With a new year comes new goals and possibilities. A landmark global climate agreement was reached at COP21 and now the work must begin! As we move forward into what will hopefully be a new era of energy use and generation, we thought it would be nice to clear up a few terms that people use when talking about preserving the planet. We hope this short guide to renewable energy helps clarify the wonk!
What is “renewable” energy?
Renewable energy is energy that comes from sources that are limitless. The most commonly used renewable energy sources are wind and solar, but there are many sources of energy that are limitless. There are generators that can run off ocean tides, which will continue as long as we have a moon. River current turbines make energy when the river water runs through it. Since rivers typically run and run, these turbines will continually make energy. Renewable energy takes advantage of naturally occurring processes. In contrast, fossil fuels like coal, natural gas, and oil are limited. Consumers can use renewable energy without worrying that the energy source will “run out” or disappear.
We don’t have to worry about the sun running out.
What is “clean” energy?
Clean energy does not pollute. Harnessing and using clean energy sources creates no pollution and therefore protects local communities from chemical contamination. This energy is “clean” because creating and using this energy does not harm ecosystems or humanity.
“Clean Energy” is also a buzzword used by companies that sell and produce Natural Gas. Recently, these companies have been describing natural gas as a “clean” fuel. This is only partly true, as Natural Gas is clean-er than coal, and has a clean-er lifecycle than nuclear fuel. Unfortunately, Natural Gas is still an emitting and polluting energy fuel and cannot be considered truly clean. The life cycle of Natural Gas is dangerous to people and the environment, as drilling, both traditional and fracking, can leave the landscape scarred, water un-drinkable, and releases methane, a powerful global warming gas, into the atmosphere. Methane, the major ingredient in natural gas, is 22 times more potent in warming our planet than carbon dioxide.
What is “green” energy?
“Green energy” is a buzzword that is supposed to imply an energy source that is healthy for people to use. Green energy comes from clean, renewable resources. Green energy does not harm ecosystems or humanity through its creation or use.
What is “alternative” energy?
Alternative energy is power that is created by a more high-tech process. It is an alternative to traditional energy sources such as coal, gas and oil. Alternative energy includes renewable energy (wind, solar, etc.) but some governments and utilities use the label for nuclear energy and “clean coal” using carbon capture technology.