Renewable Energy Explained

The Basics: Renewable EnergyA Simple Guide to Renewable Energy

Our current energy infrastructure has become reliant on fossil fuels — from the way we power our cars, homes, offices, and factories. Fossil fuels account for 80 percent of our current energy production and consumption. But what do we do when this depletes faster than it can provide? Renewable energy provides a solution that keeps on giving with energy that never runs out. 

What are fossil fuels?

Fossil fuels are sourced from decomposed prehistoric plants and animals buried over rock and sediment. This includes the limited supply of coal, oil, and natural gas. These organic materials are rich in carbon and emit carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases when burned, becoming a leading contributor to climate change.

What is renewable energy?

Renewable energy is derived from resources that naturally replenish. They are sustainable and essentially limitless like our sun and wind. And for other resources like biomass, it regenerates within a human lifespan. 

Although renewable and clean energy are often used interchangeably, they’re not quite the same. Clean energy is when there’s a net-zero or positive environmental impact. Most renewable energy options are clean energy, however, not all are. For example, hydropower is not considered “clean” due to dams and reservoirs emitting greenhouse gases. 

Five major renewable energy sources

  • Solar energy converts the sun’s rays into thermal or electrical energy. It’s currently one of the most abundant renewable energy sources, with the sun radiating 173,000 trillions of watts. It’s commonly captured with solar photovoltaics (PV) panels on residential and commercial properties. Most renewable energy sources are considered solar energy in a direct or indirect form. 
  • Wind power generates electricity from the kinetic energy in the airflow. The energy is harvested from onshore and offshore wind turbines, where the rotor blades spin the generator to create electricity. 
  • Hydropower captures energy from the flowing water to generate electricity. It’s the oldest and cost-efficient form of renewable energy. You commonly see it in the dams and reservoirs in your area, along with tidal and wave energy from the ocean. 
  • Geothermal energy is heat from the slow decay of rock and its radioactive particles beneath the earth’s surface. Deep wells are drilled into underground reservoirs to access steam and hot water for electricity, heating, and bathing. 
  • Biomass produces energy from organic matter in plants and animals including wood, paper, crop waste, and animal manure. It can be burned for heat or converted into fuel.

How to buy renewable energy

Thinking of switching to a green plan? When you purchase renewable energy, you’ll receive a renewable energy certificate (REC) for one megawatt-hour or 1,000 kilowatt-hours of renewable electricity generated. Since it’s difficult to track green energy once it’s on the grid, RECs reassure and give you proof that you’re using renewable energy. All suppliers offering RECs on are certified and verified. 

Another way to reduce your carbon footprint is to buy carbon offsets. These are created to “neutralize” your carbon emissions by supporting projects that reduce greenhouse gases. You can help raise funds towards reforestation, sustainable development, new wind turbines, and farm projects. 

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