A Guide to 5 Types of Renewable Energy

Updated on December 5, 2019
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Sustainable energy sources meet today's demand for energy while being less harmful to the environment than the traditional fossil fuels. Fossil fuels will eventually run out, as there is a finite amount that can be harvested from the Earth, but sustainable energy does not run out, as it is derived from natural processes of the Earth. In addition, fossil fuels are harmful to the environment. When burned, fossil fuels will release carbon dioxide, which creates a greenhouse effect in the atmosphere, heating the Earth. While still having an effect on the environment, sustainable energy has a significantly smaller carbon footprint than fossil fuels.

So, how does sustainable energy work? Here's a guide to some of the sustainable sources of energy.

Main Sources of Sustainable Energy

  1. Solar
  2. Wind
  3. Geothermal
  4. Hydropower
  5. Tidal

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Solar Energy

To harness solar energy, solar panels capture radiation from the sun. It is truly a renewable energy source, as we will not run out of energy from the sun, and it can be harnessed in any place in the world.

There are some disadvantages, though. For one, it is fairly expensive to initially buy solar panels, an inverter, batteries, wiring, and installation. This, and the fact that is is weather dependent, cause solar energy to not be accessible to the entire public every day. While solar panel installation is expensive, solar energy storage is also expensive when stored in large batteries. These batteries and the solar panels together also take up a lot of space. Lastly, there is also a small amount of pollution associated with solar energy because of the installation process.

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Wind Energy

Wind energy is generated by wind turbines that convert the wind power into electricity. It is one of the cleanest forms of sustainable energy because it does not rely on fossil fuels and wind is readily available.

There are some disadvantages to wind energy, too. Like solar energy, there is an expensive upfront cost of installation and wind can be unpredictable. The wind turbines are also a little disruptive to the environment. While they do not disrupt farmland operation, they are noisy and can be dangerous to some birds.

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Geothermal Energy

Geothermal energy comes from the heat produced by the Earth. Hot springs and geysers are naturally occurring examples of geothermal energy. This is where the Earth's crust is thinner, and geothermal energy was first implemented here. As technology developed, scientists were able to harness geothermal energy from underground reservoirs. Geothermal power plants work the same as other power plants, except they use steam from geothermal reservoirs. They use steam to turn turbines, which generates electricity.

Geothermal energy has great potential and it is an abundant energy source. The long term use of geothermal energy is very sustainable. It uses a very small amount of land and it does not require energy-powered heating and cooling pumps because it takes advantage of the different temperatures of the Earth.

There are downsides to geothermal energy, though. Like many other sources of renewable energy, there are high initial costs of installation. The geothermal power plants that we have are not very efficient and much of the stored energy is lost during transportation. There are also environmental implications to these geothermal power plants. They can cause earthquakes and by drilling, they release carbon dioxide and methane into the atmosphere, even though they do not release these gases themselves.

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Hydropower

Hydropower is harnessed by turbines that are spun by water flowing through dams. These turbines convert the energy into electricity.

Hydropower is very sustainable and adjustable. While in operation, there is no emission of fossil fuels or other undesirable gases. The source of energy is also adjustable and reliable. People can control how quickly and when the water will flow through the dam. It is reliable because the amount of water can be measured and can be easily controlled.

The disadvantages to hydropower are that there is a limited number of places that it can be used and it can damage the environment. Putting a dam in a body of water separates fish and other aquatic life. Some fish can also get caught in the dam.

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Tidal Power

Tidal energy is produced by the rise and fall of the tides. There are multiple ways to harness tidal energy. One method, a barrage system, works like that of hydropower. There is a dam, and the tides rise and fall through it to turn turbines. Another system to harness tidal power is a tidal stream turbine. These turbines act like wind turbines that are underwater. Since water is more dense than air, these tidal turbines produce more energy than their wind turbines counterparts.

These tidal turbines are also more expensive to make because they must be sturdy. Finding a location also poses a challenge because the tides must ebb and flow enough to produce energy, but the turbines can affect marine life where they are located.

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