We know it can get tiring, all this political talk of ‘decarbonising our economies’ and a ‘renewable future’. But what exactly is renewable energy and where does it come from?
Renewable energy is any source of energy that is unlimited and is naturally replenished. Something which is sustainable and does not have any long term, negative impact on our planet’s ecosystems. All of these forms we are about to discuss also have a negative impact on our planet, however these impacts are quantifiably smaller than the use of fossil fuels. Technologies are innovative ideas however are being created to circumvent these as we think more sustainably.
For hundreds of years humans have used things like watermills which use the force of a river to move a turbine to create energy. Today, we call this hydroelectricity and it is an extremely common form of renewable energy all over the world. Our own Snowy Hydro project is a fantastic example of this. Today, enormous dams are built to store huge quantities of water. When grand hydroelectric dams are built however, this process however uses a colossal amount of concrete which releases a lot of carbon dioxide in the process. There is also sadly the need to flood valleys and rivers so that the dam can operate.
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Another source, which has been around for many decades now is solar. Solar power, especially through the use of solar panels is a fantastic source of renewable energy. The sun’s energy is essentially what started and has sustained life on our planet since it’s birth, so it only makes sense that we can now use it to power our homes and cities. As simply as possible, photovoltaics from the sun positively charge crystals in a solar panel which creates energy for us to use! As of mid 2021, almost 30% of households in Australia have solar on their roof. The mining of rare materials however is needed to create solar panels and batteries which store the energy, both of which also have an expiry date.
Wind. The element that bore humans across oceans towards faraway continents. This is a form of energy that has also been used for thousands of years, with the earliest records reaching back over 5500 years ago to the time of the Egyptians. Nowadays, we use wind farms to generate huge amounts of energy. Similar to hydroelectricity, wind pushes a turbine which in turn generates energy. Wind farms can however have negative impacts on local bird and bat populations, as well as the use of large expanses of flat land to operate.
Tides, waves, geothermal and biofuel are also other forms of renewable energy, although a little less common.
Above all, it’s a give and take. Using renewable energy still has a long way to go to become 100% sustainable, however these sources are astronomically better than the fossil fuels we have been using for the past few hundred years. The world is speeding up and pivoting towards a 100% renewably powered future and it’s an exciting transition to be a part of!