As traditional energy resources (read: fossil-based fuels) are being depleted, more and more countries are turning to renewable energy. As the definition implies, renewable energy sources are not depletable. Instead, they can be replenished as they are being used. This makes renewable energy a very appealing alternative to our overdependence on other natural resources such as fossil fuels, which are not only pollutants but are not replenishable. Renewable energy comes in many different forms. Below is a review of the most popular forms that are receiving attention in the emerging green marketplace.
Solar power is perhaps the most well-known renewable resource. In fact, its popularity is growing with consumers who are beginning to install solar panels to help power their homes with natural sunlight. Solar power works on collecting sunlight, which is converted into energy and becomes a power source for machines and equipment. Solar panels are currently being tested on vehicles to generate power without using fuel.
Biomass energy is created from organic material obtained from plant and animal matter and their byproducts. It is a renewable energy source based on the carbon cycle, unlike other natural resources (e.g., coal and petroleum) that are based on fossil fuels, which emit carbon dioxide (a pollutant). There are many different sources of biomass energy, including wood, crops, manure and certain types of garbage. From these sources, methane gas and ethanol are created to make alternative sources of fuel. This may be a boon to car manufactures in their efforts to create cars that are more environmentally sound and energy-efficient. Namely, cars that can run on ethanol and biodiesel instead of gasoline.
Hydropower uses water to create energy. Some regions of the country (like the Northwest) use hydropower energy plants to power entire communities. However, there are problems associated with hydropower plants that strict environmentalists are quick to point out. They argue that hydropower plants threaten to disturb and/or adversely affect natural habitats that involve water. Instead of allowing water to flow freely, water is being redirected and controlled in a way that alters the natural order of ecosystems.
Geothermal energy uses heat from the earth stored below its surface. Volcanoes, hot springs, and geysers are natural sources of geothermal energy. With this source geothermal power plants are built near geothermal resources, usually located within one or two miles of the site.
Wind power is another commonly used renewable resource, which converts wind into electricity. Remember the good old windmills seen in the Dutch countryside? Yesterdays windmills have turned into modern wind turbines. Many countries throughout the world, including the United States, are taking advantage of this source of energy for an obvious reason: It is readily available, particularly in areas now described as wind corridors, such as Texas and parts of the Midwest.
While renewable energy has many benefits as it relates to the environment, it does have some drawbacks that are worth noting. One of the main problems is that it is difficult to generate the same amount of energy that can be generated from traditional sources (fossil fuels). Also, some of the methods described above cannot be used everywhere because many renewable resources cannot be transported, and even those that can come with a high transportation price tag. This means that a specific method has to physically be constructed around a specific renewable resource. This can compound problems for the construction of power plants. Expensive transmission infrastructure and permitting processes would also be required to get power from the area generated to consumer locations.
Scientists are currently working on ways to get the most out of using renewable resources and are creating better and more methods to make renewable resources more widespread and easier to use. In the end, if renewable energy resources are to replace traditional sources of energy, they will have to seen as having all of the benefits of traditional methods. Although recent developments have shown that scientists are well on their way to making renewable energy more readily available, we are not quite there.
Current congressional leadership favors a greener world by way of issuing carbon taxes and stricter regulations, many of which are untested and fraught with political pork issues. This situation will definitely create winners and losers, which points to the urgency for businesses and consumers alike to begin planning for the inevitability of a greener world, with all of its associated pros and cons and unintended consequences.