Renewable energy is something that we hear more and more about. And for good reason. Today we can all enjoy the many advantages of renewable energy. As we seek to reverse the damage caused by greenhouse gases, the development of more renewable energy production has arguably never been more important.
Most of us will recognise wind turbines and solar panels becoming a more common sight. Thus, these renewable energy growth markers dot the landscape. More appear as each year passes.
Renewable energy is not new. Despite this, we still mostly rely on energy from non-renewable sources. Worldwide we generate 80% of our energy needs from non-renewable sources16. Although the situation is changing, this remains the case even in the face of climate change. And even as climate issues become more prominent.
We’re forecast to grow our use of renewable energy growth. This is inevitable. And welcome. The International Energy Agency predicts renewable energy growing 20% over the next 5 years. Should these figures hold true renewable energy will then provide 12.4% of our energy needs.
Meanwhile, technology evolves constantly. And energy efficiency improves with each evolution. A recent research study found that renewable energy efficiency in Europe was increasing by 8.5% annually6. Improvements in efficiency in turn help to increase output. As a result, we can now harness more energy from renewable sources.
Slowly but surely we’re replacing fossil fuel energy. Of course, climate science argues this is not happening fast enough.
Also, we must consider the environmental impact alongside health and economic concerns. Looking at these in proportion is important to balance the advantages of renewable energy.
With this in mind, what are the advantages of renewable energy? How does renewable energy impact our lives? And how does renewable energy reduce affect climate change? This article further outlines the advantages of renewable energy. And why it is such an important choice for the future of our planet.
We have already caused a considerable amount of damage to our planet. Since the industrial revolution, we have released more and more carbon dioxide and other emissions into the atmosphere. We can now see the effects. From forest fires to heat waves, climate change is harder to ignore.
With little doubt burning fossil fuels have played a key role in global warming. The science shows that fossil fuels are mostly to blame. Whereas there are detractors, study after study can’t be wrong.
Burning fossil fuels emits polluting gases into the atmosphere. The primary pollutant is CO2. We’ll all remember from school science that CO2 is a normal part of our atmosphere. Gases protect our planet, including CO2, helping to keep in the heat from the sun.
Called greenhouse gases, they work like glass in a greenhouse. The sun's heat comes in, and this layer of gases prevents it from escaping. This is perfectly normal. In fact, our planet would not sustain life without the greenhouse effect these gases provide.
However, the problem arises when we burn fuel for energy. Emissions from power generation, cars, and other pollutants have created vast amounts more greenhouse gases than nature alone. This has created a bigger gas layer that traps in more heat.
A group of 1300 independent scientists make up the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Their research looks at emissions of CO2 and other greenhouse gases from industry and consumption. The research points to human responsibility for rising CO2 levels in the atmosphere. Over the last 150 years, atmospheric CO2 has increased from 280 parts per million to 400 parts17. They conclude, with 95% certainty, that the human production of greenhouse gases have caused this increase. As a result, the Earth’s temperature has risen over the past 50 years.
Climate change now blights our planet. We’re rightly concerned. Global warming is not a myth.
Further, we have an insatiable and growing need for energy. More people, more cars, more travel, more products, more factories. Growth requires more energy. So, we burn more fuel.
We don’t just have a problem with greenhouse gases. Fossil fuels take millions of years to turn into a source of energy. Heat and pressure form fossil fuels from organic matter. This happens through a process called anaerobic decomposition7.
Yet, we only have a finite amount of fossil fuels left to burn on the planet. Researchers predict that we have 114 years left of coal, 52 of Natural Gas and 50 of oil10. The assumption here is that we continue to burn fossil fuels at the same rate as today.
So we’ve made a mess of the atmosphere. We’ll eventually run out of our finite fossil fuel energy sources. Hence, the growing importance to benefit from the advantages of renewable energy. And the mounting case to dramatically increase its use. In doing so, removing our need for polluting fossil fuels.
We must do our best to mitigate the effects of climate change. We can witness rising sea levels, storms, and increased temperatures across the globe. Changes to habitats and food sources impact wildlife. Sadly most species can’t adapt quickly enough. As a result, the threat of extinction increases. Most now believe global warming to be the cause.
We witnessed in July 2018 California’s most deadly wildfire ever. The fire consumed nearly half a million acres of forest. A recent study looking at the reasons pointed the finger at climate change. The study found that climate change led to 500 per cent larger fires3.
Elsewhere another study found that if climate change is not dealt with, one in 6 species could face extinction. And if that wasn’t bad enough researchers also found that half a million human deaths are likely by 2050. The cause? climate change’s impact on food production1.
Meanwhile, we recorded the hottest year on record in 201613 And action to remedy our polluting ways is slow to gain the required momentum.
Science shines a light on the problems. Little doubt remains as to the cause. Despite the doubters, the facts speak for themselves. So, by making the switch to wind, solar, biomass and others, we can help to prevent further damage.
One advantage of renewable energy is that it produces fewer emissions8. Despite this, it’s worth noting that renewable energy is often not 100% green. The production of infrastructure can create emissions. For example, transporting wind turbines to their place of installation is usually not carbon-free. However, once installed ongoing climate harm from renewable energy sources is virtually zero. Regardless, fossil-fuel energy production pollutes considerably more.
We can help to replace carbon-intensive energy sources with renewables12. In turn, reducing harmful emissions. Scientists have studied the impact. Research shows that moving to 25% renewable energy would reduce CO2 emissions by 277 million metric tons annually18. This should become merely one of the next steps on the road to 100% clean energy.
CO2 emissions harm our environment. They can also lead to significant health problems.
Pollution clearly causes health issues. Science links polluted air and water and cancer4. Emissions can also cause neurological and heart problems. Many people exposed to high levels of pollution have reported respiratory problems. In turn, health services around the world incur knock-on costs treating these issues.
Switching to renewable energy stands to improve our health. Wind, solar and hydro energy all produce fewer emissions. Meanwhile, biomass and geothermal are cleaner alternatives when compared to fossil fuels.
Health factors include not only the air we breathe. Burning fossil fuels can harm our water. Incredibly, power plants in the US that burn fuel use around 45% of water drawn from lakes and reservoirs9.
Further, natural gas drilling is known to pollute drinking water. And runoff from coal mines can pollute nearby streams and rivers. The alternative, renewable energy, requires virtually no water to operate. Of course, hydropower is an exception.
Geothermal and biomass power plants do however use water for cooling. Whereas large scale hydroelectric can disrupt river ecosystems both downstream and upstream.
If the world reached 80% use of renewable energy by 2050, it would mean that water consumption and removal would decrease considerably14.
Fossil fuels will not be readily available forever. We’ve known this for decades. In fact, way back in 1956 M King Hubbert theorised the rise of fossil fuels.
He hypothesised that fossil fuel use would increase in line with discoveries of new reserves. And also through improved extraction methods. Consumption of oil would then peak. Following a bell curve, the peak became known as peak oil. After the peak as resources became depleted use would then decline.
Renewable energy provides near limitless energy. Uniquely renewables rely on abundant wind, sun and plant matter sources. Further, renewables also include the heat of the earth and fast-flowing water. Essentially, to a degree, creating an endless source of energy.
We can observe many countries around the globe now making great strides towards adopting renewable energy. Many approaches have now moved to a renewable energy focus.
Australia is a prime example. Their aim is to become 100% reliant on solar power by 2025 and many territories are already meeting their targets2.
Engineers have created machines to mine fossil fuels. Picture the huge trucks, drills and conveyors required to extract enough fossil fuels for our needs. The whole process is also hugely capital intensive.
In contrast, the renewable energy industry uses far more human labour. Solar panels or wind turbines have to be installed. After installation, they all need regular maintenance.
On average, renewable energy creates more jobs per unit of electricity compared to fossil fuels5. In the US alone, over 250,000 people work in the solar power industry. Double the amount of the coal industry.
The economy can benefit in a number of ways. Solar energy requires research and development. Manufacturing and construction follow. Further, the resources required for installation and transportation increase with demand.
All of this development can boost the economy. In the US there are more than 500 factories that contribute to the manufacture of wind turbine parts. This equates to investments worth around $13 billion15.
There could be more jobs created in line with the wider adoption of renewable energy. If 25% of our energy came from renewable energy jobs would increase threefold compared to the non-renewable energy sector. This presents a clear advantage of renewable energy.
In almost every country that has adopted renewable energy, electricity becomes more affordable. This helps to create a stable energy price. The facilities that provide renewable energy require investment. Their operating costs are lower as the fuel in many cases is free. Therefore, over time, the price of energy will become progressively stable.
Another advantage of renewable energy technology is that it costs less. Projections forecast further price drops as it becomes more mainstream. On the other hand, fossil fuel prices are volatile and can fluctuate. Prices can rise rapidly. They can also fall rapidly as markets shift.
Occasionally, we can lose electricity in our homes because of a power outage. This can affect hundreds if not thousands of homes in one hit. However, renewable energy sources such as wind and solar fail less on a large scale.
Systems are spread over a wide area. So if one area suffers from severe weather another area will still generate energy. The modular aspect also helps with reliability and resilience. Solar arrays or wind turbines are stand-alone units. If one fails, then the other units will continue to operate.
Many non-renewable power plants rely on water for cooling. However, water scarcity or severe droughts can put the generation of electricity at risk. In contrast, solar and wind require no water to generate electricity. This makes them far less susceptible to changes in available water.
In summary, the advantages of renewable energy are clear to see. The time has come for us to make a change. With the technology readily available and constantly evolving, there has never been a better time to make that switch to renewable energy. The benefits that are associated with the health of our planet, our own health and the economy are clear. Renewable energy is readily available. As a result, today we have the means to reduce our reliance on fossil fuels. The faster we migrate the more we can reduce polluting fossil fuel emissions. In the face of global warming, this has never been more important.
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