Getting the Basics: Understanding Renewable Energy Terminology

by | Nov 24, 2021 | Blog

Two rural solar panels with snow on them, supporting an off-grid home in Canada.


  • Understanding the terminology surrounding climate change can help you make informed decisions about switching energy providers, choosing low-carbon suppliers and how your government plans to reduce their emissions.
  • Reaching net-zero emissions is the target Canada has set to reduce the effects of climate change. Net-zero means the amount of greenhouse gases produced is equal to how much we remove from the atmosphere.
  • Renewable energy comes from naturally replenishable sources, and it’s vital for achieving net-zero. The main types of renewable energy include solar, wind, hydro, tidal, biomass, and geothermal.
  • Renewable energy plays a significant role in Canada, predominantly in hydropower; however, solar and wind power are growing the most. Canada’s renewable energy industry is crucial in the fight against climate change. Suppose the Canadian Government can agree to stop financing further investments in oil and gas and redirect their efforts to more sustainable sources. In that case, the country may reach their goal of net-zero by 2050.


…as the rise in climate talks continues, more companies, activists, and governments use green buzzwords, expecting everyone to understand what they mean.

Climate change is now at the height of every political decision; it’s not just politicians discussing methods to slow climate change. Everyone is (and should be) doing their part to reduce carbon emissions. However, as the rise in climate talks continues, more companies, activists, and governments use green buzzwords, expecting everyone to understand what they mean.

If you’re keen to make a difference, understand and discuss climate change, this article outlines what renewable energy terminology means, alongside how it plays a role in reducing global warming.

The Net-Zero Era

Achieving net-zero emissions refers to the balance of greenhouse gases (GHG) produced, compared to how much we remove from the atmosphere.

Renewable energy and the fight against climate change tend to go hand-in-hand when discussing slowing global warming. Amongst these talks, the phrase “reaching net-zero” is heard frequently, but what does it mean?

Achieving net-zero emissions refers to the balance of greenhouse gases (GHG) produced, compared to how much we remove from the atmosphere. Reaching net-zero means that we create the same amount that we take away.

Still confused? Let’s break it down further.

Burning fossil fuels like coal, oil, and gas produce massive amounts of GHG. These gases go into the atmosphere and create the greenhouse effect. When this happens, gases trap heat from the sun, which would have otherwise left Earth and gone into space. The more heat that gets trapped, the warmer the world becomes. As global warming increases, small increments in temperature can lead to disastrous effects like deadly hurricanes, flooding, and heatwaves. Global warming affects humans, animals, and the earth we live on.

So, why does reaching net-zero matter?

If we reach net-zero emissions, we may have a chance to slow down global warming and stabilize the temperature. Switching to low-carbon alternatives and implementing measures to remove carbon from the atmosphere may help us reach these goals. Currently, experts are trying to stabilize the temperature at 1.5C, but this requires effort worldwide.

The Renewable Energy Revolution

The terms renewable, clean and green are often used interchangeably; however, the terminology harbours some subtle differences.

Renewable energy comes from naturally replenishable resources. Unlike finite fossil fuels, there is an abundance of renewable sources which do not produce greenhouse gases—making it crucial in the fight against climate change. While renewable energy is virtually limitless in duration, it only has a limited amount of energy per unit of time. For this reason, it is essential to invest in renewables to yield the most amount of energy possible.

Types of Renewable Power Sources

There are six primary types of power sources that classify as renewable, with different advantages to each.

  • Solar Power

The raw energy from the sun has been used for billions of years for heat and light. More recently, humans have developed technology to capture solar radiation and turn it into usable electricity and heat to warm the home and water sources. Solar power is one of the most versatile forms of renewable energy as it can scale up and down to suit various industries to supply light, heat, and electricity. Both commercial and residential properties can benefit from solar photovoltaic (PV) panels.

  • Wind Power

Interestingly, wind power is technically a subcategory of solar power as wind results from uneven heating of the earth’s surface. Wind turbines utilize the force of the wind to turn a generator to create electricity. Wind turbines are predominantly used to produce renewable electricity.

  • Hydropower

Hydroelectric power comes from flowing water in streams and rivers. There are two methods for creating hydroelectricity. Firstly, the force of the current turns a turbine to generate power. Alternatively, most hydro facilities use a storage system. Water builds up in a reservoir, created by a dam. The water gets released as the demand requires, turning a hydro turbine and producing electricity. Seasonal changes can cause precipitation to alter throughout the year, causing droughts. Unpredictable weather is one-way hydropower production has limited availability.

  • Tidal Power

A consistent form of energy that relies on the tide. As the tide goes in and out each day, it is a very reliable form of renewable power.

  • Biomass

Biomass refers to generating power by using replenishable plant material. Humans have used biomass to create energy for years, for instance, using wood for making heat.

  • Geothermal

Energy that comes from heat within the Earth. People use geothermal energy to generate electricity, heat their homes, buildings and bathing.

Is Renewable Energy Clean and Green?

The terms renewable, clean and green are often used interchangeably; however, the terminology harbours subtle differences. While wind energy and solar power may fall under all three categories, the same cannot be said for other forms of renewables. For instance, hydroelectric facilities are renewable because they use water, a replenishable natural source, and don’t produce GHG emissions.

That said, they may not be completely clean because they can harm local landscapes, wildlife, and ecosystems. Furthermore, nuclear power is considered a low-carbon energy source as it doesn’t produce GHG; unfortunately, it creates toxic waste that may harm the planet and humans. Finally, biomass energy may be classified as renewable because it uses plant material, but producing usable power involves combustion, which causes GHG and further pollutes the air.

With this in mind, switching to renewables is generally the best option for the planet, but it’s worth knowing that some forms are better than others.

Read more: Solar Alone Can’t Do It: How a Mix of Electricity Sources is Needed to Reach Net-Zero.

An infographic outlining the various green energy resources.

What Role Does Renewables Play in Reaching Net-Zero?

Electricity generation accounts for the majority of carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions; therefore, renewables are crucial to reducing emissions associated with the electricity sector.

According to the International Energy Agency (IEA), renewables will account for a significant portion of the energy sector by 2050. In its review, the IEA is clear on its view that clean energy technologies like renewables and electric vehicles (EVs) will play a significant role between now and 2030. What’s more, it predicts 70% of global electricity generation to come from solar PV and wind power by 2050, with solar being the largest source of supply in the global energy sector.

Switching to renewable energy is vital to reaching net-zero, but it also requires substantial infrastructure changes. Electricity generation accounts for most carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions; therefore, renewables are crucial to reducing emissions associated with the electricity sector.

How Does Canada Utilize Renewable Energy?

Canada was one of the countries that signed the Paris Agreement and set a goal to reach net-zero emissions by 2050. As one of the world’s fourth-largest hydropower producers, Canada is going in the right direction with its use of renewables. While hydroelectricity is Canada’s best renewable asset, wind and solar PV power are growing the most. Between 2020 and 2025, experts expect distributed solar power generation to rise by at least 12%. The driving factors behind this sector’s growth include environmental concerns and the high cost associated with expanding the grid.

There is hope that Canada will invest in more renewables and less in oil and gas—one of their largest polluting sectors and a vast investment area for the Canadian Government.

Closing Thoughts

Renewable energy is a vital part of the mission to reach net zero. Understanding what it is, the types, and how it contributes to a net-zero future can help you make informed decisions about your energy usage and buying decisions. Buzz words can be confusing, so we hope this short guide has helped you understand renewable energy terminology.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

What do net-zero emissions mean?

Net-zero emissions refer to the balance of greenhouse gases we’re producing and how much we’re taking out of the atmosphere. Canada is amongst the countries aiming to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050 to slow global warming. Green energy investments may be vital to obtaining this goal.


What is renewable energy?

Renewable energy, also known as renewables, uses naturally replenishable sources such as solar, wind, and water. People often consider renewables clean or green energy; while this may be true for wind and solar power, not all renewables create power equally. For instance, hydropower may not produce greenhouse gases, but these facilities may harm local wildlife and ecosystems. What’s more, biomass energy is renewable as it uses plant material; however, it must be burnt, emitting harmful gases into the atmosphere.


What is the safest form of renewable energy?

Some sources of energy may be renewable but still cause harm to people and the environment. For instance, biomass utilizes plant material that grows back, but the burning involved in producing energy creates harmful greenhouse gases. When using biomass on a large industrial scale, take extra consideration because it could cause more issues, such as deforestation as trees are cut down for wood. Comparatively, hydroelectric facilities do not produce greenhouse gases but may harm wildlife and ecosystems.

It’s not all negative, though. According to Our World in Dara, wind and solar power are among the safest and cleanest forms of renewable energy.


Can the world run on renewable energy?

If the world transitioned away from fossil fuels and implemented new infrastructure, the world could function on 100% renewable power. Clean energy technology is advancing every year to make renewables a long-term option. The solar power industry, for example, now has solar batteries to store the energy the panels create. Solutions like this mean solar power can supply buildings and households with renewable power through the night and during winter months too.


Is renewable energy a good sector to focus investment in?

The renewable energy sector is set to rise in Canada as environmental and climate concerns apply pressure. There will be an inevitable growth within various sectors, from solar power generation to hydropower facilities. The increase in the industry is likely to affect green energy stocks, with investments in the clean energy industry climbing with urgency.