Renewable Resources: Benefits, Drawbacks and More
With the increasing danger that global warming is becoming, more focus has been put on developing renewable resources and how we can use them. Resources such as the sun or water are being exploited generating energy for personal or mass use. Many of the renewable resources that are found have shown very promising results. Here are all of the renewable resources that are being researched, how they can be used to generate energy, and the benefits or drawbacks of them.
What is a Renewable Resource
The definition of renewable is a resource that can be used repeatedly and is replaced by naturally. These resources occur naturally on Earth, like sunlight, water, and wind. Coal is another resource that is found naturally on Earth, however coal has a limited supply and can not be replaced quickly or naturally. Sunlight, one of the most abundant resources on the planet, will not run out until the sun literally burns out. And that will not be for a good million years. Some other renewable resources also are seemingly unlimited, like wind and geothermal pressure.
There are other resources that fall under the renewable title but have to go through some time and effort to be renewed, like wood and oxygen. Wood has to be grown and oxygen has to be recycled in the atmosphere.
List of Renewable Resources
These renewable energy sources have been available to us for years. However, it was not until recently that the public started to notice them. There are some that most will not even be familiar with. Most common examples of renewable resources are as follows.
Each of these sources have their own unique methods on how energy can be harvested. They also all have many benefits over using fossil fuels. Like everything, they also have some drawbacks, however the benefits far outweigh the negatives.
Water, or hydroelectric, is a renewable resources that produces the most energy in the United States. In 2009, it was credited for 7% of all of the electricity generated in the United States. Water also generated 35% of all renewable energy power. Water actually has a very long history of power use. An early example of this is paddle wheels used to grind grain. Nowadays, water is used in a similar way to generate electricity. Water flows through a tube and hits a turbine, thus making it spin. The spinning turbine powers the generator which creates electricity and sends it to a transformer which then distributes it to where it is needed. In the United States, large dams have been built to house these generators. The largest hydroelectric dams in the United States are the Grand Coulee, Bath County PSP, Chief Joseph Dam, Robert Moses Niagara Power Plant, John Day Dam, Hoover Dam, and The Dalles Dam.
- Hydroelectric, in addition to supplying energy, it also creates water reserves.
- Hydroelectric is clean and produces zero greenhouse gas emissions.
- Avoids 225 million metric tons of carbon pollution in the United States each year.
- Costly to build
- Can cause flooding of surrounding communities.
- Dams have major ecological impacts on local waters.
Solar power has been one of the most promising sources of sustainable energy. It also has many different uses. Thermal solar energy is used to heat water or buildings. Photovoltaic devices, also known as solar cells, directly transform sunlight into electricity. They are used to power anything from small applications like calculators and watch batteries, to large systems that can power houses. Huge plants have also been built to harness an immense amount of solar energy, spanning acres.
- Completely abundant
- It is available anywhere
- Reduces electricity costs
- Numerous applications
- Low Maintenance
- Support from government and state.
- New technology is continuously being developed.
- Expensive (But research has been put into making it much cheaper)
- Access to direct sunlight can be limited at times depending on the weather and time of day. (however there are ways around that)
Wind is created by the air moving over the earth as the sun heats the surface. As long as the sun is in the sky, winds will continue to blow, making it a very renewable resource. Wind power is another old power. Dutch windmills were built hundreds of years ago to harness the energy. Today, we use a similar design using three blades. Although wind was only responsible for the generation of a small amount of power in the United States in 2009, it is the fastest growing source of new electric power.
- Has the potential to reduce cumulative greenhouse gas emissions by 14%.
- Turbines can be built on existing farm land or ranches.
- Creates jobs. In 2016, wind energy sector employed more than 101,000 workers
- Cost effective. Power prices offered by new wind farms averaged 2 cents per kilowatt-hour.
- Manufacturing and implementation can be costly.
- Eyesore (opinionated)
- Good wind sites can be in more remote locations making it difficult to send the power to towns.
- Noise Pollution
Geothermal power is the harnessing of heat from inside the Earth. For example, a large utility company can use a geothermal reservoir to power generators and create electricity for their municipality. Residential heat pumps use shallow ground temperature to heat and cool a home on a smaller scale. The shallow ground temperature remains between 50 and 60 degrees Fahrenheit. Other applications that can use geothermal heat include commercial buildings, roads, agriculture, and industrial factories.
- Does not cause significant amounts of pollution.
- Reservoirs are naturally replenished.
- Do not take a lot of space.
- Recent technology advancements have lowered costs and created more exploitable resources.
- Meet base load energy demand.
- Location specific (best used in areas with volcanic activity)
- Heavy upfront costs
- Geothermal plants, in extreme cases, can cause earthquakes
Biomass fuel is the use of resources such as trees, food crops, agriculture, forestry byproducts and even methane from landfills. These sources provide fuels, power production, and products typically made from nonrenewable fossil fuels. These bioproducts include plastics, insulation, and fabric. Biomass energy production has the potential to reduce our dependance on oil and other fossil fuels, as well as reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
- Carbon neutral. Biomass is part of the carbon cycle which means any carbon that is produced by biomass energy is recycled
- Cost effective. Energy harnessed costs around ⅓ less than fossil fuels would.
- Available in large quantities.
- Expensive to extract and store.
- Requires space.
- Crops need upkeep to remain sustainable.
- When burned, biomass can release excess amounts of carbon.
Nothing is without its disadvantages. Technology is still being developed for all of these resources. However, today many still require space to be implemented, money to be built and the right location. There are exceptions and additions that are created for some of these resources. The development of batteries for solar cells that store excess energy for use at night or for inclement weather. The most promising sources of renewable energy are wind and solar as they can be implemented easier, can be for personal use, and even have government backing.
Advancements in Renewable Energy
Countries and companies are always making new advancements in the strive of renewable power. Scientists are continuously developing new technology to make the harvesting of renewable resources easier and cheaper. Seeing as the biggest problem with all of the different renewable resources is the cost to implement them, finding a way to reduce the price will bring in a lot more people. During the beginning of this year, many new advancements and plans were released that are very promising. Development of new applications are also happening in the fields of solar power and wind power. This all in the fight against global warming. The more applications available for these renewable resources, the less we will have to rely on fossil fuels.
Pay-Go Solar in Africa– startups have been achieving success in their plan to bring power to parts of Africa that have little to no access to energy infrastructure. This model brings solar photovoltaic cells, storage, and mobile pay to give people an affordable option for electricity. Think of it like a pay-as-you-go cell phone plan only for solar power. In 2016, they were successful in gaining investors to support the business model.
United States Offshore Wind– Block Island Wind Farm has been working long and hard to hit the ground running with using the technology of offshore oil plants for offshore wind farms. Many states on the East Coast have also contributed to the support of offshore wind. There have also been talks between offshore wind and offshore oil and gas to develop partnerships to take advantage of their collective skills.
India Leading the Charge– India has made incredible advancements in their solar sector in 2016. They are right on track to meet their Prime Minister’s plan to boost solar capacity in the country to 100 gigawatts by 2022 or even earlier. This year, India issues their first call for solar projects with energy storage and set aside $3 billion in state funding for the development of the country’s solar panel manufacturing.
Renewable Jet Fuel– Airlines, like jetBlue and United, have made commitments to integrate renewable jet fuel into their operations. Governments around the world have also reached an agreement on the design of a global market-based measure for international aviation. This agreement is actually part of a larger plan to invest in new technology, increase renewable fuel use, and reduce carbon emissions in the airline industry.
Perovskite Solar Cells– These cells are cheap and easier to produce, as well as very efficient at absorbing light. Perovskite cells use a thin film which is made of a material that is a hybrid of organic and inorganic compounds with a particular type of crystal structure. They absorb as much light as a thick layer of the silicon that standard cells use. However, the compounds responsible for capturing the solar energy tend to degrade quickly, especially in wet and hot conditions. Many researchers have succeeded in increasing the efficiency and durability of these perovskite cells and are continuing to improve this promising technology.
SmartFlower– This fairly new tech is the latest in solar panel technology. The SmartFlower looks like a big sunflower, and with the power of a GPS tracker, it mimics the functions of a real flower. Throughout the day, this flower will turn towards the direction the sun is shining. This insures that it will absorb the most amount of sunlight. It actually captures 40% more solar energy than a traditional solar panel. Another cool thing about the SmartFlower is that it can clean and is self-cooling. The flower automatically unfolds in the morning when the sun rises and folds back down when it sets. It also folds closed during inclement weather.
Renewable resources, though have their disadvantages when compared to standard fuels, supply the Earth with a clean solution to our pollution problems. The advantages of the use of these resources far outweigh the drawbacks. The biggest problem with these energy sources is most commonly the price. However, with solar energy, many governments and states offer grants and discounts for the installments of the solar panels. Also, the savings that are available more than make up for the initial installation cost. The 3 most promising clean energy sources are solar, wind and water. Though solar has been by far the most popular for its personal use and its numerous applications. Technology will continue to be developed and advances are always being made. This making renewable resources and green energy the energy of tomorrow and today.