The Role for Renewable Energy

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The ideal solution to global warming would be a technological one that allows the world to switch quickly from fossil fuels to renewable energy sources such as solar, wind, biomass, and geo-thermal, which emit zero or low levels of carbon dioxide. Each of these sources, however, has its limitations.

According to many experts, wind power is the most promising source of clean energy. Turbines capture the energy of the wind using propeller-like blades positioned on 100-foot-high towers, and the moving blades are connected to turbines to generate electricity. Supporters say even a small wind tower could produce more than half of the electricity used by an average home, but more massive wind farms could contribute a significant share to utility grids. Denmark, for example, already generates 20 percent of its electricity from wind. Unfortunately, the wind does not blow all the time, causing a problem of intermittent and unreliable electricity generation, and many people think large wind turbines detract from the beauty of landscapes and views.

Solar energy is another exciting renewable technology. Supporters say the amount of sun energy that hits the Earth every day is enormous. According to the Union of Concerned Scientists, a leading science organization, "Averaged over the entire

Many experts consider wind power one of the most promising sources of clean energy.

Many experts consider wind power one of the most promising sources of clean energy.

surface of the planet, 24 hours per day for a year, each square meter [of land on Earth] collects the approximate energy equivalent of almost a barrel of oil each year, or 4.2 kilowatt-hours of energy every day."34 The two main types of solar systems are solar hot water and photovoltaic cells. Solar water systems are usually simple boxes with liquid-filled pipes that are placed on the rooftops of buildings to absorb solar rays and heat household water. Solar photovoltaic (PV) cells, made from silicon, are a more complex type of rooftop system that can convert solar heat directly into electricity to power homes and businesses, add to a larger electrical grid, or be stored in batteries.

Countries such as Germany and Japan have already invested heavily in solar energy, and the United States may soon follow their example. California has put in place an incentive program

A stainless-steel pipeline carries steam to the Geysers geothermal plant in Middletown, California. This area has been producing renewable energy since the 1960s and is the largest producer of geothermal energy in the United States.

A stainless-steel pipeline carries steam to the Geysers geothermal plant in Middletown, California. This area has been producing renewable energy since the 1960s and is the largest producer of geothermal energy in the United States.

that should result in solar power for a million homes in the next ten years, and other regions of the country are also ideal for solar. As the U.S. Energy Department explains: "Solar energy represents a huge domestic energy resource for the United States, particularly in the Southwest where the deserts have some of the best solar resource levels in the world. For example, an area approximately 12 percent the size of Nevada has the potential to supply all of the electric needs of the United States."35 So far, however, solar systems only capture a fraction of the sun's energy. Like wind they are intermittent, and they are very expensive, costing several times more than conventionally produced electricity. Research is underway that could produce much more efficient and less costly solar energy systems, but solar energy's future largely depends on these technological developments.

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Renewable Energy 101

Renewable Energy 101

Renewable energy is energy that is generated from sunlight, rain, tides, geothermal heat and wind. These sources are naturally and constantly replenished, which is why they are deemed as renewable. The usage of renewable energy sources is very important when considering the sustainability of the existing energy usage of the world. While there is currently an abundance of non-renewable energy sources, such as nuclear fuels, these energy sources are depleting. In addition to being a non-renewable supply, the non-renewable energy sources release emissions into the air, which has an adverse effect on the environment.

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