Renewable Energy Advantages And Disadvantages

WHAT IS RENEWABLE ENERGY

Renewable energy is energy that is collected from renewable resources that are naturally replenished on a human timescale. It includes sources such as sunlight, wind, rain, tides, waves, and geothermal heat. 

Renewable energy, often referred to as clean energy, comes from natural sources or processes that are constantly replenished. For example, sunlight or wind keep shining and blowing, even if their availability depends on time and weather.

Renewable energies (or renewables) are ways to generate energy from (theoretically) unlimited natural resources. These resources are either available with no time limit or replenish more quickly than the rate at which they are consumed.

Renewable energies are generally spoken of as opposed to fossil fuel energies. The fossil fuels’ stocks are limited and non-renewable in the human timescale. The most known examples of these resources are coal, oil or natural gas. On the contrary, renewable energies are produced from renewable sources. Here, we’re talking about energy coming from solar rays, wind or water cycles – all theoretically unlimited on a human scale time.

Renewable energies are also often referred to as “green energies” or “clean energies”. Still, this doesn’t mean that these energies aren’t harmful to the environment and have zero impact. Nonetheless, they have a low environmental impact compared to fossil fuels. That’s why they’re increasingly becoming important elements in companies’

There are several types of renewable energies that are produced by different sources such as the sun, wind or water. In fact, these renewables’ power consumption has been growing over the last year. They have provided 8% of the world’s electricity in 2017 and they now cover 1/3 of the power mix in Europe. At the same time, the energy grid gets 1/4 of the total energy in China and 1/6 in the United States, India, and Japan. Let’s learn more about them below.

The major types of renewable energy sources are:

  • Biomass. Wood and wood waste. Municipal solid waste. Landfill gas and biogas. Ethanol. Biodiesel.
  • Hydropower.
  • Geothermal.
  • Wind.
  • Solar.

Three Important Features of Renewable Energy

1.) Form of Energy Supply (Store vs Flow)
Fossil fuels are concentrated stores of chemical energy (stored in carbon bonds). One can store and transport coal, oil, and natural gas over long distances without losing the quality of this energy. Moreover, they contain significant amounts of energy per unit mass or volume (something that our transportation system has benefited from).

Renewable energy systems generally derive directly from the energy absorbed by the earth system from the sun. Solar and wind energy are flow systems — they must be used as they are produced. For these energy sources, an external energy storage system needs to be added to save energy for when they are not flowing. Both wind and solar are most abundant at certain times of day, and so must be stored for use when they are absent. Biomass (e.g biofuels) are chemical stores of energy but with a much shorter shelf life compared to fossil fuels. They decompose relatively quickly. Hydroelectric is generated from converted solar energy that drives the water cycle and does have storage abilities, since water can be held behind a dam rather than being released.

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2.) Form of Energy as Delivered
Many of our renewable options (including tidal and geothermal not listed in table) supply energy to end uses in the form of electricity. Considering that electricity now supplies less than 40% of our energy end uses (the rest being largely fossil fuels), a renewable future would require not only significant changes in energy generation and storage but energy supply systems.

Our transportation sector, which consumes more than a quarter of US energy supply, currently depends on petroleum-based liquid fuels (94%). Think about our dependence on the internal combustion engine….Movement away from fossil fuels will require some combination of drastically increased electricity use (fuel cells, hybrids, electric vehicles) and biofuels in the transportation sector. The infrastructure changes associated with such a transformation would be significant.
3.) Power Density
Power density refers to the rate of energy flow per unit land area. Why should you care about what seems like a dry engineering concept? You should care because this is a characteristic of energy supply that shapes our infrastructure and settlement patterns, In many ways we can say that our cities are in part the outcome of the HIGH power densities provided by fossil fuels.

We can think of the power density of energy supply as the energy flow (watts) that can be captured or produced per unit land area through a particular energy supply. We can also think about energy consumption in this way — the amount of energy consumed per unit land area. For instance, one would expect the a skyscraper to have a higher energy power consumptive density than a single-story house.

Take a look at the table to the right. Watts are units of the rate of flow of energy (power) and therefore power density is the energy flow per unit land area (m2). The table presents power density of energy-producing (wind farms, hydroelectric plants, corn fields) and consuming sources and entities houses, cities..etc) facilities. Please note that renewable energy power densities are much lower than fossil fuel facilities — renewable energy supply is diffuse.

Reflecting about this table should help you answer questions such as:

  • Can our cities be powered with roof-top photovoltaics?
  • How can our cities be powered through renewables?
  • What kinds of energy supply and transport infrastructure would be required?

Characteristics of Renewable and Nonrenewable Resources

Some of the main characteristics of renewable and nonrenewable resources are as follows:

Any part of our natural environment such as land, air, water, forest, minerals, wildlife etc. which is utilised by human beings for their welfare is termed as natural resources.

According to Owen (1971), the natural resources may be divided in to two categories, on the basis of quantity, mutability and use ability.

1. Renewable Resources or Inexhaustible Resources

2. Non Renewable Resources or Exhaustible Resources

1. Renewable resources:

The resources which can be renewed along with their exploitation and can be always available for use are known as renewable sources.

Some characteristics of renewable resources are as follows:

(i) These resources are capable of regeneration.

(ii) These are renewed along with exploitation and hence, always available for use.

(iii) The regeneration of these sources involves some ecological processes on a time scale.

(iv) The renewable sources become nonrenewable if used at a greater rate than the environment’s capacity to replenish them.

(v) These resources comprise materials like food, timber, raw materials for clothing’s, leather etc. These also include oxygen, fresh water solar energy and biomass.

2. Non renewable resources:

The natural resources which cannot be regenerated along with their exploitation are known as nonrenewable resources.

Some important characteristics of such type of resources are given below:

(i) These are available only in finite quantities and hence termed as “stock resources”

(ii) These cannot be regenerated easily.

(iii) These are concentrated as minerals usually in lithosphere of earth in a number of forms.

(iv) These may be solids (coal, lignite, minerals), liquids (petroleum) or gases (natural gases)

(v) These substances remain as waste in some other forms after their use unless there are subjected to recycling.

RENEWABLE ENERGY ADVANTAGES

Renewable energy has multiple advantages over fossil fuels. Here are some of the top benefits of going green:

  • Renewable energy won’t run out
  • Renewable energy has lower maintenance requirements
  • Renewables save money
  • Renewable energy has numerous environmental benefits
  • Renewables lower reliance on foreign energy sources
  • Renewable energy leads to cleaner water and air
  • Renewable energy creates jobs
  • Renewable energy can cut down on waste

1. Renewable energy won’t run out

Renewable energy technologies use resources straight from the environment to generate power. These energy sources include sunshine, wind, tides, and biomass, to name some of the more popular options. Renewable resources won’t run out, which cannot be said for many types of fossil fuels – as we use fossil fuel resources, they will be increasingly difficult to obtain, likely driving up both the cost and environmental impact of extraction.

2. Maintenance requirements are lower for renewable energy

In most cases, renewable energy technologies require less overall maintenance than generators that use traditional fuel sources. This is because generating technology like solar panels and wind turbines either have few or no moving parts and don’t rely on flammable, combustible fuel sources to operate. Fewer maintenance requirements translate to more time and money saved.

3. Renewables save money

Using renewable energy can help you save money long term. Not only will you save on maintenance costs, but on operating costs as well. When you’re using a technology that generates power from the sun, wind, steam, or natural processes, you don’t have to pay to refuel. The amount of money you will save using renewable energy can vary depending on a number of factors, including the technology itself. In most cases, transitioning to renewable energy means anywhere from hundreds to thousands of dollars in savings

4. Renewable energy has numerous environmental benefits

Renewable energy generation sources emit little to no greenhouse gases or pollutants into the air. This means a smaller carbon footprint and an overall positive impact on the natural environment. During the combustion process, fossil fuels emit high amounts of greenhouse gases, which have been proven to exacerbate the rise of global temperatures and frequency of extreme weather events.

The use of fossil fuels not only emits greenhouse gases but other harmful pollutants as well that lead to respiratory and cardiac health issues. With renewable energy, you’re helping decrease the prevalence of these pollutants and contributing to an overall healthier atmosphere.

5. Renewables lower reliance on foreign energy sources

With renewable energy technologies, you can produce energy locally. The more renewable energy you’re using for your power needs, the less you’ll rely on imported energy, and the more you’ll contribute to U.S. energy independence as a whole. Renewable energy sources can help us minimize the geo-political risks associated with fossil fuels, from trade disputes to political instability to pricing wars, all of which are often rooted in access to oil.

6. Renewable energy leads to cleaner water and air

When you burn fossil fuels to generate electricity, it contaminates the air and water we use. For example, coal power stations release high volumes of carbon dioxide and nitrous oxide, as well as harmful toxins like mercury, lead, and sulfur dioxide. Health problems from ingesting these elements can be dangerous, and even fatal in some cases. Investing in renewable energy is a great way to work against these risks, as renewables have a far lower negative impact on our air and water. 

7. Renewable energy creates new jobs 

While the U.S. shifts its focus to combat global warming, we’re setting ambitious carbon-reduction goals that require labor to get the job done. Today, the renewable energy sector employs three times as many people as fossil fuels do in the U.S. That number is expected to rise over the next few years—and as a plus, these jobs tend to pay above average wages, making it a very attractive career option and an overall economic boom. 

8. Renewable energy can help solve our waste problem

Specifically, biomass energy can offer a big benefit in this way. Biomass generators consume used organic products like vegetable oil, corn and soybean byproducts, and even algae to generate energy. Because of this, using biomass as an energy source can reduce the amount of waste that goes into landfills, which helps cut down on carbon emissions and environmental contamination. 

Disadvantages of renewable energy

Renewable energy has many benefits, but it’s not always sunny when it comes to renewable energy. Here are some disadvantages to using renewables over traditional fuel sources:

  • Renewable energy has high upfront costs
  • Renewable energy is intermittent
  • Renewables have storage capabilities
  • Renewable energy sources have geographic limitations
  • Renewables aren’t always 100% carbon-free

1. Higher upfront cost

While you can save money by using renewable energy, the technologies are typically more expensive upfront than traditional energy generators. To combat this, there are often financial incentives, such as tax credits and rebates, available to help alleviate your initial costs of renewable technology.

2. Intermittency

Though renewable energy resources are available around the world, many of these resources aren’t available 24/7, year-round. Some days may be windier than others, the sun doesn’t shine at night, and droughts may occur for periods of time. There can be unpredictable weather events that disrupt these technologies. Fossil fuels are not intermittent and can be turned on or off at any given time. Wondering if you should make the switch to renewables? Find out if an energy source like solar power is good for you. 

3. Storage capabilities

Because of the intermittency of some renewable energy sources, there’s a high need for energy storage. While there are, they can be expensive, especially for large-scale renewable energy plants. It’s worth noting that energy storage capacity is growing as the technology progresses, and batteries are becoming more affordable as time goes on.

4. Geographic limitations

The United States has a diverse geography with varying climates, topographies, vegetation, and more. This creates a beautiful melting pot of landscapes but also means that there are some geographies that are more suitable for renewable technologies than others. For example, a large farm with open space may be a great place for a residential wind turbine or a solar energy system, while a townhome in a city covered in shade from taller buildings wouldn’t be able to reap the benefits of either technology on their property. If your property isn’t suitable for a personal renewable energy technology, there are other options. If you’re interested in solar but don’t have a sunny property, you can often still benefit from renewable energy by purchasing green power or enrolling in a communty solar option.

5. Not 100% carbon-free

Although solar panels and other forms of renewable energy drastically reduce carbon emissions, these resources aren’t always completely clean. The manufacturing, transportation, and installation of renewable energy, like wind turbines, can create a carbon footprint since they’re usually produced in factories that are powered by fossil fuels —not to mention the diesel and gasoline needed to fuel the transport trucks. As the U.S. becomes more and more electrified – from solar panels on factories, to electric transport trucks – carbon emissions associated with solar will continue to decrease.

6. Supply chain constraints

Renewables must have an effective distribution network created to transfer the energy where it’s needed on a large scale. These networks need non-renewable energies to be generated, which offsets the benefits of renewable energy for a bit until it’s paid back. Additionally, politics can play a factor in installing renewable energy if it’s not a priority among local governments. 

Renewable energy has more benefits than drawbacks

When it comes to renewable energy, the positives outweigh the negatives. Transitioning to renewables on a personal, corporate, or governmental level will not only help you save money but also promote a cleaner, healthier environment for the future.

Installing solar panels is one of the easiest ways to go green. , you can compare multiple quotes from local, pre-screened installers to see what solar costs and savings for your property. The quotes will also include estimates of the amount of carbon dioxide emissions you will offset over 20 years, and what this equates to in both trees planted and gallons of gasoline burned.

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