As more people become conscious of the need to do their bit for the environment, more and more people are asking ‘what is green energy?’
As green energy comes to the forefront of sustainability, there’s still some uncertainty about what exactly green energy is and some mix it up with renewable energy.
So let’s take a look at green energy and how it’s different from renewable energy.
What is Green Energy?
For green energy to be considered as such, it is not only renewable, but does not produce pollution at all. Even some sources used by the renewable energy industry are not 100% green, although they are still preferable to fossil fuels.
For example, if renewable power is generated from burning organic material, the end result may be renewable, but the burning process will have released CO2 into the atmosphere.
Green energy cannot involve anything that damages the environment, whether it be through mining, deforestation, or drilling.
Even some natural energy sources need to be properly regulated before they can be deemed green energy.
What is the Difference Between Renewable, Clean and Green Energy?
Sometimes people use the terms ‘green energy’ and ‘renewable energy’ in an interchangeable way, but this is not correct.
Renewable energy comes from naturally renewed resources like the sun, wind and water (unlike fossil fuels which are finite). Renewable energy is also sometimes referred to as sustainable energy.
However, while most green energy sources are renewable, not all renewable energy sources are entirely green. Hydropower, for example, is renewable, but the process of generating power from water involves industrialisation and deforestation involved in the process of building large hydro dams.
So what is clean energy? Is it the same as green energy? Not always.
Clean energy comes from sources that don’t release pollutants into the air. Here’s where it can be complicated. For example, nuclear energy doesn’t produce carbon emissions so it could be considered clean, but the uranium and plutonium used to create nuclear reactions aren’t technically renewable – so they will eventually run out. That means it isn’t renewable, but some would say it is clean energy. (Though radioactive nuclear waste released in the energy process undermines this opinion).
Basically, this is a simple key to understanding the difference between green, clean, and renewable energy.
- Clean energy = clean air
- Green energy = uses sources from nature
- Renewable energy = uses recyclable sources
Types of Green Energy:
So what is green energy in its different forms?
There are different types of green energy which come from various sources. Let’s take a look at some of them.
Solar energy is renewable and clean. The sun provides an infinite source of energy – as long as the sun exists, it will be able to produce energy. It’s clean because it doesn’t pollute the air.
In order to make solar energy, Photovoltaic (PV) solar panels harvest energy from the sun’s light and create an electrical current through the photoelectric effect. The current is then converted into an AC current, which can be channelled, via an inverter, into your home to help power your domestic appliances.
Wind energy is another form of renewable, green energy. Did you know that wind energy is also powered by the sun?
In reality, winds are caused by the uneven topology of planet Earth, and the uneven heating of the atmosphere. As the winds move across the surface of the Earth, they can be captured and used by wind turbines to create electricity. The blades of the wind turbine move the internal rotor which spins a generator to produce energy.
Though the benefits to the environment are positive, wind farms need to be expansive to make an impact.
Hydroelectric energy captures the energy contained in flowing water.
The water is forced through a narrow path, and stored in a reservoir or dam and being let out in selective amounts. The water is stored high up in a dam so that the water is pulled down by gravity at incredible speed, which makes the water spin a turbine, activating an electrical generator.
Hydroelectricity is considered to be one of the most popular forms of green energy because it is so effective in preventing the release of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.
Biogas uses our waste products to create energy. That energy can come from sewage, food, agricultural waste, and manure. These materials are contained in storage without oxygen, which makes them ferment and produce methane and carbon dioxide as well as other gases.
The methane produced can then be used to heat homes, produce electricity and fuel vehicles. The excess waste can also be used as a nutrient-rich fertiliser for farmland and even home use.
Biomass comes from plants and animals, using energy stored in the form of sugar or cellulose. The energy produced by this material can be made into biogas as well as liquid biofuels including ethanol and biodiesel.
Although biomass could be considered a green energy source, it must be handled carefully to fit into that category. As mentioned earlier, the burning of these natural materials releases greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. Even so, these emissions are still lower than those released by burning fossil fuels.
Geothermal energy is energy that has been stored just under the earth’s crust.
Although this energy production process involves drilling, something that must be closely monitored, once the source has been reached it is a wellspring of green energy.
The energy stored under the United States alone is enough to produce 10 times as much electricity as coal currently can. Stunning when you think about it, and as we can see it’s just a question of developing the best ways to harness this energy.
How Can Green Energy Be Used?
Now that we’ve answered the initial question ‘what is green energy?’ let’s look at how it can be used.
With more development and investment, and as fossil fuels become more scarce and expensive, green energy will eventually phase out and replace fossil fuels. While this is not feasible at the moment, what we can do in the meantime is combine multiple green energy sources to meet our needs.
When it comes down to it, you won’t notice any difference when you’re using domestic appliances. If you turn on your washing machine, it will function the same way whether you’re using electricity from the National Grid or whether you’re using solar power to supplement traditional energy sources in your home, for example.
What’s even better is that when you buy green power, you’re supporting renewable energy projects and the investment in technologies that help them grow.
Here are some ways that green energy can be used in the practical ways:
Heating and Cooling in Buildings
Green energy is increasingly being used as a solution for heating and cooling homes and businesses.
Some of the methods being used are solar water heaters, biomass-fuelled boilers, and geothermal heating, as well as cooling systems powered by renewable sources.
Renewable heat is also being used for some industrial processes. The heat is generated using biomass or renewable electricity.
In fact, the cement, iron, steel and chemical industries have been turning to hydrogen as a provider of renewable energy in recent years.
Multiple industry sectors, including the automotive industry, have been using sustainable biofuels and renewable electricity in the last few years.
Various modes of transport have been investigating and experimenting with electric models. We’ve all heard of and seen examples of electric cars, and now the aerospace and construction industries are keen to get on board with electrification and are investigating the possibility of going green.
What is Green Energy’s Role in the Future?
With so many socio-economic incentives and environmental benefits, it makes sense for green energy to take centre stage in the coming years.
With most leading countries aiming for zero carbon emissions, the only real way to achieve that is by creating energy with a zero carbon footprint – that is, green, clean, renewable energy.
At the moment, green energy enters your home as a supplement to conventional energy supplied by the National Grid, but as technologies advance and fossil fuels become more scarce, we will come to rely more on green energy.
Even so, when you buy green energy now, you are helping to fund renewable energy projects which will ultimately protect the environment.
It’s not just the planet that will benefit from investment in green energy. Going green will lead to job creation, particularly as developments continue and more facilities are built. In fact, 12.7 million jobs worldwide were created in 2021 thanks to the renewable energy sector, and that statistic will only increase.
We are all familiar with the rising cost of living and soaring energy costs. Green energy can help to stabilise energy prices, as energy is often sourced locally. That local focus means that energy prices are not at the mercy of geopolitical crises, supply chain disruptions, weather-related climate change in far-off regions, or international governmental whims.
As green energy is a low-cost solution for global energy needs, it also means that investment in it will make for a fairer, more sustainable world, with more evenly-distributed access to energy, even in the developing world.
If you’d like to know more about green energy and renewable energy sources, take a look at our Project Solar blog, or get in touch with us to see how solar could work for you.