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Humans have used fossil fuels to heat homes, cook food, and power industrial processes for thousands of years. It is now clear that burning these unrenewable fuels is causing permanent damage to our planet, and a switch to more sustainable energy sources is needed.
Various commercial-scale renewable energy sources are being used today, including wind, geothermal, hydropower, and others. Massive power plants are springing up around the world in an attempt to generate “green” energy.
Solar power is the only renewable energy that’s currently viable on a consumer scale. Today, anyone can start harvesting energy from the sun for just a small initial investment.
Let’s learn about the various renewable energy sources and determine which is best for you.
Why Renewables are Essential for Stopping Climate Change and Achieving Net Zero
Net zero refers to the balance between the amount of greenhouse gasses emitted into the atmosphere and the amount removed from the atmosphere by natural — forests, the ocean — or emerging human-made innovations like Direct Air Capture (DAC).
Achieving net zero, or carbon neutrality, means that a country, city, organization, or individual effectively adds no carbon to the atmosphere. Net zero can be achieved by reducing greenhouse gas emissions as much as possible and balancing any remaining emissions with actions that remove greenhouse gasses, like planting trees or using carbon capture and storage technologies.
Net zero is a critical goal in the fight against climate change because even if we reduce most of our emissions, some sectors (like aviation or agriculture) will find it difficult or costly to eliminate their emissions entirely. Balancing these remaining emissions with carbon removal activities will help halt global warming.
Governments and industry are betting big on solar power as a way to slow down the effects of climate change. In 2022, solar power contributed 46% of utility-scale electric generation additions.
By providing us with sustainable ways to generate power, renewable energy will help the world achieve carbon neutrality. Implementing more renewable energy solutions is not only good for the environment, but it also drives economic growth, creating jobs and reducing energy costs.
What Are the Different Sources of Clean, Renewable Energy?
Everyone is familiar with a few common renewable energy sources, such as wind, solar, and hydropower. In addition, there are emerging technologies like green hydrogen and nuclear fusion that have not yet seen widespread use.
Let’s look at these renewable energy sources in more detail.
Wind energy is captured using large wind turbines that convert the kinetic energy of moving air into mechanical power, which can then be used to generate electricity through a generator. Alternatively, wind turbines can be utilised to directly perform a task like pumping water.
Geothermal energy is harnessed from heat beneath the earth’s surface. Steam is a common source of geothermal energy — power plants are often placed above hot water reservoirs to capture this natural energy.
Geothermal power is reliable and consistent, providing a predictable power source (unlike weather-dependent solar and wind energy). A geothermal power plant emits fewer greenhouse gasses than a traditional fossil fuel power plant.
This type of power generation is not viable for residential applications. A home geothermal power system would require extensive drilling, maintenance, and costs.
Hydropower is harnessed from falling or flowing water. The movement from a river or waterfall provides mechanical energy that generates electricity. It is one of the oldest sources of renewable energy — primitive watermills and water wheels have been in use for thousands of years.
Hydropower is a predictable and mature technology. Hydropower plants often utilise a dam to regulate water flow. These dams produce a reservoir that can provide recreational opportunities, a bonus atop the power generation.
This type of energy generation is rarely viable for household use. Residential hydropower can be feasible if the home is next to flowing water year-round. However, infrastructure costs can be high and dry seasons can disrupt energy generation.
Ocean energy refers to any power generated from waves, salt content differences, ocean temperature differences, and tides. The vast oceans can potentially provide unlimited amounts of renewable energy.
Tides and waves are predictable and constant and may provide a continuous renewable energy source one day. However, current ocean energy generation systems interfere with marine life and are limited to coastal areas. The technology is not widespread, so setting up a power plant can be costly.
Residential ocean energy generation is not practical. The systems required are only applicable on a commercial scale, and a home would need to be situated directly on the coastline to make it feasible. Renewable energy systems like solar power are much better suited for residential use.
Bioenergy refers to the use of organic matter in the production of electricity, heat, or fuel. These organic substances may include plant matter, including food crops like corn or animal waste.
In addition to being a renewable energy source, bioenergy can actually divert waste away from landfills when utilised responsibly. On the other hand, irresponsible bioenergy techniques can lead to deforestation and land-use changes that harm the environment.
Residential biomass energy production is possible in some limited applications. The process requires large amounts of biomass, preferably from waste sources (as opposed to dedicated biomass plantations).
Emerging Clean Energy Technologies
There are a few emerging clean energy technologies that are poised to provide large amounts of efficient, clean energy if they become viable on a commercial scale. These generation methods include green hydrogen and nuclear fusion.
- Green Hydrogen: Green hydrogen is hydrogen gas that has been produced in an environmentally friendly way, usually via the electrolysis of water (a process powered by renewable energy sources like wind or solar). Hydrogen is an extremely energy-dense fuel, and when it’s used, the only byproduct is water vapour, making it very clean. Because of this, it’s seen as a very promising solution for energy storage, as a fuel for transportation, and for other industries where direct electrification is challenging.
However, green hydrogen is still quite expensive to produce due to both the costs of renewable electricity and the electrolysis equipment. Also, hydrogen is a challenging fuel to handle — it requires unique infrastructure because of its low density and can be quite reactive. Significant ongoing research and investment aim to reduce costs and improve handling procedures, but it’s still an emerging technology.
- Nuclear Fusion: Nuclear fission is a well-known technology that splits atoms in a reactor to release energy (commonly known as nuclear power). Nuclear fusion involves combining two light atoms — typically forms of hydrogen — to form a heavier atom, typically helium. Fusion is the same process that powers the sun and other stars. It has the potential to produce enormous amounts of energy from very little fuel without producing long-lived radioactive waste.
However, nuclear fusion is a very challenging technology to develop. It currently takes more energy to sustain a fusion reaction than the reaction produces. But as the video above shows, that’s changing. Numerous research organizations worldwide are developing approaches to make nuclear fusion energy practical, but it’s still not ready for commercial use.
Solar power is a popular renewable energy source that emits zero greenhouse gasses during operation. A solar array consists of multiple solar photovoltaic (PV) panels that convert photons from the sun into usable electricity. Sunlight is everywhere, so solar panels can efficiently generate power in almost every part of the world.
Solar PV power generation in the Net Zero Scenario, 2010-2030
Commercial-scale solar power is the fastest-growing source of renewable electricity generation in the world. As you can see from the chart above, rapid growth in the use of solar energy has been a constant since 2010, and 1,002.9 Terawatt-Hours (TWh) of electricity was generated from solar technology in 2021. By 2030, that number is expected to grow to 7,431.9 TWh — a staggering increase of around 640%.
Solar power is also proving to be incredibly useful on a small scale. For example, in the US, nearly 4% of single-family homes generated electricity from solar systems. In the Western region of America, where conditions are generally more favourable for solar power due to higher average peak sun hours, almost 9% of homes were utilizing a small-scale solar system.
Frequently Asked Questions
What Is the Most Promising Clean Energy Source?
Solar energy is the most promising clean energy source – particularly for residential use. Unlike many other types of renewable energy, solar power can be harnessed efficiently in almost any location in the world. The widespread use of solar power has decreased consumer costs, and the technology can be adapted to both small and large-scale applications.
As we attempt to create a more sustainable future, it’s clear that renewable energy plays a key role. While numerous clean energy sources are being utilised and developed, solar energy stands out due to its adaptability, availability, and efficiency.
Whether for commercial power plants or individual homes, solar power is an excellent clean, renewable power solution for large-scale and smaller consumer-scale applications. Advancements in solar technology and falling prices make solar a viable option for more and more people each day.
With EcoFlow’s range of solar-powered products, you can harness this bountiful, renewable energy source to power your home, camper, or off-grid adventures.