Renewable energy is gaining traction as one of the best ways to reach net zero carbon emissions and find environmentally friendly solutions to energy production.
But what kinds of options are out there and what are the best renewable energy sources? Let’s take a look.
What is a Renewable Energy Source?
First of all, let’s define what exactly a renewable energy source is.
For an energy source to be considered renewable, it must be sustainable. That is, the energy comes from an infinite source, like the sun or water.
Fossil fuels are in trouble as they offer a finite supply of energy, so they will run out one day, and in the meantime their increasing scarcity will make them ever more valuable and expensive. Not what we want to hear in the middle of a Cost of Living crisis.
Sometimes renewable energy is referred to as ‘alternative energy’, as they are being developed as alternatives to traditional fossil fuel methods of energy production.
The renewable energy sector is going from strength to strength, not only because of promises and pacts made by global political networks, but also because there are tangible socio-economic and environmental benefits.
Types of Renewable Energy
Before we can determine the best renewable energy source in terms of power and efficiency, we need to know something about each energy source.
Solar energy is a renewable energy source, as the sun produces sunlight, and therefore, free and abundant energy every day.
The energy it supplies to the earth’s surface in one hour is more than the planet’s total energy requirements for a whole year. This source of energy has always been available to us, but in recent decades we have begun to really understand how to harness this incredible energy.
Solar power is one of the fastest growing and most popular renewable energy sources. You may have seen neighbours or local businesses investing in Photovoltaic (PV) solar panel arrays on their roof. These solar panels contain PV cells that capture the sun’s light and convert the energy, via an inverter, into AC electricity suitable for domestic use.
Thanks to solar batteries and the technological advances of the last few years, domestic users can rely on stored energy as a backup at nighttime or periods of inclement weather.
On a larger scale, solar farms are able to generate mass electrical power, and solar panels can in fact be installed just about anywhere. That gives them an advantage over more cumbersome technology like wind turbines, and the longevity of solar panels can be up to 25 or 30 years, which means that they are money-efficient.
The positive impact of solar power on the environment is notable, with experts reporting that every kilowatt-hour of solar power produced can significantly lower the number of greenhouse gases emitted in the atmosphere. That makes solar one of the best renewable energy sources in the industry.
Not only that, but there is minimal necessity to use water in solar energy production, which is always a big consideration when it comes to green power.
Another popular source of renewable energy is wind power.
There are different types including offshore, distributed, and utility-scale wind.
If you’ve seen wind turbines in the sea, they are characteristic of offshore wind power. Construction of these can be tricky and costly.
Utility-scale wind is electricity generated by large wind turbines on wind farms before being sent to the National Grid and utility companies.
Distributed wind power, also called small wind because the turbines are 100 kW or less, deliver electricity directly to the end user.
Wind farms, built on agricultural land are providing thousands of jobs worldwide, and as an energy source it’s free, clean, renewable, and non-polluting, and no fuel is needed to keep things going.
Wind is, of course, a plentiful source of clean energy, capable of producing energy on a mass scale with a small carbon footprint, and we have all seen wind turbines dotted around the British countryside. The turbines can last for decades, and operate day and night, regardless of weather conditions.
However, the nature of wind can be erratic, with the force of the wind being greater at some times than others. Moreover, not all properties are suitable for constructing wind turbines. They require vast swathes of land, ideally far from the city – where they are needed most.
As time goes on, wind turbine technology is being developed and new innovations are making this one of the best renewable energy sources in existence, and ever more attractive to investors.
The most relied-upon renewable energy source as it stands is water, or hydropower.
In 2021, global installed hydropower capacity reached a record of 1,308 gigawatts (GW). One gigawatt is equivalent to the power produced by 1.3 million race horses or 2,000 speeding Corvettes.
Traditional hydropower plants harness the force and pressure of water flowing from a high point to a lower point through chutes in a dam. At the bottom of the chute there is a turbine that generates power.
Utility companies around the world have come to rely on hydropower as it’s a cheap energy source that can be easily stored and dispatched, without any fuel combustion. In those terms, it’s very green, as it doesn’t involve releasing carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.
However, hydropower still falls drastically short of the rate needed to deliver net zero emissions and there are some wrinkles to iron out when it comes to the impact that hydropower systems can have on local habitat and ecosystems, if not carefully monitored.
If done sustainably, hydropower can be a very efficient green, renewable energy source with some positive side-effects such as flood control, irrigation, drought mitigation and water supply.
One of the best things about hydropower is that it can be used as an ‘off-grid’ backup power source in times of power shortages or disruptions such as pandemics. Another great advantage is that it produces very few toxic emissions.
In order for us to make the most of hydropower, we need to utilise existing dams and retrofit them for use as hydroelectric dams. Doing so would make hydropower a superpower among the best renewable energy sources and offset damage done to the environment by oil spills.
Geothermal energy is one of the lesser-talked-about renewable energy sources but it shouldn’t be overlooked.
It works by harnessing the Earth’s natural heat, of which there is a tremendous amount stored beneath the surface of the planet. The conduction rate is pegged at 44.2 terawatts. To put that in perspective, the energy consumption of all humans on the planet is 17.7 terawatts, so the earth’s natural resources are more than sufficient to provide for our needs.
Geothermal energy can be used to heat homes directly or to generate electricity.
So why isn’t geothermal energy more widely recognised and lauded as the best renewable energy source? Because there are some parts of the world where geothermal heat is more freely available, such as Iceland. In the UK, we still have a lot of catching up to do when it comes to making geothermal energy a priority and developing geothermal technologies.
This is another of the lesser-considered renewable energy sources.It consists in the conversion of solid fuel made from plant materials into electricity.
Though there have been concerns over whether this is a truly green source of energy, as there is burning of organic matter involved, in reality biomass generates power at a much lower economic and environmental cost than traditional forms of energy production. What’s more, biomass only releases into the atmosphere the amount of carbon contained in the organic materials it burns, so it is entirely carbon-neutral.
Biomass can be converted into a gas that drives turbines, steam-generating equipment, and internal combustion engines. In fact, there are several sectors of the American economy that use biomass energy, including the healthcare and education sectors.
This is considered a renewable energy form because organic materials, such as garbage, manure, and other waste, are always available. Using biomass can also significantly reduce the amount of waste that goes to landfill sites, which can only be a good thing for the environment.
The Future of Renewable Energy
You wanted to know which is the best renewable energy source, so let’s consider that.
In fact, renewable energy experts have come to the conclusion that there are so many available options that in reality each one has something to offer, depending on its purpose and usage.
As the renewables industry continues to make rapid strides in development and innovation, each renewable energy source improves and becomes more powerful and efficient. Each one will be exceptionally valuable and useful in the future, as the world population rises and the demand for power increases.
According to the International Energy Agency (IEA) renewable energy sources will make up 30% of our energy supplies by 2024, and Britain has already been undergoing some seamless transitions to a more renewable-energy based economy.
Regardless of which is currently the best renewable energy source, more national investments in green energy will drive down the price of renewables, as finite fossil fuel prices continue to rise.
So an investment in renewable energy is an investment in the health of our planet, in the wellbeing of future generations, without burning a hole in your pocket long-term.
If you’d like to know more about renewable energy and how solar power could work for your home or business, get in touch with us here at Project Solar today.