Terms like “clean energy” and “renewable resources” have become common in everyday conversations, especially in policy-making and technology. Have you ever wondered what these words mean? If not, maybe you should!
Clean energy is one of the foremost topics discussed to combat climate change and sustainable development. If you want to get in on this new hot topic and become more aware, this article is for you. The meaning uses, and pros of clean energy are explained below.
1. What is Clean Energy?
Firstly, it is important to understand the difference between terms like clean energy, green energy, renewable energy, etc., which we often used interchangeably. Though alike, they do not mean the same thing and have subtle differences in their meanings.
1.1 Clean Energy
Clean energy is gained from sources that do not release pollutants. It is made in generation systems that do not produce any pollution, especially greenhouse gases like CO2, which lead to climate change.
Clean energy is in full development to achieve our present desire as a community to conserve the environment and to deal with the non-renewable fuel crisis effectively. It is dire to find solutions to the climate change problem in light of the climate emergency and the energy crisis threatening the planet.
1.2 Green Energy
Green energy is energy that is derived from natural sources. Any energy type that is generated from natural resources, such as sunlight, water, or wind, is green energy. It often comes from all renewable energy sources, although there are differences between renewable and green energy.
Green energy resources also do not harm the environment by releasing greenhouse gases or pollutants into the atmosphere.
1.3 Renewable Energy
Renewable energy is energy derived from natural sources that are replenished at a much higher rate than at the rate they are consumed. Sunlight and wind are examples of resources that are constantly being replenished. Renewable energy sources happen to be plentiful and present all around us.
Generating renewable energy generates far lower emissions as compared to burning fossil fuels. Switching from fossil fuels, currently responsible for the lion’s share of emissions, to renewable energy sources is key to addressing the climate crisis.
1.4 Clean vs. Green vs. Renewable
Even though most green energy sources are renewable, not all renewable energy sources are perceived as being green. For instance, in the case of hydropower being a renewable resource, some might argue that it is not a green energy source due to the large-scale deforestation and industrialization associated with building hydro-dams, which can damage the environment.
The perfect mix of clean energy combines renewable energy with green energy, such as solar and wind energy.
2. What are the Types of Clean Energy?
There are numerous ways to harvest this “clean energy” we are talking about. Obviously, all of these energy sources are based on nature, and most are renewable. These resources are very easily available to us, provided you have the technical know-how to use them.
2.1 Wind energy
Wind energy is obtained by transforming the kinetic energy the wind produces into electricity. This is done by attaching a huge windmill to a generator, which converts the energy produced by turning the windmill blades into electrical power.
There are two types of wind energy production farms depending on the wind turbines are installed:
- On-shore wind energy: Electricity is produced by utilizing the currents of air which blow on the land.
- Off-shore wind energy: Electricity is produced by wind blowing on the high seas and oceans. Off-shore winds are more constant and attain higher speeds than on-shore winds.
Energy in the form of wind energy has been in use for centuries to grind grain, pump water from rivers, or perform other such mechanical tasks.
Wind energy is a clean, inexhaustible source of energy.
2.2 Solar Energy
Solar energy is a power source wherein the sunlight from the sun is collected and transformed into electricity using the photovoltaic effect. Solar panels collect energy from the sun’s rays and convert it into electricity.
Solar energy can be utilized for many things like heating and lighting buildings, generating electricity, heating water directly, etc. Small solar panels, such as charging batteries, are often used in minor electric tasks. Meanwhile, many people already use solar energy for small garden lanterns and calculators.
This same clean energy technology to produce electricity can also be magnified to larger panels that can be used to provide electricity for homes or other buildings or even develop installations of multiple solar panels, such as with a community solar panel array, in the form of a solar power farm, to entire power towns.
Solar power is a clean, renewable, local, and inexhaustible energy source.
2.3 Hydroelectric energy
Hydroelectric energy uses the forces of water falling from a considerable height or running down a slope to generate electricity. This type of power generation from water can be obtained by hydroelectric power plants, which take the flow of water from rivers, streams, or lakes and turn it into electricity, and are a very efficient, large-scale energy storage method.
A less common use of water can be in the form of municipal pipes in towns and cities. With huge amounts of water running through these pipes in homes daily, a move has been made towards harnessing this energy to help meet domestic and other power requirements.
As generators become smaller and cheaper to build, this use of municipal water to generate electricity is becoming closer to being a daily reality. The power produced by hydroelectric energy is a clean, renewable, and emissions-free source of power.
2.4 Tidal Energy
Tidal energy is a form of power produced by the natural rise and fall of tides on the earth’s surface, which arises due to the gravitational interaction between the earth, the sun, and the moon.
The tidal currents that have sufficient energy for possible harvesting occur when the water passes through a constriction, leading the water to move faster. Using generators specially engineered in suitable locations, tidal energy can be transformed into useful forms of power like electricity.
Other forms of energy can also be generated from the ocean by utilizing waves, persistent ocean currents, and the differences in salinity and temperature in the seawater.
Tidal energy is a source of clean, renewable, local, and inexhaustible power generation.
2.5 Geothermal Energy
Geothermal energy is the energy production that uses the internal heat of the Earth’s crust. The heat that emanates from the radioactive decay of minerals and the continual heat loss from the earth’s original formation is harnessed by power plants located on deposits.
These may be in the form of hot water deposits, in which case the heat radiates from layers of hot water flowing underneath the surface of the earth, or dry deposits, which utilize the heat from rocks.
People in some countries have used geothermal energy for many centuries for cooking purposes and heating systems. The underground geothermal reservoirs of steam and hot water can generate electricity and other heating and cooling applications.
An example of a heating and cooling application of geothermal energy is when a geothermal heat pump is installed around 10 feet beneath the ground. These pipes are then filled with an antifreeze solution or water. This water is pumped around a closed loop of pipes. These ground-sourced heat pump systems help cool buildings in the summer and maintain indoor warmth during winter.
The geothermal water has also been utilized to help grow plants in greenhouses for district heating purposes in homes and businesses. It can be piped underneath roads to melt snow during winter as well.
Geothermal energy is a clean, renewable, and inexhaustible energy source.
2.6 Nuclear Energy
Nuclear energy can be obtained through two different processes:
2.6.1 Nuclear Fission
Power is generated by combining energy stored in the center of atoms to hold them together. Fission is the process when there is the splitting of atoms into smaller atoms. This causes the energy to be released as the excess binding energy is diffused as heat and radiation.
2.6.2 Nuclear Fusion
This process merges atomic nuclei to release energy. Nuclear Fusion occurs in the center of stars, like our Sun’s core, but attaining the right conditions for the fusion of two atoms has posed many challenges for several decades now, including problems like overcoming the natural repulsion between atomic nuclei as well as being able to create more energy than is consumed by the whole process.
In nuclear power plants, this heat produced by the process of nuclear fission is then used to boil water and produce steam, which then turns the blades of a turbine that drives the generators to generate electricity. Since uranium is used by nuclear reactors instead of burning fossil fuels to produce heat, there are no resultant carbon emissions from nuclear power.
Despite popular belief, if handled correctly, nuclear energy is clean throughout its generation, apart from being an almost inexhaustible source of energy using current uranium reserves, which will be able to continue generating the same amount of energy for 1000s of years to come.
As a matter of fact, most nuclear reactors only introduce water vapor into the earth’s atmosphere. No type of polluting gases, like CO2 or methane, that aggravate climate change is part of the process. And there are also enormous quantities of energy that a single power plant can generate due to the massive power stored in nuclear energy.
2.7 Energy from Green Hydrogen
Green hydrogen is the term given to define the hydrogen gas produced by using renewable energy sources, such as wind or solar power, which give rise to zero greenhouse gas emissions.
In a fuel cell device, a chemical’s energy is converted into electricity. Hydrogen gas reacts with oxygen to produce electricity and water vapor in a fuel cell.
Energy from green hydrogen is based on generating hydrogen using a chemical process known as electrolysis. In this method, an electric current separates the hydrogen from the oxygen in the water. When this electricity is obtained from renewable sources, the energy is produced without emitting carbon dioxide gas into the atmosphere.
Due to the capacity of hydrogen to generate energy without causing greenhouse emissions, it is a potential clean alternative to fossil fuels.
2.8 Energy from Biomass
Biomass is made up of organic materials that come from living organisms, such as plants and animals. Plant, wood, and waste are the most common biomass materials used for energy production. These are called biomass feedstocks. Electricity is produced by burning this natural organic material or organic waste produced by human activity.
Biomass contains energy that is first derived from the sun because plants absorb the sun’s energy through the process of photosynthesis and then convert carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and water into nutrients (carbohydrates).
As fuel streams, biomass and waste can be co-fired, gasified, pyrolyzed, or directly combusted to produce energy. Besides being methods for more secure energy provision, both contribute positively to environmental preservation.
The energy produced from biomass is a source of clean and renewable energy.
2.9 Other Sources
Other types of renewable energy sources include:
2.9.1 Solar Thermal Energy
It is a form of energy and a technology for harnessing solar energy to generate thermal energy for industrial use and for utilization in the residential and commercial sectors.
2.9.2 Wave Energy
Wave power captures energy from wind waves for electricity generation. A machine that exploits wave power is called a wave energy converter.
This process uses the ocean thermal gradient between warmer shallow or surface and cooler deep seawaters to run a heat engine and produce electricity.
Apart from these, many more hybrid energy projects are emerging in the technological field combining different renewable generation sources to provide a better, more stable, and more efficient supply.
3. What are the Benefits of using Clean Energy?
Now that we have explained the various types and sources of obtaining clean energy, you might wonder, is there any advantage of using clean energy over traditional energy sources? Well, of course, there is! Using clean energy yields not only environmental benefits but also economic ones. Let’s see how:
3.1 Clean Energy Sources are Environmentally Friendly
This was the number one goal kept in mind while developing the use of these sources for power production. No greenhouse gases or other pollutants that cause harm to the environment are produced in the production of clean energy.
3.2 Sources of Clean Energy are Unlimited in Supply
Since energy is obtained from inexhaustible or rapidly regenerating natural resources, clean energy can be produced indefinitely for any number of years in the coming future.
3.3 The Sources Used to Obtain Clean Energy are Particularly Safe
Their usage does not entail any additional hazards to the environment or humans (except nuclear reactor mishaps). The production power plants are simple to dismantle after they have run their course, so there are not many waste management issues either.
3.4 Clean Energy Sources Promote Energy Independence
Since the resources being used are natural resources found everywhere on the planet, a diverse range of energy supplies are available for clean energy.
Different countries can develop their energy production technologies based on the region they are situated in, instead of being dependent on fuels imported from other countries along with the associated financial and environmental burden.
3.5 Sources of Clean Energy Provide Inherent Cost Savings
This is because there is no need for the extraction and transportation of fuels, as is the case with oil or coal because the resources replenish themselves naturally.
3.6 The Generation of Power Using Clean Energy Methods Boosts the Local Economy.
Renewable plant facilities require labor-intensive jobs to develop, manufacture, install, maintain, and operate the equipment, thereby creating employment opportunities. Hence, this gives rise to job creation and, in turn, stimulates the country’s economy.
4. Why is Clean Energy important?
A prediction by the United Nations states that the human population could reach 8.5 billion by the year 2030 and 9.7 billion by the year 2050 and might surpass 10 billion by 2060, which is an additional 20 billion more than the ones alive now. Two-thirds of this population lives in cities and living standards are improving by the day as emerging developing countries join the global middle class.
All of this will entail a higher demand for energy worldwide, which could enhance further, according to a recent report issued by the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA). Fossil fuels are not enough to meet this high demand because:
- It is estimated that the earth’s oil reserves will be used up within the next 40 to 50 years, and natural gas reserves will be exhausted within the next 60 to 80 years.
- The combustion of fossil fuels releases greenhouse gas emissions into the atmosphere, which leads to global warming and climate change, the two main menaces to the earth in the present century.
In such a dire state of things, switching to alternate means of safer, more plentiful, and less environmentally degrading energy sources is very important.