June 2, 2023
 in 
Environment

The Pros and Cons of Renewable Energy

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ith over 35 billion tons of CO2 being emitted each year thanks to fossil fuels and industry, there’s no doubt that something needs to change. Renewable energy has largely been seen as the answer to this with solutions that create less pollution and a more sustainable energy model overall.

As we tackle the climate crisis, it’s important however to see all sides of the issue and acknowledge where clean energy may be falling short so we can continue to do better.

Keep reading to understand what renewable energy can do for us, the companies leading the charge, and where the obstacles may be in expanding it.

Table of  Contents

The Most Popular Forms of Renewable Energy

These forms of renewable energy are some of the main ways that countries around the world are trying to move away from fossil fuels:

Solar Energy

Sunlight is by far the most abundant source of energy we have on Earth – the rate at which we intercept the sun’s rays is 10 000 times greater than how much energy we use. Thanks to solar technology, all that energy can be converted using solar radiation mirrors or photovoltaic panels to power electricity.

While this technology used to be very expensive, the cost has dropped dramatically in the last few decades. They’re still an investment but most solar panels are quite durable, with a lifespan of about 25 years, and require little maintenance. 

Wind Power

Wind energy is harnessed using giant wind turbines that convert the kinetic energy of moving air into electrical power. We’re seeing more and more of these turbines pop up all over the world, especially as remote offshore potential is tapped into. Like solar, there’s technically far more wind power available than what we need, making it an ideal sustainable source of energy.

Hydropower

 Similar to wind power, hydropower uses kinetic energy to provide electricity. Most hydropower stations are based in reservoirs, but many simply rely on the flow of rivers and other large bodies of water to generate energy. Designed properly, hydro-reservoirs can serve multiple functions such as providing clean drinking water, flood and drought control, and assisting with irrigation.

The next development in hydropower is tidal energy which uses both kinetic and thermal energy from moving seawater to provide power. 

Geothermal Energy

Geothermal energy is derived from the heat of the earth and can be used as a source of heating, cooling, and renewable electricity. It’s perhaps one of the least talked about forms of renewable energy so you may be surprised to read that the largest geothermal plant in the world is actually in California where the steam from naturally occurring geysers is harnessed for energy.

Biomass Energy

Don’t be fooled by the fancy name, we’ve actually been using biomass energy since cavemen were burning wood to cook food and keep warm. The heat from burning living or once-living organisms, usually plants, can be converted into electrical power and is being expanded upon all around the world. From a sustainability perspective, what’s exciting about this form of renewable energy is that it mainly relies on waste as a fuel source.

Scraps from lumber mills and excess from agriculture are used as “feedstock” for biomass power, reducing what goes to landfill while also creating renewable energy.

Main Benefits and Problems of Renewable Energy

Renewable energy has so much potential for the planet but as with every solution, it’s important to consider all sides of the issue.

Pros of Renewable Energy:

  • Renewable energy won’t, by definition, run out. Sunshine, wind, and water are here to stay.
  • It’s reliable. As we’ve seen with the conflict in Ukraine, the availability of fossil fuels can change in an instant thanks to geopolitical conflicts. Renewable energy, on the other hand, is not nearly so risky and most countries have a source of their own that is not shaped by political or market instability. 
  • More energy independence.  Another advantage of renewable energy’s wide availability is that it allows many countries to gain independence from relying on big fossil fuel producers. This has huge economic benefits, especially for developing nations.
  • Renewable energy is better for the planet. Though some production processes of renewable energies emit carbon, it’s a fraction of what we see with fossil fuels.
  • It’s also better for our health. The fact that renewable energy produces less pollution overall compared to its fossil fuel counterparts has major benefits for our soil and air quality. Cleaner environments mean better health for all and could save governments millions on public healthcare in the long term.
  • With renewable energy, waste can become fuel. As we mentioned, biomass technology converts forestry and agricultural waste into energy. This decreases what goes to landfills which is yet another way we can limit greenhouse gas emissions.
  • More energy options mean more job possibilities. Though many have argued that shifting to renewable energy will negatively impact employment in the fossil fuel industry, many countries, including the UK, have also provided grants to help expand renewables so more people can be employed in this newer energy sector.

Cons of Renewable Energy:

  • Weather and daylight affect it. One of the biggest problems of renewable energy is that most sources, besides geothermal power, aren’t available constantly. Solar, wind, and hydro energy are all subject to weather. 
  • The cost of investment in renewable energy is high. The initial setup and costs of renewable technology are often expensive. Governments around the world are however offering some relief with grants and tax incentives.
  • The efficiency of renewable technologies is still low. Despite major strides, the efficiency of renewable technology in drawing power from things like sunlight and wind is still much lower than natural gas or coal processes.
  • Most forms of renewable energy need big areas. Things like wind farms and even solar panels often need a lot of space to harness enough power. The creation of hydropower reservoirs such as the Itapúa dam in South America displaced over 10 000 people. Of course, mining operations for fossil fuels have caused similar problems.
  • We need better ways to recycle renewable energy devices. Though most renewable technology has a decent lifespan, everything eventually comes to an end, and disposing of that technology remains an issue.  

Top Renewable Energy Companies

The problems of renewable energy are far outweighed by the good it can do in reducing emissions and creating cleaner environments. It’s not a perfect solution to climate change, but it’s a pretty good one, especially when combined with other sustainability measures.

Here are some of the top renewable energy companies doing major work in this area:

NextEra Energy

This Florida-based company is worth billions, but it’s not just revenue that makes them one of the top renewable energy companies, it’s also among the world’s largest wind and solar energy generators. They sell renewable energy to multiple municipal and retail providers across the U.S.

First Solar, Inc.

First Solar is the only solar manufacturer included in the top ten biggest producers that isn’t based in China. With headquarters in Arizona, they’ve made major strides in reducing the carbon footprint of their manufacturing process.

Chevron Renewable Energy Group

In an effort to reduce the amount of diesel we use, Chevron Renewable Energy Group has developed multiple biodiesel products. This international company has its HQ in Iowa and offers clean-burning and renewable fuels for everything from cars to aviation.

Vestas Wind Systems

Going further afield to Denmark, Vestas Wind Systems earned a spot as one of the top renewable energy companies by being the leading manufacturer of wind turbines. They have developed and installed wind turbines around the globe and are actively working to improve how turbine blades can be recycled.

Brooklyn Renewable Partners (BEP) 

This Toronto-based company is one of the biggest suppliers of hydroelectric energy in the world, but their portfolio also includes many other forms of renewable energy. They’re a publicly traded company that provides investors with easier opportunities to put money into clean energy.

Which Renewable Energy is the Best?

Unfortunately, there is no definitive answer to this question. Knowing which renewable energy is the best to use has everything to do with context and which natural resources are most available in an area. Wind is often referenced as the most efficient source of renewable energy while hydropower is already the most relied on, though it can cause environmental issues if not designed well.

Again, this question of “which renewable energy is the best?” has everything to do with context. Location, design, and management all shape whether a renewable energy plant remains truly sustainable and effective at providing power.

How much of the World’s Energy Comes from Renewable Resources?

The International Energy Agency reported that renewables are set to grow from taking up 29% of the world's power generation in 2022 to 35% in 2025 and will cover about 90% of the predicted increase in electricity demands over this period.

Another encouraging piece of news from this report is that after reaching an all-time high in 2022, global CO2 emissions are predicted to plateau through 2025. This is largely thanks to renewable and nuclear power plants, proving just how much renewable energy has to offer. Many of the problems of renewable energy regarding price and environmental impact are also being improved every year, which only adds hope for the future.

We still have a long way to go when it comes to renewables but the possibilities, for both us and the planet, are bright.