Renewable Energy

    The number one source of energy used in the US is fossil fuels. But Fossil Fuels are a limited resource. 

    Fossil Fuels are extracted from underground, from the remains of plants and animals, and burned to release energy. The most common types of fossil fuels are coal, petroleum and natural gas.

    At our current rate of consumption, the world will run out of all fossil fuels within the next 75 to 100 years. Oil and natural gas will run out much sooner, in about 25 to 30 years. 

    The ideal time to move to renewable energy has already passed us by. 

    Currently only about 20% of energy consumption on earth comes from a renewable source.

    Benefits of Renewable Energy

    One obvious benefit is simply that these forms of energy are renewable, and will not leave future generations without a source of power. 

    Renewable energy reduces environmental pollution. The burning of fossil fuels causes air pollution. Oil drilling and strip mining are affecting forests, fracking has led to earthquakes and water pollution, and all use of fossil fuels are contributing to global warming.

    Switching to renewable sources will limit pollution and lead to improved public health and save on health costs that could total in the billions. It is a smart move for public health and economic prosperity.

    In contrast to fossil fuels, whose resources are concentrated in just a few countries, renewable energy resources can exist over a much more diverse area, in almost any area on earth. 

    The countries that control the fossil fuels, also have control over the price of these fuels. But renewable energies are not controlled by only a few, so they are rapidly becoming more efficient and cheaper than their counterparts, and therefore more available to even the poorest countries.

    Types of renewable energy

    Renewable energy comes from sources such as sunlight, wind, rain, tides and geothermal heat. 

    Although these sources are limited in the amount of energy that can be produced in a small amount of time, they are virtually inexhaustible for the long duration. 

    These are the major types of renewable energy

    Solar – This is the most common type of renewable energy that people see. Many people put solar panels on their roofs. Towns and cities put panels on utility poles, and have created solar farms (fields of solar panels) to power larger areas.

    Wind- Windmills and Wind Turbines both harness the power of the wind. Windmills have been used for centuries to do work. The more modern Wind Turbines create electricity. Over 40 states in the US, and 83 countries worldwide are using Wind Turbines for some of their energy production.

    Hydropower- Also known as hydroelectric power, is one of the oldest and largest sources of renewable energy. This method harnesses the power generated from the natural flow of water. The most commonly known type of Hydropower is seen in dams.

    Geothermal- Geothermal energy uses the heat from the Earth’s core and converts it into energy. Geothermal power plants access reservoirs of hot water miles under the earth’s crust. That hot water is either used for direct heating or converted into electricity. Modern closed-loop Geothermal power plants emit no greenhouse gasses. Geothermal heating or electricity production is currently used in 70 countries.

    Biomass- Wood is the most common type of plant based material used to produce Biomass heat and electricity. Any waste with an organic component can be used for Biomass fuel. Even the methane gas that is released from landfills can be captured and used as a Biomass fuel. 

    Biomass vs Fossil Fuels:

    Even though Biomass releases carbon dioxide in the same amounts as burning fossil fuels, it does not contribute to global warming in the same way. The main difference is that Fossil Fuels are created from organic matter that is millions of years old. That carbon is being newly released into the atmosphere, adding to the already existing carbon levels. The carbon released by Biomass is part of the current carbon level that already exists today. This carbon is already balanced by the carbon that was part of the Biomass growth.

    Moving in the Right Direction

    As you can see in the cart below, the US has moved from 100% wood burning power, in the early 1800s to an mostly coal energy source in the early 1900s, followed by the growth of the other fossil fuels, petroleum and natural gas for the remainder of the century. Renewable energy use has grown in the last 20 years and I can only hope that the trend continues.

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