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Renewable Energy and the Environment
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Energy is a great resource required in everyday life and activities. Energy is needed for the continuous running of normal daily routines, be it at home, school or work. For one to be able to take that warm shower, cook his breakfast, and even get to work in the morning, he will require energy. Energy comes in various forms and can be used to for different purposes such as heating, lighting buildings and homes, cooling in the form of air conditioning or refrigeration, manufacturing, service industries such as hospitals and many other commercial purposes. As such, the importance of energy cannot be over emphasized.
The most common type of energy is that which is derived from fossil fuels. For years, we have been drawing on fossil fuels such as coal, oil and natural gas, as energy resources. However, with time these resources have gradually depleted leading to increase in the cost of energy. This had led experts to invent new sources of energy. The invention on renewable energy has not only provided an alternative energy resource but has also come with great environmental and socio-economic impacts.
Global warming, caused by emissions from fossil fuels, has become a major threat to the world today. In order to counter this challenge and the other problems associated with fossil fuels, there is need to embrace the use of renewable energy sources. However, not all technologies that are employed in renewable energy production are appropriate to all applications or sites. For example, it may not be possible to use wind energy to generate enough electricity to run a factory. On the other hand, geothermal energy cannot be harnessed in certain places. Nrdc.org reports that every state in America can produce its own energy from clean, renewable sources. This has led to new sources of income since new jobs have been created. This invention has also led to the reduction of air and water pollution. By setting up the right policies, states can be able to harness their own natural resources and contribute to the development of a local renewable energy industry. This will in turn lead to the economic development of the state.
Renewable energy is sourced from resources that occur naturally. These natural resources do not diminish since they replenish themselves. Renewable energy forms include solar energy, wind energy and geothermal energy among many others. Solar energy comes from the sun and can be used either directly or indirectly as a source of energy. “Solar energy is a sustainable, inexhaustible, non-polluting source of energy that does not emit any greenhouse gases when producing electricity. Solar electricity can supplement ones entire or partial energy consumption. Therefore, using solar power can help one reduce his energy bills and save money.” (energymatters.com.au).
The sun’s heat and wind energy promotes evaporation which in turn leads to rain. This rain is captured in rivers and used to generate hydroelectric power. Biomass is a source of renewable energy that is generated from organic matter found in natural plants. This form of energy is mostly used for heating. For these plants to grow, they require solar energy, which comes from the sun. Hydrogen is an energy resource that occurs in combined forms in nature. For example, hydrogen combines with oxygen to form water. Hydrogen can also be found in organic matter. Once separated from the compound in which it occurs, hydrogen can be burned as a fuel or converted into electricity. Renewable energy can also be tapped in the form of geothermal energy. This is the energy produced from naturally occurring steam and hot water from under the Earth’s surface. According to learnaboutenergy.org, “geothermal energy is very cost effective and reliable”, however, locations of this form of energy “. . . are very hard to find and are extremely rare.” Energy can also be harnessed from the ocean’s tides. These tides are caused by the gravitational pull of the sun and the moon upon the Earth. Ocean energy is also caused by the winds which causes the tides. (Stephen Lacey).
Wind can be captured by rotating turbines and used in the production of energy. Wind energy produces no air or water pollution. It does not emit toxic or hazardous substances and does not pose any threat to public safety. The choice of the size of turbine to use in wind energy production depends on how much energy is needed. Wind turbines occupy only a small fraction of any land area. Small turbines are common in farms and ranches where the energy produced can be used to pump water and for grinding grain. However, the technology used in wind energy generation is quite expensive. The machinery used is also noisy and birds are sometimes killed when they run into the rotating turbines. Since these turbines rely on wind, there may be times of the year when it is calm and therefore, wind energy cannot be harvested then. (learnaboutenergy.org). As can be seen from ucsusa.org, the development of turbines for the purpose of wind energy production can create serious land-use conflicts in certain areas. For example, in places where there are forests, tress may have to be cleared so that these turbines can be constructed. This may create land disputes.
The use of fossil fuels leads to water and air pollution. This has a detrimental effect on plant and animal life. In addition, fossil fuels create toxic wastes and cause global warming. (ucsusa.org). According to renewableenergyworld.com fossil fuels are non-renewable. This means that they draw on finite resources that will eventually diminish. Therefore, retrieving such resources will become too expensive or too environmentally damaging. However, renewable energy resources are constantly replenished and will never run out. Renewable energy is clean and thereby, “produces little or no waste products such as carbon dioxide or other chemical pollutants.” (solarschools.net). Therefore, renewable energy has minimal negative impact on the environment. Ucsusa.org shows that renewable energy “can help conserve fossil resources for future generations.”
Renewable energy has a significant economic impact on a country as well as individuals. Job opportunities have been created in various sectors. Labour is required to harness and process raw materials into forms that can be used to produce energy. The employment opportunities created by the renewable energy sector are therefore, “diverse - ranging from indirect manufacturing and construction jobs to direct facility design, operation and maintenance jobs.” (Stephen Lacey). Renewable energy projects have not only created new jobs but also ensure these jobs are maintained. Whereas jobs are created with the development of renewable energy, jobs are also lost in the fossil fuel industries. Fossil fuel industries may also shift to producing renewable energy as a means of retaining their market share.
In addition, renewable energy saves the nation the money it would have used to import energy from other countries. This ensures that the money stays within the nation’s borders and instead is used to create more employment opportunities. There are countries that have already established the use of renewable energy. These countries export the technologies used in the development of renewable energy to other countries. Countries which have adopted the use of alternative energy have gained in terms of tax revenue. Struggling communities have also been revitalised by these projects since most of these plants are located in rural areas. Renewable energy has thus led to the economic growth and stability of many countries.
Karl Mallon explains that the development of renewable energy has a direct economic impact on some stakeholders who have benefited from this new development. These stakeholders include project developers, financiers, landowners, fuel suppliers and local councils, who benefit in one way or another. Some stakeholders, however, experience an indirect economic impact from renewable energy projects. This group which includes individuals and communities are affected financially by renewable energy projects. The local people benefit from employment opportunities due to the increase in commercial activities. Competitor industries involved in energy production lose part of their market share to renewable energy companies. Consumers are also affected by these projects since they start having increases in their energy bills. In places where these renewable energy projects are set up, the people could be affected by either an increase or decrease in their property. Renewable energy projects also have social impacts which affect human interactions in positive or negative ways. Residents of the places where these projects are carried out might have to adapt to new changes in landscape. This could be due to the construction of a turbine viewing tower used to monitor wind energy or the re-routing of walking paths in the area.
On the flip side renewable energy has its disadvantages. The amount of electricity generated from renewable energy resources in not as large as those produced by traditional fossil fuel generators. Hence renewable energy may not be fully reliable. This will lead to a reduction in the amount of energy used. Alternatively, more energy facilities may have to be constructed in order to address this challenge. If, however, a balance were to be reached in the use of different energy sources, power supply will be ensured in the right amounts using enough facilties. Whereas renewable energy not only produces small amounts of power, it also relies on the weather as a source of power. Weather is not easy to predict and is sometimes inconsistent. Hydroelectric power requires the use of plenty of rain. Wind energy uses wind turbines that need wind to turn the blades. Solar energy uses sola collectors that need clear skies and sunshine to collect heat and produce energy. Sometimes these resources are not available. Therefore the capacity to produce energy during such times can be difficult. Renewable energy technologies are fairly new. Hence the cost of setting up a renewable energy industry is expensive due to the initial capital required. (solarschools.net).
Nonetheless, “renewable energy forms do not emit any greenhouse gases or toxic waste in the process of producing electricity. It is a sustainable energy source which can be relied on for the long-term. In addition, renewable energy is cost-effective and efficient.” (energymatters.com.au). tapping energy from natural sources such as the water, wind, plants and sun leads to a cleaner environment. The shift from fossil fuels to renewable energy also saves the country a lot of money leading to energy independence and also a stronger economy. Even for countries that are already producing energy from fossil fuels they can adopt renewable energy to avoid over reliance on fossil fuels. This could also save them their fossil fuel resources for future use. Renewable energy also aids in the prevention of air and water pollution, therefore, boosting plant and animal life. (nrdc.org).
References
Energymatters.com.au.( 2008, February 19 ). Renewable energy and alternate energy sources Retrieved 18th April 2012 from http://www.energymatters.com.au/renewable-energy/
Karl Mallon.( 2006). Renewable Energy Policy And Politics: A Handbook For Decision-making. Earthscan Publishers USA Learnaboutenergy.org.(2002, July 2). Types of Renewable Energy. Retrieved 18th April 2012 from http://www.learnaboutenergy.org/renewable_energy/RenewableEnergy3.htm
Nrdc.org.( 2009,December 17). Renewable Energy For America. Retrieved 18th April 2012 from http://www.nrdc.org/energy/renewables/
Solarschools.net.( 2009, September 14). The Advantages and Disadvantages of Renewable Energy. Retrieved 18th April 2012 from http://www.solarschools.net/resources/stuff/advantages_and_disadvantages.aspx |
Stephen Lacey.( 2002,July 20). The Economic Impact of Renewable Energy. Retrieved 18th April 2012 from http://www.renewableenergyworld.com/rea/news/article/2007/04/the-economic-impact-of-renewable-energy-48201
Ucsusa.org.( 2008, October 26). Benefits of Renewable Energy Use. Retrieved 18th April 2012 from http://www.ucsusa.org/clean_energy/technology_and_impacts/impacts/public-benefits-of-renewable.html

References: Energymatters.com.au.( 2008, February 19 ). Renewable energy and alternate energy sources Retrieved 18th April 2012 from http://www.energymatters.com.au/renewable-energy/ Karl Mallon.( 2006). Renewable Energy Policy And Politics: A Handbook For Decision-making. Earthscan Publishers USA Learnaboutenergy.org.(2002, July 2). Types of Renewable Energy. Retrieved 18th April 2012 from http://www.learnaboutenergy.org/renewable_energy/RenewableEnergy3.htm Nrdc.org.( 2009,December 17). Renewable Energy For America. Retrieved 18th April 2012 from http://www.nrdc.org/energy/renewables/ Solarschools.net.( 2009, September 14). The Advantages and Disadvantages of Renewable Energy. Retrieved 18th April 2012 from http://www.solarschools.net/resources/stuff/advantages_and_disadvantages.aspx | Stephen Lacey.( 2002,July 20). The Economic Impact of Renewable Energy. Retrieved 18th April 2012 from http://www.renewableenergyworld.com/rea/news/article/2007/04/the-economic-impact-of-renewable-energy-48201 Ucsusa.org.( 2008, October 26). Benefits of Renewable Energy Use. Retrieved 18th April 2012 from http://www.ucsusa.org/clean_energy/technology_and_impacts/impacts/public-benefits-of-renewable.html

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