While experts all have their own opinions on the ways we'll get there, most agree that the future of energy needs to be far less reliant on fossil fuels. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, (EIA) fossil fuels accounted for 62.7% of all energy sources in 2019.
Of that value, 23.5% came from coal. Coal produces more pollution than any other energy source. That means that we're currently damaging the environment at an alarming, unsustainable rate, not to mention that fossil fuels are a finite resource.
So what source is on track to dominate the energy market? It is actually a combination of several renewable resources.
In the race to find clean, renewable ways to power our societies, some sources are emerging as powerful contenders. Instead of just focusing on one, we're moving towards incorporating several. Those sources of energy are:
By incorporating several sources and creating more efficient technologies that can harness clean energy, we are also helping make way for affordability. Let's take a closer look at each of these sources and how they can be utilized.
Geothermal energy is the thermal (heat) energy of the Earth. It's captured by geothermal power plants. Those plants use thermal heat to generate steam, and that steam is then used to create electricity. According to the EIA, the United States is the biggest producer of geothermal electricity generation, with power plants in seven states as of 2019.
Uses and benefits of geothermal energy.
So what can geothermal energy be used for? Heating systems. Geothermal energy can be used to heat individual buildings or multiple ones that have district heating systems. Since geothermal energy provides an uninterrupted source of heat, it's also gaining in popularity as a power generation option for power plants.
What are the main benefits of geothermal energy? According to the Green Building Alliance, they include:
- Clean source
- Minimal maintenance
- Quiet operation
It's important to note that geothermal energy is not without risk. Earthquakes may be an unintentional side effect of geothermal power plants, and the power plants themselves may contain harmful pollutants. That being said, the pollution associated with geothermal energy is nowhere near the levels of pollution caused by fossil fuels. As technology evolves, the hope is that we'll find ways to lessen the risks associated with geothermal energy since the source offers many benefits.
Wind energy, or wind power, is the process of creating electricity through wind turbines. You probably know what a wind turbine looks like. It's similar to a windmill. When wind flows over the blades of the turbine, the blades start to turn. Since the blades are connected to a driveshaft that works with an electric generator, electricity can be produced.
Uses and benefits of wind energy.
Since wind energy can help produce electricity, it's a great way to power devices in a home or even on larger commercial scales. The American Wind Energy Association notes some of the benefits of wind energy:
- Turbines don't produce atmospheric emissions
- Job creation
Hydropower is energy harnessed from moving water. Similar to wind energy, turbines and generators convert energy from flowing water into electricity, when can then be fed into the electric grid. Power generators can even be placed inside dams, which constantly activate the turbine blades.
Uses and benefits of hydropower.
Since hydropower electricity can be connected to the power grid, it's a great way to power homes and businesses. USGS.org (United States Geological Survey) notes some of the benefits of hydropower:
- Minimal pollution
- Considered to be renewable
Hydropower has yet to be perfected, however. It does have high investment costs and may impact fish populations. That's why it is important we continue to learn more about this energy source and how we can reduce any harm it does to habitats.
Solar energy is the heat and light that we get from the sun. That energy can be harnessed in a few ways, including photovoltaic cells, which you know as solar panels.
How do solar panels work? The photovoltaic cells in a solar panel absorb the energy they get from the sun and generate DC electricity, then an invertor transforms it into the AC electricity that our homes run on.
Any excess electricity gets fed into the electric grid. If you live in a state with strong net metering laws, this is great news for you, as you'd get to take advantage of electricity credits that can be used at a later date.
Uses and benefits of solar energy.
Solar energy can be used to generate electricity for any number of things. This energy can even be utilized by individuals, in the form of rooftop solar panels. Because solar energy …
- Is renewable
- Lowers electricity bills
- Requires minimal maintenance
- Has numerous applications
… it has become very popular in recent years, which has also made it more affordable than what it once was. Connect with a local solar installer to learn more about your rooftop solar panel options.
Clean Energy Is the Future
While most forms of alternative sources of energy have associated risks, those risks are far less than the permanent damage we will do to the environment if we continue to use fossil fuels. The future of energy is clean and sustainable, and will likely require the use of many different sources. Thankfully, we're already on the right track. With time, we'll continue to hone how we are able to harness renewable power, which means more affordability for consumers and less pollution. Everyone wins with clean energy!