What is all the fuss about Renewable Energy

post renewable, renewable energyWe’ve all heard the term ‘renewable energy’ but many people still don’t really understand what it means or why it is important.

At one time, most of the energy we used came from renewable sources.  Ancient civilisations learned how to harness the wind to power their sailing boats and biomass (matter from living or recently living organisms such as wood or dried grass) has been used since fire was first discovered.

However during the last two hundred years or so, we have relied more and more on non-renewable sources of energy.

Why are non-renewable energy sources bad?

The main issue with non-renewable energy sources is that there is a finite amount of it in the world.  Energy usage is constantly rising so at some point we will simply run out.  Non-renewable energy comes from:

•    Coal – formed over millions of years from fossilised plants and is mined from between layers of rock in the earth;
•    Oil – formed over millions of years from fossilised animals.  It collects in lakes between seams of rock in the earth and is pumped out by drilling deep into the earth;
•    Natural gas – gases such as methane which are trapped between seams of rock deep under the earth’s surface.  This is released by drilling down and extracting via pipes.
•    Nuclear – radioactive minerals such as uranium are mined and then the atoms are split in by nuclear fission in a reactor which releases energy.  Electricity is generated from the energy released.

Some estimates suggest that if we keep up with the same level of energy usage from fossil fuels, oil reserves may run out within 50 years, natural gas reserves in 70 years and coal in 250 years.  This makes it a real issue during our lifetimes or our children’s lifetimes.

What is the alternative?

Renewable energy sources are exactly that – renewable.  They are replenished constantly and won’t run out.  Examples are:

•    Solar – solar panels are used to capture energy from sunlight.  This is then converted into electricity.  Even small buildings can be fitted with solar panels to generate their own electricity supply.
•    Wind – wind turbines work in the same way as windmills and convert the energy generated by the wind into electricity.  There have been numerous wind farms built around the UK in recent years although this has attracted opposition from some local people who feel that they ruin the countryside.
•    Tidal – electricity is generated by using the movement of the tides to drive turbines.  Currently the only way to do this is to build a dam called a tidal barrage across estuaries but it may be possible in the future to build underwater turbines out at sea.
•    Wave – a turbine is driven by the movement of water through a cavity built on the shore which compresses trapped air.  This method can be costly and is more suitable for small, local communities rather than nationally.
•    Geothermal – there is a lot of heat generated inside the earth and in volcanic regions there is even more natural heat.  Cold water can be pumped underground and using this natural heat can be turned into steam which is used for either heating or powering turbines.  Obviously this method doesn’t work in areas that don’t have volcanic activity.

In addition to these methods, biomass and wood can be used providing they are being replenished.  Trees have to be replanted as do organic materials or crops such as oilseed rape which is used extensively throughout the UK.

How else can we help?

One of the simplest ways we can help is to limit our energy usage.  Even things like making sure you turn off the lights when a room isn’t in use or not leaving the television on standby can help.  There are also a number of energy saving improvements available for homes such as making sure your home is well insulated so you don’t lose heat through draughty doors or windows.

Also consider using renewable energy such as having solar panels fitted to your house or using the barbeque during the summer instead of the oven – obviously this only works if you cook on a renewable energy source such as wood or pine cones rather than gas or coal!

Some energy suppliers offer a green energy option too so this is worth looking into.