We hear a great deal about renewable energy these days, but what exactly do we mean by that term? What is the difference between renewable and non-renewable energy? Renewable energy comes from natural sources that can replenished. Non-renewable energy on the other hand, may be natural but it is not able to be quickly or easily replenished. Fossil fuels such as oil, coal and natural gas are the primary forms of non-renewable energy being used.
The most abundant source of renewable energy is the sun. Solar power captures sunlight, which can then be used to directly for heating or turned into electricity. In the past, Solar power has been expensive to install and inefficient due to the large amount of solar panels needed to produce sufficient electricity. But advances in solar cell design and decreases in prices are making this a more attractive form of energy.
Wind is another source of renewable energy that is becoming more common. Using wind as a power-source is nothing new, windmills have been used for two-centuries but never has wind been used on the scale that it is today. Wind farms are made up a a group of turbines located in the same area. These farms can range in size from just a few to several hundred turbines. According to energy.gov wind power is expected to produce 20% of the nations electricity by 2030. Windmill turbines range in size from small 1,000 watt residential units to the 5 mega-watt turbines used in commercial wind farms.
Hydroelectric power currently generates about 10% of the nation’s energy needs. Water flowing over dams is used to spin a turbine, which activates a generator to produce electricity. One of the chief benefits of this type of energy is that it can easily react to increases in demand because the dam’s gates can simply be open or closed in accordance with increases or decreases in demand. Hydro-electric is also efficient and inexpensive — i.e. a modern hydroelectric turbine can turn 90% of the available energy into electricity.
These are the primary forms of renewable energy being used to produce power right now, but there is a great deal of research searching for additional sources such as bio-mass, hydrogen, Geo-thermal, and even ocean energy. Each of these sources have the potential to unlock new opportunities for cheaper, cleaner, more efficient sources of energy. As additional research is conducted and more efficient means of producing energy from renewable resources become available our dependency on fossil fuels will decrease.