In the past few decades, renewable energy has gone from a niche idea to an integral part of the world’s power systems. But for many average electric users, the source of their energy may not be apparent — nor the benefits of using clean, green renewables instead of traditional fossil fuels. So let’s take a closer look and explore the many benefits of renewable energy, both for you and society as a whole.
What is renewable energy?
The definition of renewable energy is right in the name! Renewable energy is any form of energy that isn’t drawn down or depleted as it’s used. That’s in contrast to non-renewable forms of energy like fossil fuels, which exist in only finite quantities (at least on a human time scale). Therefore, renewables have gained a lot of attention as a viable solution for a future where oil and gas are more difficult or expensive to obtain.
Sources of renewable energy
Ultimately most renewable energy comes from the sun. It can be collected directly with solar panels or indirectly via wind or hydropower. The only exception to this is geothermal.
Geotherm energy mostly comes from heat left over from the earth’s formation and nuclear degradation of minerals within the earth. It’s possible to harvest the energy of these naturally occurring phenomena to create electricity that can be fed into an electric grid and stored in batteries for later use. Each form has its own unique method of harvesting power. Solar uses specially designed solar panels, wind uses windmills that turn turbines, and hydro uses the force of rushing water to turn turbines for energy.
What are the true benefits of renewable energy?
When you plug in an appliance or turn on a light, it’s not always obvious where that electricity is coming from. But whether you notice it or not, renewable energy sources have some fantastic and diverse benefits.
1: No greenhouse gas emissions form fossil fuels
This is the most obvious and most well-known of the benefits of renewable energy. A significant amount of interest in renewables comes from those interested in protecting the planet, and with good reason. Hydro, solar, and wind power all produce unlimited energy without using any fossil fuels post-manufacturing. Every watt replaced with green sources is one step closer to preserving the Earth!
Burning fossil fuels releases greenhouse gases (gases that absorb infrared radiation, e.g., carbon dioxide, methane, and others). These contribute to the greenhouse effect by re-radiating heat back to Earth’s surface. This traps the heat and warms the planet’s surface. Renewable energy does not release greenhouse gas.
2: Reduction in some types of air pollution
Air pollution affects all of us right here and now. Traditional fossil fuels can produce significant amounts of smog and other air pollutants. These can harm your health in obvious ways like asthma or breathing trouble and long-term via lung damage or increased risk of respiratory issues or cancer. On the other hand, solar panels, wind turbines, and hydroelectric dams produce their power without generating any additional particulate matter, helping to keep the air clean and safe.
3: Diversification of energy supply
It’s an unfortunate reality that America doesn’t produce enough energy to fuel the country. Many of the countries we buy it from have questionable records when it comes to global affairs and human rights. In some cases, the United States and its energy patrons may have opposing views, adding tension to international affairs. We can avoid all this through the increased use of renewable energy, which we can create in abundance right here at home. The sun will always shine, and the wind will always blow, making renewables an essential step toward a future of energy independence.
4: Creation of economic development
Opponents of renewables often point to the jobs that the fossil fuel industry supports. But the truth is renewable energy is actually a path to significant job growth. The renewable energy industry is still in its relative infancy, meaning there’s still room for massive growth, both in the size of companies and the number of firms out there.
And there’s something for everyone in the renewables world! Executive and science-related jobs form part of the industry. There’s also the potential for thousands of skilled and unskilled labor positions manufacturing and installing renewable systems. Even marketing and sales-focused people can get involved with what’s likely to be a significant increase in demand in the coming years.
5: Stabilization of the electrical grid
Another benefit of renewable energy is supporting and stabilizing the current grid, especially in high-usage areas. For example, the more people who install solar panels on their homes, the less of a spike in demand utilities will have to contend with on sweltering days. This extra energy can make a big difference in avoiding blackouts or other grid-related problems.
Renewable energy may not be for everyone or every location…yet. Obviously, windless locations would be ill-suited for wind power. Cloudy locations would be a poor choice for solar. Dry areas would be impossible to power via hydro. On a personal level, it may not yet make financial sense for some people to buy and install renewable systems as primary or backup power for their homes.
But in our overall power grid picture, the benefits of renewable energy are clear. There’s simply no comparison for the combination of unlimited supply, low environmental impact, and ease of availability. While adding capacity and modifying the power grid will take some time and effort, it’s clear that the benefits of renewable energy are the key to a limitless clean energy future.
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