Everything You Need To Know About Renewable Energy
Renewable energy is energy that is generated from natural processes that are continuously replenished. This includes sunlight, geothermal heat, wind, tides, water, and various forms of biomass. This energy cannot be exhausted and is constantly renewed.
Due to the growing world population and increasing wealth, demand for energy – specifically electricity – is rising, especially for the 1.3 billion people who don’t have access.
The most commonly used source for electricity production today is coal; 41% of all electricity is produced from coal, according to the World Coal Association. Due to its high level of pollution (water and air pollution during mining and air pollution during burning) and often miserable circumstances for miners, we can conclude that this is not a sustainable source for electricity.
When looking at sustainable electricity resources, we commonly identify four: solar, wind, hydro and biomass. Each of them is renewable, but that doesn’t necessarily make them sustainable. Sustainability is determined by three different parameters: environmental sustainability, social sustainability and economic sustainability.
Environmental sustainability means that it doesn’t do harm to the environment. That means that we need a positive energy balance to start with. If producing a renewable energy device costs more energy than it produces during its lifetime, it’s not sustainable because we’re a net consumer of energy. But there’s a material side to it as well. Mining coal is bad for the environment, but mining neodymium and other rare earth metals for wind turbines is equally polluting. Let’s not close our eyes for what’s happening: anything that’s mined destroys complete ecosystems. And we can only guess if submerging complete ecosystems by building hydropower dams is less destructive.
Social sustainability is enormously diverse and complex. It entails healthy circumstances for workers and decent wages. But an aspect like local welfare increase (as opposed to multinationals exploiting local communities) should definitely be included as well. There’s one overarching aspect of social sustainability – we have one globe where we can provide enough food and energy for everyone. Using the planet’s effectively and efficiently is therefore crucial.
Economic sustainability seems easy enough to measure. If a technology can be sold without subsidies it is sustainable, right? But in most countries fossil fuels belong to the most heavily subsidized products. According to the IEA’s World Energy Outlook, fossil electricity is still subsidized for over $100 billion worldwide.