Going green, going clean: Let renewable energies do the work!

Power generation is the number one cause of pollution and harmful emissions. It has long been known that fossil fuels have adverse effects on the environment and public health, but are reliable methods of producing energy.

Power generation is the number one cause of pollution and harmful emissions. It has long been known that fossil fuels have adverse effects on the environment and public health, but are reliable methods of producing energy. Whether renewable energy sources, sometimes called green energy, which are inexhaustible and emit little to no emissions, can compete with traditional methods holds tremendous implications for the global environment and public health. Recent innovations in renewable energy, such as wind, hydro and solar, show that green energy can be competitive with traditional energy sources, like oil, natural gas and coal. 

Recent years have seen massive advances in renewable energy technology. Solar panels are now productive enough, and cheap enough, to be a feasible option for the average homeowner. Hydroelectric power plant capacity can be increased at existing dams, and in some cases, dams are no longer needed to harness the power of surging water currents. Better drilling technologies have increased viable locations for geothermal energy plants, greatly expanding the possible impact of geothermal solutions. Advances in biomass power enable old coal factories to convert to biofuel and to burn more productively. 

An especially promising new technology is hydrokinetic energy, which is when the kinetic energy, or movement, of a moving body of water is used to create electricity. This includes tides, ocean currents, waves and free-flowing rivers. Estimates indicate that the energy from these sources, just in the U.S. alone, would be enough to power over 67 million homes. Energy in near and off shore waves is an enormous resource; converting 15% of the energy in U.S. coastal waves would equal the amount of energy currently produced at hydroelectric dams, the number one source of renewable energy in the U.S. 

One of the reasons this is such a powerful energy source is the fact that it has a high level of predictability; wave patterns can be forecasted days in advance and tidal patterns have been known for centuries. Even though wave and ocean currents are fluctuating, they can supply continuous power, something that is a drawback in solar or wind power. Having enormous untapped energy in rivers and oceans, a high level of predictability and continuous power output, hydrokinetic energy is set to be a major competitor of fossil fuels.  

As previously mentioned, a problem for solar or wind plants is the irregular input of energy into the electrical grid. During nighttime or times with slow wind currents, no power is produced. To counter this problem batteries are often used to stabilize the energy input. An up-and-coming new method, called flow batteries, uses chemicals dissolved in water to circulate into each battery cell. This battery is different than typical lead-acid or lithium-ion batteries because it is mostly liquid. The benefit of a flow battery is its ability to store large amounts of electricity, enabling it to discharge a large amount of electricity for up to four hours, as well as a longer life, and an ability to completely deplete its energy reserves. Increased energy storage capacity inside flow batteries substantially increases the reliability of power from wind or solar. 

To fully move away from traditional fossil fuels, green energy will need to be competitive in cost, availability and production. Innovations that increase reliability of renewable energy, such as hydrokinetic power and flow batteries, will greatly increase the competitiveness of these resources. As renewable energy technology continues to develop and improve, both start-up costs and production costs will decrease, enabling renewable resources to become the primary source of energy. 

Prepared by: Jonathan Zur

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