Why Is Renewable Energy Important?

Our continued use and consumption of fossil fuels has contributed to record levels of C02 in the atmosphere. The time has come to make a change. If we ignore the fact that we are harming our planet then the damage will become irreversible. Warmer temperatures, rising sea levels and melting glaciers are just a few of the problems we face9. So, why is renewable energy important?

For too long we have been relying on fossil fuels. If we are to mitigate the damage then we all need to work together. The switch to renewable energy, therefore, is essential progress that we need to accelerate.

What is Renewable Energy?

Renewable energy comes from a clean source and it is inexhaustible. Unlike fossil fuels, there is an endless supply of it.

As it currently stands, oil reserves will run out in 53 years and natural gas in 54 years. Eventually, coal will disappear in 110 years7. This might seem like a lifetime away yet despite our ambitions making the switch to renewable energy will take time.  And it’s a switch we must make to provide a cleaner energy future for the next generation.

Renewable energy is clean. Therefore, it does not produce greenhouse gases to produce energy. This means if we choose to use renewable energy, we can reduce emissions and help to prevent climate change. What’s more, the cost of renewable energy is falling which helps to make it more accessible than ever before

What Types of Renewable Energy Are There?

There are many different types of renewable energy sources and supporting technologies to harness them for our electrical and other energy needs. All can be used to create renewable energy in different ways and they each have a number of different applications.

  • Wind Energy: Through onshore and offshore wind farms, we can use the wind to drive turbines. Currently, there are almost 350,000 wind turbines around the world. All of which create clean electricity that can be used by businesses and communities.
  • Solar Energy: This harnesses the power of the sun. There are two predominant solar technologies in use to produce solar energy. The first uses the light of the sun to create energy while the other uses the heat. From small solar panels on individual houses to vast solar farms, they are all helping to reduce carbon dioxide emissions.
  • Hydroelectric: We have been using water for centuries to produce energy, using moving water such as rivers and freshwater currents to generate power. The flow of water drives underwater turbines that are used for electricity generation.
  • Biomass and Biogas: Organic material and waste, or biomass, can be burnt to create heat which we can then convert it into electricity. In fact, producing energy from organic materials is one of our oldest forms of energy.
  • Geothermal Energy: The earth naturally produces heat. There are certain places on earth, such as Iceland where we can find and make use of geothermal energy. We can use geothermal energy to heat water which in turn can generate clean electricity.
  • Tidal Energy: Around 71% of the earth is covered by ocean. A growing number of new developments show that we can also use the ever-moving tides to spin electricity-generating turbines.
  • Wave Energy: Waves are a constant source of energy. Using the vertical movement of the water, we have the potential to harness this endless energy source.
  • Bioethanol: This is an alternative to petrol and diesel. It comes from the fermentation of crops and now provides an alternative fuel for vehicles.
  • Biodiesel: Similarly this source of energy is an alternative to diesel that comes from vegetable oil as well as animal fats.

What Does the Paris Agreement Mean?

Paris Agreement and Renewable Energy
Photo Credit: UNclimatechange on Flickr. (CC-BY 2.0)

At the World Climate Summit in December 2015, the Paris Agreement was put in place. As a result, renewable energies were given support.

The Paris Agreement is a global objective with 200 countries committing to it. The aim is to reduce emissions such that the increase in global temperature can be kept below 2°C. This is the limit under which the most significant effects of global warming are prevented.

Renewable Energy – Have We Made Enough Progress?

We must seek to increase our renewable energy usage in our switch from polluting fossil fuels. There is no doubt about it. In the last decade alone, we have seen a significant increase in access to renewable energy. Despite this, we are still not doing enough.

Many international climate goals have been put in place under the Paris Agreement2. We also have a growing focus on sustainable development. However, for the most part, we are not on track to meet these goals. As a result, we are facing a climate crisis. Millions are at risk of food shortages and hunger while flooding will cause problems4.

Scientists suggest that we have around 10-12 years to keep global warming at a maximum of 1.5°C. If we can do this, then we can avoid irreversible damage and save lives.

Reaching Climate Goals – The Importance of Renewable Energy

Importance of renewable energy
Photo by Jason Blackeye on Unsplash

Given renewable energy is a limitless source we can never run out. We can use endless sources that can help us to meet electricity demand. From the energy of the sun to wind and tides, they provide sustainable energy.

With international targets and goals now in place, we need to accelerate towards their renewable energy targets. Meeting the objectives set out in the Paris climate agreement will not only reduce man-made greenhouse gases. The increased adoption of renewable energy also brings with it a range of political, socio-economic and environmental advantages5.

Renewable energy is not just better for our planet but it is also better for our health. A switch to renewable energy prevents many of the polluting characteristics of burning fossil fuels. Air and water pollution caused by fumes burnt by our cars, factories and power stations have been linked to everything from heart problems and premature death.

In fact, a study originating from Harvard University found that the knock-on effects of public health in the US alone is costing three-quarters of a trillion dollars a year8.

Renewable Energy Is Important For the Economy

Further, renewable energy can help to create stable energy prices as well as lower costs1. Local industry can benefit and currently, more than 10 million people work in the clean energy sector. The estimate is that more than 24 million people will work in the sector by 2030.

Moving across to renewable energy will also help to boost the economy. The International Renewable Energy Agency identified that by doubling the renewable energy share to 36%, it will result in global growth economic of 1.1% by 2030. It will also enhance wellbeing and improve employment opportunities.

When we rely on several sources of clean energy it also increases reliability and resilience. It means that we can call on other systems when one fails. We can see progress. For example, the New York metropolitan area began investing in renewable energy in 2012. This was following power shortages after several hurricanes. Today almost 23% of New York’s electricity needs come from a range of renewable sources.

Renewable Energy Helps Provide Energy Security

Across the world, 1.4 billion people lack access to electricity6. 85% of those without live in rural areas.

Because renewable energy sources are accessible they can help provide energy security3. The sun and the wind can be found pretty much everywhere across the world. This means that it is possible to install solutions and access renewable energy from anywhere in the world. Every country has access to some or all of the sources of renewable energy. Whether that is a solar or wind power plant or utilising the power of water, every country can produce sustainable energy.

The Growing Importance of Renewable Energy

We should no longer think of renewable energy in support of nonrenewable energy sources. As such the aim is to provide sources of energy that are clean, green and reduce CO2 emissions. And our ambition should be to replace the need to burn fossil fuels entirely. It is a huge challenge but we have to see renewable energy as a potential replacement.

Many climate deniers argue that its all a hoax. Across social media, we’ve begun to see people commenting asking what is the worst that can happen given the switch to renewables? We don’t emit pollution from burning oil into the atmosphere, costs come down and more people have access to electricity and energy security.

Today, we know that wind and solar power work. We have seen how they are powering millions of homes in the United States, the UK and China. The potential is there and there are more technologies readily available.

We don’t believe that the climate deniers have a leg to stand on. Even in the event that they are right, surely switching to renewable energy is a good thing regardless?

If we are to meet targets then we have to think about the bigger picture. Energy companies have to invest more money. We need more clean power generation capacity. As awareness and demand grows technology will further improve, increasing efficiency and further lowering costs.

Progress will aid in making renewable energy accessible to all. It is a huge challenge but one that we can face with the right infrastructure and planning.

So, renewable energy is important. It is more important than ever before and it really is the main driver behind saving our planet and future generations from the damage caused by greenhouse gases.

Kai Gradert

Further Inspiration:

Sources & References:

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2Paris Agreement climate proposals need a boost to keep warming well below 2 °C. Joeri Rogelj, Michel den Elzen, Niklas Höhne, Taryn Fransen, Hanna Fekete, Harald Winkler, Roberto Schaeffer, Fu Sha, Keywan Riahi & Malte Meinshausen. Nature volume 534, pages 631–639 (30 June 2016)
3Phebe Asantewaa Owusu & Samuel Asumadu-Sarkodie | Shashi Dubey (Reviewing Editor) (2016) A review of renewable energy sources, sustainability issues and climate change mitigation, Cogent Engineering, 3:1, DOI: 10.1080/23311916.2016.1167990
4Parry, Martin, Arnell, Nigel, McMichael, Tony, Nicholls, Robert, Martens, Pim, Kovats, Sari, Livermore, Matthew, Rosenzweig, Cynthia, Iglesias, Ana and Fischer, Gunther (2001) Millions at risk: defining critical climate change threats and targets. Global Environmental Change, 11 (3), 181-183. (doi:10.1016/S0959-3780(01)00011-5).
5Brian Vad Mathiesen, Henrik Lund, Kenneth Karlsson, 100% Renewable energy systems, climate mitigation and economic growth, Applied Energy, Volume 88, Issue 2, 2011, Pages 488-501, ISSN 0306-2619, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.apenergy.2010.03.001
6Kamil Kaygusuz, Energy for sustainable development: A case of developing countries, Renewable and Sustainable Energy Reviews, Volume 16, Issue 2, 2012, Pages 1116-1126, ISSN 1364-0321, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.rser.2011.11.013
7Shahriar Shafiee, Erkan Topal, When will fossil fuel reserves be diminished?, Energy Policy, Volume 37, Issue 1, 2009, Pages 181-189, ISSN 0301-4215, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.enpol.2008.08.016
8Paul R. Epstein, Jonathan J. Buonocore, Kevin Eckerle, Michael Hendryx, Benjamin M. Stout III, Richard Heinberg, Richard W. Clapp, Beverly May, Nancy L. Reinhart, Melissa M. Ahern, Samir K. Doshi, and Leslie Glustrom. 2011. Full cost accounting for the life cycle of coal in “Ecological Economics Reviews.” Robert Costanza, Karin Limburg & Ida Kubiszewski, Eds. Ann. N.Y. Acad. Sci. 1219: 73–98.
9Future sea-level commitment. Anders Levermann, Peter U. Clark, Ben Marzeion, Glenn A. Milne, David Pollard, Valentina Radic, Alexander Robinson. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences Aug 2013, 110 (34) 13745-13750; DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1219414110

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