What Are The Renewable Energy Resources We Use Today?
We know the coal and oil we use today to create electricity are not limitless natural resources. The fossil fuels that lay beneath the earth's crust were created over millions of years and we are using them at an alarming rate. It has been estimated we will be short of oil and coal in the next 50 years as stores of these fuels are used up.
Renewable energy is the future of power throughout the world in the opinion of many people. When you use fossil fuels you are harvesting a resource that cannot be replaced.
There is a limited amount of coal that can be mined and eventually the oil wells will run dry. Finding ways to create sufficient electrical power by using fuels such as sun and wind is now a focus of many countries who realize the days of cheap electricity created with fossil fuel power plants are over.
The most common renewable energy sources are:
In the U.S., using renewable energy is not a new concept. Wood is a form of biomass. Well over a century ago, burning wood provided the fuel for heating homes and for cooking.
When oil and coal became commonly used, we abandoned wood as a major energy source. Today, that trend is being reversed. Wood is a biomass product that is renewable when managed properly.
For a time, logging went unchecked in many parts of the world, including the U.S. Wood was needed to build homes and to burn in wood stoves and fireplaces and trees were plentiful.
In time we realized we were cutting too many old growth forests which displaced wildlife and damaged air quality. Logging became the bad boy of renewable resources and restrictions on cutting and requirements for replanting added land management to the mix.
About 10% of the electrical power used in the U.S. comes from renewable energy resources. Most renewable energy is used to product electricity but much of it is biomass that creates steam and heat for heating home spaces (fireplaces) and for industrial purposes.
Biomass comes in many forms and includes grains and even municipal garbage. Biofuels like biodiesel and ethanol are now common terms in the transportation industry.
Using renewable energy resources reduces our dependence on fossil fuels and extends the time those fuels will be available. Biomass energy production often carries some of the same environmental problems associated with fossil fuels such as particulate emissions.
Other renewable energy fuels do not have the downside of emissions to deal with. These are solar power, hydropower, geothermal and wind energy.
Each of these may be combination of natural renewable fuels that will provide power one hundred years from now when fossil fuels are hard to find and extremely costly.
Limits to Using Renewable Energy
When you know what renewable energy is, you may wonder why we don't use these fuels for all our power needs today. Until recently, using renewable energy to create electricity was more expensive than using oil and coal.
We have huge transportation networks in place to move fossil fuels around the globe. That network is the result of over one hundred years of reliance on oil and coal.
Renewable resources have limits to geographical location of power plants. Geothermal power plants must be located on a geothermal field.
This is an area where the super heated rocks and water are closer to the earth's surface than in other parts of the world. In particular, geothermal fields are found in a ring around the Pacific basin. Building lines to transmit power is expensive and there is another concern about using geothermal energy.
Energy use must be balanced with the heat source beneath the earth. Pulling too much of the heat to the surface can result in cooling of the geothermal area. However, this is truly a renewable resource and the area will recover in temperature when balance is restored.
More critically, the area where geothermal energy is present are also areas known for fault lines and seismic activity. Accessing geothermal energy means drilling large holes deep into the earth and it is feared this may increase the number or strength of earthquakes in some areas.
Solar power relies on a sunny day to produce electricity. At night no power can be generated and solar panels cannot respond to rapidly changing demands put on a power grid. However, solar power has been shown as efficient in providing heat and hot water to homes.
People who live off the power grid in inaccessible areas such as mountains can use solar power to power home systems and can store excess power in large batteries to provide light and heat during hours of days when the sun isn't shining.
Wind energy is much the same as solar power. Many parts of the country have steady, reliable winds that blow reliably day after day. The plains of the Midwest are well suited to wind farms as are coastlines where winds blow in from the sea.
Though using wind as a renewable energy source does hold promise there are concerns about the land mass devoted to wind farm installations and about the potential negative affect the large rotating blades may have on the area's bird populations. Perhaps the most exciting installations of wind turbines are those built directly in the coastal waters.
The turbines do not take up any land are able to capture the energy of the winds blowing over the ocean. Though many people think water based wind turbines add interest to the flat waters, many coastal residents complain the large towers ruin the ocean front view.
Development of better solar panels and batteries and smaller, more efficient wind turbines has been moving ahead quickly in the past few years. In part, this is due to global politics that threaten our supply of fossil fuels.
Perhaps the biggest reason for new technology is the addition of state and federal energy policies that began in 2002 and have been added to in years since. These provide financial assistance and tax incentives for those companies and individuals that utilize or develop renewable energy.
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In the end the question is not what renewable energy is but it is how quickly we can change over to using renewable energy resources. We know fossil fuels are limited and will eventually not be available.
By developing better ways to use various natural resources we can create a more reliable and less expensive source of electricity for the entire country in a way that also protects the environment we live in.