essential for our future?
Solar and wind electricity generation skyrocketed from a mere 32 terawatt-hours in 2000 to 1,857 terawatt-hours in 2018. This was at a time when renewable energy comprised approximately 26% of the planet’s total electricity output.
This year, the Department of Energy (DOE) launched two daring objectives:
- To deploy 30 gigawatts of offshore wind power by 2030.
- To cut the current cost of solar energy by 60% within the same timeframe.
These goals are encouraging, particularly when you consider that human activity has caused the planet’s temperature to increase by 1.5° since pre-industrial times. The most significant cause of this disturbing rise is greenhouse gases from industrial processes.
Excessive amounts of carbon end up in the atmosphere, which traps heat and causes the earth to warm up way beyond what it’s used to. This triggers catastrophic weather events such as melting glaciers, rising sea levels, raging hurricanes, and lethal heatwaves.
Although we as a species have inflicted devastating damage to the earth, we can start reversing all the harm if we prevent factory smokestacks from disgorging environmental contaminants at a rate that overwhelms the delicate ecological balance on this planet.
Self-sustained energy emits little to no carbon emissions. By making a firm commitment to renewable energy sources, humanity won’t be contributing to its own demise.
What are the benefits of self-sustained energy?
Improves public health
Pollution from fossil fuel combustion kills almost 7 million individuals every year.
Fossil fuel combustion emits harmful hydrocarbons that can cause health problems, including cancer, neurological damage, and cardiovascular and respiratory issues.
Atmospheric contaminants also contribute to air and water pollution, drastically lowering life quality in affected communities. These dangers can be minimized or eliminated by switching to clean, renewable energy.
Boosts the economy
Self-sustaining energy provides dozens of economic benefits. The International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) wrote in a recent report that if we double the amount of sustainable energy currently in use, we could boost global gross domestic product (GDP) by 1.1 percent by 2030.
Worldwide, over 10 million individuals work in the sustainable energy sector. Since 2017, over 500,000 new jobs have been created, including installation, manufacturing, engineering, sales, and marketing positions.
Self-sustaining energy has proven to be a boon for farmers and rural landowners. Data from the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA) shows that the total amount US landholders who host wind farms on their property earn is approximately $222 million every year.
Solar power is often a much more cost-effective way to generate electricity than conventional energy sources for residential customers. This is due in no small part to generous tax incentives, more than adequate funding for research and development, and cheaper solar photovoltaics.
While installation costs can be steep, the systems you put into place will pay for themselves in a few short years. For example, in California, where energy costs are among the highest in the entire country, the average homeowner can save over $100 a month on electricity expenses if they install a photovoltaic array.
Building a sustainable super grid
Sustainable energy advocates are pushing for a continent-wide sustainable super grid.
Researchers in Finland explored the feasibility of constructing this kind of network connecting every region of North America. By dividing the area into 20 interconnected subregions based on energy demand and population, the researchers found that not only would it be achievable, but costs could be dramatically reduced.
However, this massive infrastructure project isn’t without its challenges.
For example, energy storage ability would have to be improved considerably. The wind doesn’t blow constantly, nor does the sun shine unceasingly. This can cause problems if electricity demand outpaces supply.
The scale of a continental super grid gives it greater flexibility than regional grids with limited power and storage resources. For example, at any given moment, the wind might not be blowing in the west but could be blowing in the north or south. A continental grid can store power where it’s being generated and redistribute it to where it’s needed.
The current grid produces electricity using archaic and outdated fossil fuel and nuclear generators, with some help from large-scale hydroelectric plants.
On the other hand, a self-sustaining super grid would be based on thousands of renewable energy generators. This ambitious technological undertaking will help propel the planet from polluting power plants to a magnificent future where renewable energy reigns supreme.
Curb the effects of greenhouse gases with Aspiration Zero
If we’re fully committed, we can make sweeping changes that’ll dramatically boost the quality of the lives of future generations. However, we’ll need the robust support of businesses, policymakers, and other stakeholders to make a renewable energy future a glorious reality.
Most experts believe that the technology exists for the planet to move towards a fully self-sustaining way of producing energy by 2050.
At Aspiration, we invest in renewable energy projects and companies that engage in sustainable ways of doing business. That’s because we’re passionately committed to doing everything in our power to help the world recover from its addiction to fossil fuels.
We know this is the only way to save civilization from the cataclysmic changes that could result from climate change. By signing up for our services, you’ll join us in our mission to ensure that the earth and the beings who live on it live a long and happy life.
Apply for the carbon-neutral credit card, the Aspiration Zero, today!