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Understanding Renewable Energy Sources, Their Benefits, and How We Can Contribute

Understanding Renewable Energy Sources, Their Benefits, and How We Can Contribute

2023 has been the hottest year since 1850, and the temperature was 1.18° Celsius above the 20th-century average. Zeke Hausfather, who leads climate research at Stripe and works as a research scientist at Berkeley Earth, predicts a 66% probability that 2024 will be the hottest year ever recorded. Additionally, he estimates a 99% chance that it will rank as the second hottest year.

These statistics signal a quick global adoption of renewable energy sources. Why? According to the United Nations, fossil fuels like coal, oil, and gas are the main contributors to global climate change. They account for over 75% of global greenhouse gas emissions and nearly 90% of all carbon dioxide emissions. From that perspective, this article is critical as it describes renewable energy sources and their advantages and how we can contribute to the United Nations’s goal of achieving net-zero emissions by 2050 and a 45% reduction in CO2 emissions by 2030 from 2010 levels.

Descriptions of the Renewable Energy Sources

There are predominantly four renewable energy sources currently popular around the world.

1.Wind

Abraham Lincoln foresaw the potential of wind power far beyond our current understanding. It is a part of his lecture in 1860, where he mentioned: “Of all the forces of nature, I should think the wind contains the largest amount of motive power … Add a few windmills and pumps, and you have about all. As yet, the wind is an untamed, unharnessed force, and quite possibly, one of the greatest discoveries hereafter to be made will be the taming and harnessing of it.”

Wind power is the leading renewable electricity source in the UK and the US, with significant growth in the past decade. In Australia, wind energy now produces over 7% of the country’s electricity, amounting to an estimated 19,525 GWh out of 265,117 GWh in 2019. Wind farms onshore and offshore generate electricity by harnessing the kinetic energy from spinning turbine blades. This motion turns a drive shaft and gearbox connected to a generator, converting the energy into electricity. The generated electricity is then transformed to higher voltages and integrated into the national grid.

Figure 2: Wind Energy Generation in Australia

 

2. Hydroelectricity

In hydropower generation, the energy of flowing or falling water is harnessed to generate electricity. It operates through turbines submerged in dams, converting water’s movement into electrical power. This renewable energy also extends to wave and tidal power, utilising ocean dynamics near large water bodies. Hydropower, among the oldest and most significant renewable energy sources, constitutes 28.7% of U.S. renewable electricity and approximately 6.2% of total U.S. electricity (as of 2022). It underscores nature’s flow as a pivotal force driving sustainable energy production.

3.Solar

Sunlight, abundant and accessible, seems an apparent top contender for renewable energy sources. However, its availability varies by location, season, and time of day. Solar power converts sunlight into electricity through solar panels using the photovoltaic effect. In 2023, solar energy comprised about 5.5% of global electricity generation, up from 4.6% the previous year. Combined with wind power, renewables supplied nearly 12% of global electricity. Renewables accounted for 32% of electricity in Australia in 2022, with solar contributing 14%.

Figure 3: The share of global electricity generation sourced from solar energy between 2010 and 2023.

4. Bioenergy

Electricity can be generated by burning organic materials known as biomass, ranging from plants to food waste. While bioenergy releases carbon dioxide (CO2), these fuels are renewable because they can be replenished and absorb as much carbon as they emit over their lifetimes. Increasing biomass production means more carbon absorption, making modern bioenergy nearly emission-free. According to the IEA, bioenergy is the largest among renewable energy sources, contributing 55% to renewable energy and over 6% to the world’s total energy supply.

Advantages of Renewable Energy

American scientist and professor Guy McPherson once said, “If you think that the environment is less important than the economy, try holding your breath while you count your money.” Renewable energy has never been as relevant as it is now, and it is the right time for us all to become aware of it. What are the benefits and advantages of renewable energy sources? Below are some pointers that will help you understand.

Environmental Benefits
  • Reduces greenhouse gas emissions and air pollution.
  • Improves air quality and mitigates impacts of climate change.
Economic Advantages
  • Diversifies energy sources and decreases reliance on imported fuels.
  • Stabilises energy prices and stimulates local economic growth.
Health Improvements
  • Minimises public health risks associated with fossil fuel emissions.
  • Promotes cleaner air and water, enhancing overall well-being.
Resilience and Reliability
  • Provides stable electricity supply during extreme weather events.
  • Enhances energy security by decentralising power generation.
Sustainability and Future Outlook
  • Harnesses abundant and renewable energy sources like sunlight and wind.
  • Offers sustainable energy solutions for long-term environmental stewardship.

How Can We Contribute to Renewable Energy Sources?

What the government decides to do is outside our hands. We can control our actions. We can all contribute to renewable energy by making simple changes in our daily lives. For example:

  • We can lower heating temperatures,
  • Switching to LED lightbulbs can be a convenient option and
  • We should always consider green energy suppliers over non-renewable energy-generating companies.

To further promote a sustainable future, we should educate ourselves about regional energy options and adopt energy-efficient technologies like solar panels and heat pumps. Every decision to use renewable energy lowers our carbon footprint and creates a healthier environment.

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