Sustainable Energy: What It Is and How It’s Generated
April 22nd (today!) is Earth Day! An annual event that supports the need for environmental protection. Big companies are the ones who contribute the most to global warming. However, there are steps that we everyday people can also take to be more sustainable. These choices lie in our diets, our fashion, and our energy use.
What is Sustainable Energy?
The use of energy is “sustainable” if it can meet the needs of the present without infringing upon the needs of the future. Simply, this means that the methods use to create the energy don’t create irreversible damage to the planet. These unsustainable power sources or “fossil fuels” require the burning of wood or charcoal to produce and store power.
Renewable energy is generated by organic elements and forces that are plentiful in nature. These sources can be:
- wind power
- hydroelectric (water) power
- geothermal (heat) power
- solar (sun) power
Nuclear power is also a renewable energy. However, there is still much debate about the sustainability of nuclear waster (which can last hundreds of thousands of years).
Another reason why sustainable energy is so appealing is that it is considerably cheaper to run. This can help to resolve the issue of energy poverty. This is when poorer countries have to depend on dangerous, often toxic, ways to generate power in order to cook and clean. The availability of reliable and affordable energy allows is essential for health care, education, and economic development.
Different Types of Energy
Of course, machinery is still need in order to harness this sustainable energy. But, often the benefits far outweigh the costs.
Turbines capture the energy of the wind. When a gust pushes the blades of the turbine it creates energy. They are generally placed in offshore, in ocean, locations where the breeze is steadier and stronger. While this location can cost more than on land, it is less impactful on the environment and the wildlife.
Hydroelectric plants convert the energy of moving water into electricity. They are usually large dams placed in wide rivers with strong currents. Run-of-the-river facilities, rather than conventional hydropower projects, are more sustainable because it produces fewer green house gasses. However, the flow of the river and seasonal weather conditions can impact the amount of energy generated. That being said, these dams also provide other environmental benefits such as flood control and a water supply in case of droughts.
Another sustainable heat resource, geothermal energy taps into the warmth that exist’s below the earth’s crust. It is obtained by rilling into the ground and then transferred via water, brine, or steam. Because, it is replenished by neighbouring hotter regions this supply is considered renewable. However, geothermal energy can increase the risk of earthquakes, water pollution, and the emission of toxic gasses.
Solar panels harness the sustainable energy of the sun: they are either placed on the roofs of buildings or in solar parks which are connected to the electrical grid. Over the years the cost of solar panels has dropped considerably. That, combined with its measurable output of electricity, make solar energy a very desirable resource. What’s more, the power generated here is heat which can be stored and produced when needed.