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How renewable energy is changing the world

Disclaimer: The information on this page was correct as of August 20, 2021.

As we all become more aware of our impact on the environment, we’re starting to see more and more energy suppliers turning to renewable energy sources. But what is renewable energy and why is it so important we make the switch?

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What makes energy ‘renewable’?

Renewable energy comes from sustainable, almost infinite sources which are naturally replenished during our lifetimes. Energy is harnessed using natural processes that are replenished at a higher or similar rate to our usage. There are several main sources of renewable energy, including the sun, wind, water, and even heat from the Earth’s core that can be turned into electricity.

While renewable energy sources don’t necessarily have zero impact on the environment or aren’t harmful, they have a much lower environmental impact than other energy sources, such as fossil fuels. Because of this, they’re becoming more and more popular as our influence on the environment is becoming more and more prevalent.

Types of renewable energy

There are several different sources that we use to create renewable energy. Some are more popular than others, however, they’re all great ways to harness energy from infinite sources.

Solar energy

Solar energy isn’t as simple as the sun turning into energy. However, that is the first step. When the sun shines on the panels, it generates DC (direct current) electricity. This is fed through a solar inverter which converts it into more useful AC (alternating current) electricity, powering your home.

You can have a solar battery system installed so that any unused energy can be stored, or it can be fed back into the grid. Many energy suppliers will give you a credit if your unused solar goes back into the grid, however, if you don’t have battery storage, you may run out where they are not creating energy overnight.

Find out more about solar energy

Wind energy

Wind energy creates electricity using the wind and airflows that occur naturally around the world. Modern wind turbines use the kinetic energy from the wind to generate electricity, powering the grid and distributed across the country. Wind turbines have to be strategically placed to capture the best amount of airflow and generate enough electricity.

When the wind blows past the turbine, the kinetic energy from the wind rotates the blades, which turns an internal shaft connected to a gearbox. This gearbox increases the speed of rotation, allowing a connected generator to produce electricity. A turbine will generate electricity when wind speeds are between 6mph and 55mph to ensure they’re generating enough energy without damaging the turbines.

Find out more about wind energy

Geothermal energy

Using the heat from underneath the Earth’s crust, we can generate geothermal energy. Steam and hot water found in underground reservoirs drive turbines connected to electricity generators. To capture this energy, mile-deep wells are dug to reach the hot water and steam, similar to fracking.

Because of the use of underground reservoirs, geothermal energy can only generate electricity and heat in select areas and countries, mostly where there are a lot of hot springs or volcanoes.

Find out more about geothermal energy

Hydropower

Hydropower is able to generate electricity from fast-running water. Most hydropower plants work with dams to improve and control the flow of the water, allowing them to control the amount of electricity produced. The water behind the dam pushes against blades in a turbine, turning a generator to produce electricity.

It relies heavily on the water cycle to create renewable energy. In the water cycle:

  • Solar energy heats the water in oceans, rivers, and lakes, causing the water to evaporate.
  • The evaporated water vapour condenses into clouds and falls as rain, snow, or hail
  • This collects back into the streams and rivers and runs into the lakes and oceans, ready to start the process again
Find out more about hydropower

Bioenergy and biomass

Energy can be generated through organic matter such as plants, animals, and food waste. Some plants and trees are grown specifically to be turned into bioenergy, however, some matter for bioenergy can be made from waste products such as food and sewage.

Dry biomass products, such as wood pellets, are burnt to boil water and create steam to drive a turbine and generate electricity. Wet biomass products, such as food waste and sewage, are sealed in tanks where they’re left to rot and produce methane gas. This biogas can be captured and burnt to generate electricity or be stored for cooking and heating.

Find out more about biomass energy

Why should we use renewable energy sources?

Harnessing our energy from non-sustainable sources takes a toll on the environment, and we’re starting to see the harm we’re inflicting more and more every day. Switching to renewable energy sources can help slow the effects of climate change, having a positive impact on not just the natural environment, but also our health.

Impact on the environment

From renewable sources, we can create energy which doesn’t produce any greenhouse gas emissions, unlike fossil fuels and other non renewable energy sources. It’s these greenhouse gases which are one of the main influences on global warming as they get trapped in the atmosphere. By lowering the greenhouse gases in the air with renewable energy, we can also reduce some types of air pollution, resulting in cleaner air and a decrease in the likelihood of certain illnesses.

Alongside global warming, the byproducts created by fossil fuels are encouraging extreme weather conditions. Remember the ‘Beast from the East’? That was just a snippet of the extreme weather conditions being seen around the world. Across the globe, we’re seeing hotter heat waves, drier droughts, harsher storms, more dangerous floods, and heavier snowstorms.

By using renewable energy, we can cut down our carbon emissions and greenhouse gases, bringing the impact of climate change down as low as possible. The Government has set targets for the UK to be the world leaders in green energy, becoming carbon net-zero by 2050.

Impact on the population

Thanks to rapidly improving technology and knowledge, renewable energy will become more affordable as it becomes more efficient. Switching to 100% renewable energy providers is already a cost-effective choice and these providers are only increasing in popularity.

In contrast, the price of fossil fuels will keep increasing as supply decreases, making them less affordable and less attractive. If the cheaper energy bills haven’t encouraged you to make the switch already, the increasing prices of other energy sources almost definitely will.

The increase in renewable energy creates thousands of jobs all across the UK in manufacturing, installation, maintenance, distribution, logistics, and research. Multiply this by the number of different renewable energy sources, and that creates a huge improvement in the job market and economy. By 2030, it’s hoped that there will be nearly 30 million jobs in renewable energy worldwide.

How the UK is working towards renewable energy

The UK has set a target to become carbon net-zero by 2050, but how are we getting there? Can we really run on 100% renewable energy? Researchers seem to think we can, but we’ve got a long way to go still.

The Government has set out a plan to bring the UK to the forefront of renewable energy sources. This plan includes:

  • Advancing offshore wind
  • Driving the growth of low carbon hydrogen
  • Delivering new and advanced nuclear power
  • Accelerating the shift to zero-emission vehicles
  • Encouraging green transport such as walking, cycling, and greener public transport
  • ‘Jet zero’ and green ships
  • More energy-efficient homes
  • Investing in carbon capture, usage, and storage
  • Protecting our natural environment
  • Green finance and innovation

How much renewable energy are we using?

While 100% renewable energy is on the rise, we’re not quite there yet. Different energy providers have a different fuel mix, but the average fuel make-up of the UK is:

Why are we still using non renewable energy?

Despite the huge number of benefits to renewable energy, unfortunately, we’re still dependent on non renewable energy sources as our primary source of energy. However, there are a number of reasons people might not be willing to switch to 100% renewable just yet.

Some renewable energy sources might not be as reliable as non-renewables. For example, solar energy can only generate electricity during the day whereas non renewable energy can generate power whenever it’s needed. Hydropower could be the answer to fixing this, however, there are still a few factors which could affect its availability.

Renewable energy sources come with high start-up and manufacturing costs, so these farms have to be set up in stages. The materials needed to build the turbines, solar panels, and plants to generate the electricity have to be mined and come from finite sources themselves.

Renewable energy farms take up a lot of land which could be used for agriculture or habitats. Some areas have reported destruction to various birds’ migration paths by wind turbines, lowering the numbers in the wild and changing breeding patterns. This is also evident near hydropower plants where fish and other river animals are being disrupted by the dams controlling water flow.

100% renewable energy providers

With the increase in demand for renewable energy sources, there came an increase in energy providers which offers it. While they’re not the ‘Big Six’ yet, these providers are growing in popularity for their sustainability as well as their lower prices.

Some of the main competitors include:

Who’s the best renewable energy provider?

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This page was written by...

Polly Tyler

I've loved writing since I was a child and have worked on a number of different projects since I left school, including journalism, copywriting, and marketing. Utilty Switchboard has given me the opportunity to grow my knowledge and experience and I've loved every minute!

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