Renewable Energy Sources: How Important Are They?

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Renewable energy sources are gaining importance all the time. They are cheaper than fossil fuels and more sustainable in the long term. They don’t pollute the air or emit greenhouse gases during production. They include biomass, hydroelectric, geothermal, wind energy and solar. They are often locally available – reducing dependence on international suppliers.

Less Pollution

Since renewable energy sources don’t pollute as much as fossil fuels, we must convert them. Burning coal and oil releases airborne pollutants that are bad for human health. Fossil fuels also contribute to global warming, which is dangerous for our planet. Solar, wind, biomass, hydroelectric and geothermal sources create less pollution than coal or natural gas. They also do not pollute water resources which can be a problem for many non-renewable energy technologies. For example, oil drilling can contaminate water supplies and all thermal power plants require a large amount of freshwater to cool their machines.

Wind and solar do not use freshwater, which can greatly benefit our world’s limited water supplies. They also do not require mining or fracking, which can cause water pollution. However, wind farms have to be located in pristine areas, which can cause visual pollution, and some people do not like living near them. They can also disturb migrating bird species and new wildlife habitats.

Cheaper

Even without subsidies, renewables are now cheaper than new fossil fuel plants. However, the investments and policies of energy companies are skewed to favor fossil fuels, making it more profitable to keep an existing coal plant running rather than switching to solar or wind. Luckily, importance of renewable energy systems can be paired with storage or other technologies to help balance supply and demand in periods of intermittent generation (i.e., sunny days or high wind speeds). In addition, building transmission lines to connect areas with abundant renewable resources with sites with electricity demand can further reduce costs.

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Humans have been harnessing renewable energy sources for thousands of years—from the sun’s rays to water and wind. Unlike oil, which requires strip mining, fracking, and ocean drilling to extract, and coal power plants that foul the air, renewables can be removed in a way that doesn’t endanger people or the environment. For example, hydroelectric dams may divert the flow of a river and limit access for animal populations that depend on it, but small-scale hydro plants are less damaging than large ones.

Cleaner

The world’s fossil fuels emit climate-damaging greenhouse gases and other pollutants that can harm people’s health. Renewable energy sources, on the other hand, emit no or significantly lower amounts of greenhouse gases. Renewables can be used in electricity generation, heating and transport – and their use is growing fast. Worldwide, renewables generated 28% of our energy in 2021.

Renewables can also play an important role in expanding access to energy for all, especially those in middle- and low-income countries. It is because they tend to be cheaper than the energy sources they replace – and their costs continue to fall. It can help create positive economic “ripple effects” in communities beyond those involved in the production and supply of renewables. They can help boost jobs in manufacturing, as well as in transport and electricity distribution.

Environmentally Friendly

As opposed to finite fossil fuels that will eventually run out, renewable energy sources are based on an unlimited supply of natural “fuel” such as sunlight, wind, water movement and geothermal heat. They also emit no or very few greenhouse gases and positively impact the environment. Solar and wind power do not require any water for operation, whereas coal mining, oil drilling and thermal power plants can pollute and strain freshwater supplies. Renewables are also often built and operated locally, which makes them less vulnerable to geopolitical turmoil or price spikes in the fossil fuel market. In addition, the construction and operation of renewable energy facilities can be a major economic boost for local communities. They can also reduce a nation’s dependence on fossil fuel imports and help to alleviate balance of payment problems.

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Renewable

Unlike fossil fuels, which pollute the air and release greenhouse gases into the environment when they are used to generate electricity, renewable energy sources do not do either. They also do not require the costly air scrubbing systems required at fossil fuel power plants. Solar and wind energy harness the natural power of sunlight and wind to produce energy. Hydropower relies on the force of water (typically from a fast-moving river or descending waterfall) to spin turbines and create electricity. Geothermal energy harnesses heat from the earth to produce hot water or power. Renewable energy sources are growing rapidly, driven by their rapid cost reductions and state and federal renewables policies. Increasing the percentage of renewables in our energy mix can lower the price of coal and natural gas, protect consumers from fossil fuel price spikes, and improve the stability of our energy supplies. Many types of renewable energy are distributed, whereas others are centrally centralized. Centralized renewables such as biomass, hydropower and nuclear generate large amounts of electricity at one location and transmit it to multiple locations. Distributed technologies such as wind, solar photovoltaics, biofuels and hydropower utilize smaller power generation sites closer to consumers, reducing transmission costs.