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A Breath of Fresh Air: How the Renewable Energy Sector Is Reducing Pollution
- Renewable energy uses natural replenishable sources (like sun, water, and wind) to create cleaner energy. With this being said, some forms of renewable energy are better for the environment than others.
- Scientists have reported that the effects of climate change are getting worse, and they expect the next decade (and beyond) to bring severe hurricanes, rising sea levels, intense heat waves and longer droughts. They have concluded that global warming is primarily down to human activity.
- Thankfully, the rise in the renewable energy sector may be a critical factor in reducing pollution. While the International Energy Agency reported that the electricity sector is currently the largest source of CO2 emissions in the world, clean energy projects can make a positive difference.>
- Renewable energy initiatives seem to affect these devastating statistics in a promising way. These projects can help to make clean energy more accessible, minimise the production of greenhouse gases, prevent some forms of water wastage, and reduce the dependence on the national grid.
Introduction: What is Renewable Energy?
The Pembina Institute concludes that for energy to be classified as ‘green’, it cannot affect access to ‘efficient and affordable electricity’ in the future.
Renewable energy (also referred to as clean or green energy) uses natural resources that are constantly replenished, such as wind or sunlight. Green energy is better for the environment and doesn’t cause pollution in the same way that fossil fuel-based energy does. The Pembina Institute concludes that for energy to be classified as ‘green’, it cannot affect future access to ‘efficient and affordable electricity’. In addition, it cannot negatively impact the quality of the environment and, consequently, human health. This means anything that compromises our water, air, habitats and ecosystems cannot be classified as green energy.
Different Types of Renewable Energy: A Quick Reminder
The renewable energy sector is comprised of many different types of renewable energy projects. Although solar and wind are the most discussed, it’s important to remember that other clean energy resources are available. Below, we’ll offer some basic summaries of these ventures.
Wind: As part of the air around us, the wind is a clean, free and readily available source. Large wind turbines harness the kinetic power of the wind and convert it into energy. As the wind blows, the blades on the turbine turn clockwise, capturing the renewable source. Wind turbines generally work by contributing energy to the national grid.
Solar: As you may know, solar power is a popular renewable source that captures the energy from the sun by using solar PV panels (or alternatively thermal panels). According to UK experts at EDF Energy, the amount of solar energy that reaches the earth in a single hour is greater than the energy required to power our lifestyles for an entire year! Solar energy can be connected to the national grid or stored in separate batteries for future use.
Geothermal: Geothermal energy can be a good option for heating homes and generating electricity as it uses the natural heat from beneath the surface of the earth.
Biomass: As the name suggests, biomass generates energy from plant-based materials. However, there is some debate surrounding whether this energy should be considered ‘green’. The main reason behind this is because the burning of plant material can release harmful pollutants into the atmosphere.
Hydroelectricity: Hydropower is created by building a dam to control the flow of water, which drives a turbine and generates electricity.
Tidal: This renewable source uses the ocean tides to drive turbines and generate energy. It is a highly predictable form of power as the tidal rhythms remain consistent. The energy that is produced is often stored when the tide is low.
Although renewable energy is better for the environment, some replenishable sources are prioritised more than others. For example, many environmental groups choose to exclude hydroelectric facilities from this list as they may potentially flood landscapes, destroy animal habitats, and pollute the air. One British Columbia themed energy review points out that we should be reluctant to celebrate ‘eco’ projects that introduce further threats to the environment. Consequently, wind and solar energy are among the most talked-about renewable energy sources for combating climate change.
Why is the Demand for Renewable Energy Rising?
Many scientists agree that the change in climate is largely due to greenhouse gases produced by human activity.
It’s virtually impossible to watch the news without encountering headlines about the devastating effects of climate change and pollution. As the earth’s temperature rises, glaciers are melting, sea levels are rising, habitats are destroyed, and intense heat waves are no longer a rarity. Many scientists agree that the change in climate is primarily due to greenhouse gases produced by human activity. They have also warned us that over the next decade and beyond, hurricanes will get stronger, droughts will be longer, and the Arctic is at risk of becoming ice-free.
Something must change, and renewable energy is the way of the future.
In the US, electric power makes up 28% of all emissions; therefore, targeting this industry is key to reducing pollution. The International Energy Agency reports that the global electricity sector is the largest source of CO2 emissions, and renewable power generated from solar and wind projects can help to offset this issue. In contrast to clean energy, non-renewable resources such as oil and coal are finite and significantly impact climate change. Burning these fossil fuels affects our environment and human health by:
- Impacting water and air quality (contributing to acid rain and smog)
- Producing colossal amounts of climate-warming greenhouse gases>
- Damaging natural habitats and global biodiversity
On a positive note, Canada is leading by example, as its electricity mix is one of the cleanest in the world. According to the Canadian Government, 66% of national electricity supplies come from renewable sources. Moreover, policymakers have created incentives to encourage Canadians to reduce their emissions. These measures include schemes such as the Climate Action Incentive and the Low Carbon Economy Fund.
How Does Renewable Energy Reduce Pollution?
The International Energy Agency reports that to reduce pollution and the effects of climate change, we need to shift away from fossil fuels.
The renewable energy sector is indirectly reducing pollution by creating greener energy options. Having renewable energy sources such as solar and wind readily available means the world will be less dependent on fossil fuels such as coal and natural gas. Consequently, there are multiple ways that sustainable energy choices are helping to reduce pollution.
- The Increase in Employment Means Renewable Energy is More Accessible
The International Energy Agency reports that to reduce pollution and the effects of climate change, we need to shift away from fossil fuels. They suggest that the clean energy sector is set to bring in more jobs which will help electricity become more universally accessible. In fact, by 2050, solar energy is forecast to become the biggest source of power. In the same report, agency experts are predicting that the number of households with rooftop solar panels will rise from 25 million in 2020 to 240 million in 2050.
Further to this, Canada’s clean energy sector is growing at an impressive rate. Clean Energy Canada estimates that there will be a 50% increase in clean energy jobs, which far outweighs the 9% of jobs that may be lost in the fossil fuel sector. Therefore, as the Canadian economy continues to grow, it can do so in a greener way.
- Renewable Energy Creates Less Waste
A large part of the pollution problem is the excessive amount of greenhouse gases that are being emitted. Fortunately, green energy creates less waste and harmful gases – which helps to prevent the air and water from being damaged in excess. The United Nations Environmental Program has reported that 400 million tons of toxic waste are produced every year – particularly from nuclear or thermoelectric power plants. Unfortunately, not all waste is disposed of correctly, and most of it contains dangerous radiation, chemicals and metals. In comparison, solar and wind energy don’t produce harmful waste. Since these renewable energy sources rely on sunlight and wind rather than combustion, they do not generate any greenhouse gases. Using solar energy in your home can also help to reduce your annual carbon footprint.
- Green Energy Supplies Use Less Water
Water use is a considerable challenge in the energy sector, as it helps create many forms of energy (including fossil fuel-based electricity and gasoline). Vast supplies of water are needed to manufacture this energy and cool down power plants. Researchers have calculated that it takes approximately ‘4 gallons of water to produce one gallon of gasoline’, and any water that is not used is polluted. On the other hand, wind and solar PV technologies need almost no water to create energy. A similar study found solar PV panels are exempt from 75% of grid-related CO2 emissions and large-scale water wastage. Solar panels are great for homeowners because they do not use water or emit harmful gases. For the same reasons, investing in solar energy stocks can be an attractive option for planet-conscious people.
- Renewable Energy Can Be Used Across Various Industries
When you think of solar energy, you may create a mental picture of solar panels fixed to the rooftops of residential homes or corporate buildings. However, solar energy (and other renewable sources) may also be beneficial across different industries. Alongside electric power, the transportation industry is another huge polluter. While electric vehicles are becoming more accessible and accepted, solar energy may help to power charging stations and make the shift even more environmentally friendly.
In the industrial sector, common materials such as steel create many greenhouse gases during manufacturing. Solar energy systems may benefit industries that use heat in their manufacturing processes – from drying paint on cars to cooking food and making materials like steel or aluminium. Finally, solar energy is popular within homes and commercial developments as it’s ideal for heating or cooling spaces. This creates a clean energy option on a global scale.
- Solar Energy is Relatively Low Maintenance
The potential benefits of investing in renewable energy are extensive. When it comes to solar panels, they are low maintenance as there are no moving parts involved. Similarly, these panels require minimal cleaning (and sometimes none at all). Moreover, as they are built to last up to 50 years, you shouldn’t need to replace them hastily – and insurance coverage is usually available in the unlikely event that any damages occur.
- Renewable Energy Means People Are Less Dependant on the Grid
By using green energy from sources like wind and the sun, you are cutting down your dependence on the national grid and therefore lowering your carbon emissions. If you don’t have a solar battery to store energy, you will have to stay connected to the grid in order to access electricity at night (due to fluctuations in solar power production). However, making this switch will still impact the environment positively and help to reduce pollution.
Are There Any Disadvantages to Renewable Energy?
While the renewable energy sector is hugely beneficial for reducing pollution – it isn’t perfect (yet).
While the renewable energy sector is hugely beneficial for reducing pollution – it isn’t perfect (yet). As we discussed at the start of this article, some forms of renewable energy (for example, hydroelectricity) may have some environmental controversy. But how do the popular wind and solar energy sectors compare?
Firstly, there is a considerable upfront cost associated with installing solar panels, which unfortunately may deter some potential investors. However, solar technology has become much more affordable over the last decade. In the long run, it can be an incredibly savvy choice. Since solar panels are low maintenance and can potentially reduce the price of your energy, you may eventually have the opportunity to sell any excess power you generate back to the grid.
Further to this, solar farms tend to require large areas of land, as the panels have to be mounted to the ground. This is where wind farms may have the upper hand. Generally, they take up less ground space and do not disturb the land as much as a solar farm. However, it’s important to remember that most reputable solar projects are strategic and environmentally conscious when it comes to choosing the right territories.
Finally, the manufacturing process of renewable energy supplies isn’t always clean. For example, hydroelectricity and biomass may pollute the air and still cause some level of pollution. Furthermore, the process of creating solar panels can produce gas emissions. With this said, these emissions are nowhere near as detrimental as those associated with the fossil fuel industry.
Lastly, research around renewable energy is developing all the time in the hopes of making it as clean as possible. Therefore, some of the issues that we encounter today are already being tackled by experts. From an investor standpoint, it may be worth considering clean energy companies that demonstrate a strong commitment to ongoing research and development.
As we’ve learned, renewable energy is helping to reduce pollution in a plethora of ways. These initiatives are making energy more accessible and creating more jobs. They are also using less water, bypassing many harmful greenhouse gas emissions and reducing public dependency on the national grid. While renewable energy sources have their benefits, they are not all created equally. Consequently, it may be most worthwhile to prioritise clean, renewable energy in the form of solar power. These types of projects may have the most substantial impact as we aim to follow the green recovery roadmap that the International Environmental Agency has set out ahead of 2050.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
What is renewable energy?
Renewable energy utilises energy sources that naturally replenish, such as the sun, water and wind. However, there is debate among environmental groups – suggesting that some forms of renewable energy cannot be classified as ‘clean’ as they may cause other issues, such as habitat destruction.
What are the different types of renewable energy?
Some of the leading renewable energy sources include wind, solar, hydroelectricity, tidal, biomass, and geothermal. However, some of these may have negative effects which unfortunately reduce their overall positive impact. For example, hydroelectricity may flood land, impact natural habitats and affect water quality. Moreover, while biomass uses raw plant materials, the combustion processes that are involved often result in polluting the air.
What is the best source of renewable energy?
Although we outlined six renewable sources, the two most prominent sources of renewable energy are wind and solar. While both of these sources can help to minimise air pollution and water waste, solar energy may be more versatile, as it can be used in various contexts.
Does renewable energy reduce pollution?
Yes! It appears that as the renewable energy sector is growing, more jobs are being created, which makes cleaner energy more accessible. This is key to reducing pollution because if more people switch to green energy sources, the environmental impact of fossil fuels will decrease. Moreover, wind and solar are two fantastic options that do not release substantial greenhouse gases and use minimal water (if any). As we’ve touched on in this article, switching to renewable energy also helps to decrease the dependency on the national grid.
Can renewable energy damage the environment?
While renewable energy is the best option for global power, we’re still on the road to perfection. The general manufacturing processes associated with renewables need to be refined and sometimes come with significant upfront costs. In addition, some renewable energy initiatives may have other environmental impacts that affect the water, air and natural habitats. However, the future looks particularly bright for solar power, and it appears to be a more lucrative and environmentally conscious choice in the long run.