You’ve probably heard the terms green energy and renewable energy at some point. But what is green energy, and how does it differ from renewable energy?
In this article, we’ll explain what green energy is, go through the types of green energy available, and discuss why it is so important to help prevent further climate change.
What is green power?
Green energy is a type of energy production that offers clean environmental benefits compared to more conventional forms of electricity production. These environmentally friendly production methods produce extremely low or zero emissions and utilize renewable resources.
According to the Environmental Protection Agency, green power is defined as “electricity produced from solar, wind, geothermal, biogas, eligible biomass, and low-impact small hydroelectric sources.”
These sources differ from more conventional energy sources, which involves burning fossil fuels such as coal, oil, and natural gas.
So, isn’t green energy the same as renewable energy? Not exactly, and it often depends on who you ask. Let’s dive into the differences.
How is green energy different from renewable energy?
Depending on who you ask or which sources you use, the difference between green energy and renewable energy varies. Some groups make no distinction between the two energy sources, while other government agencies and organizations do.
The Department of Energy defines clean energy as solar, wind, hydroelectric, geothermal, bioenergy, nuclear, and fuel cells. This is because all of these methods use renewable resources or emit no emissions during energy production.
However the environmental impacts of some clean energy sources can cause other problems. Nuclear energy, for example, involves heavy mining activity and disposing of the radiation created, which can threaten human and environmental health.
Large-scale hydroelectric projects, meanwhile, can disrupt natural fish spawning and change the landscape of rivers and ecosystems.
As such, the EPA defines green energy as “a subset of renewable energy.” While green power is renewable energy, not all renewable energy can be considered green. The EPA classifies nuclear energy as a conventional power source due to mining requirements. Meanwhile, the EPA classifies large hydropower projects and solid waste energy as renewable but not green energy sources.
That we’ve gone over the difference between renewable and green energy, let’s explore the different energy options available.
What are the types of green energy?
There are many forms of green energy out there, and even more are being researched and explored. Currently, the EPA classifies the following as green energy.
Solar power is a clean energy source that involves converting sunlight into electricity. How does solar work? Solar radiation, which is emitted from the sun, is captured by solar panels and absorbed by PV cells. Some larger solar farms use an array of mirrors to reflect sunlight, and heat, to a central receiver. The receiver converts the energy into heat, which is then used to produce electricity.
Solar power is one of the few renewable energy sources that homeowners and business owners can easily utilize on their own property. You can install solar panels on rooftops or in yards, and they can provide electricity for your entire home or business.
Wind power is another common clean energy source. Producing wind power involves turning blades of a turbine, which in turn spins a generator that creates electricity.
The windmills and watermills used in Europe to grind grain for flour and to pump water inspired this technology.
According to the Department of Energy, there are two common types of wind turbines: horizontal-axis and vertical-axis.
Horizontal-axis wind turbines are what most people are familiar with: a large turbine atop a tower with blades that face into the wind. Vertical-axis turbines, however, are omni-directional and the blades spin around the central tower.
Wind turbines can be located onshore or offshore, with offshore wind potential far exceeding land potential.
In some areas you can build smaller, distributed wind turbines on residential and commercial property.
Geothermal energy uses heat located beneath Earth’s surface to generate electricity. Due to plate tectonics, natural hot spots, volcanic activity, and other activities, hot water and steam can be found beneath much of the western United States.
Sometimes this heat is visible on the surface through hot springs, volcanoes, and geysers.
Wells are drilled underground to collect the steam and water to generate electricity and heat. Because these reservoirs recharge naturally, the EPA considers them a renewable source. Geothermal power plants can generate electricity 24/7.
Hydropower and Tidal power
While large-scale hydroelectric projects are not considered a green energy source, smaller-scale projects and tidal power are.
Hydroelectric projects often involve constructing dams, but there are many other techniques. Small projects are often used within cities or on irrigation canals to produce electricity. Water can also be pushed through diversions and into a turbine before rejoining the main river again.
Hydropower is often cheaper than other power sources and is very reliable. In fact, states like Washington, Oregon, and Idaho get most of their electricity from hydroelectric power.
Tidal and wave power are newer forms of energy. These methods are still very expensive to construct and maintain, but significant research is being done to improve the reliability of tidal and wave energy.
Bioenergy uses organic materials, called biomass, to create fuel and electricity. This includes plants, algae, bacterial decay. Biomass can be turned into a petroleum-like gasoline or jet fuel, like ethanol and biodiesel, and turned into electricity through burning.
Bioenergy has the potential to replace ethanol-based electricity production such as oil and natural gas, since many of the same refinery techniques can still be used.
Why green energy?
With all this talk about what green energy is, you might be wondering why it’s so important. Greenhouse gases that build up in the atmosphere, both naturally and from pollution, trap heat inside the atmosphere.
According to the EPA, almost all increases in these gases in the last 150 years have been due to human activities, mostly from the burning of fossil fuels and from raising cattle.
These changes have led to a phenomenon known as climate change. Global temperatures are increasing, which in turn has led to rising sea levels and worsening storm conditions.
Fossil fuels are also finite resources. Once we deplete our oil and gas resources, they’re gone.
The EPA tracks U.S. emissions in their report, Inventory of U.S. Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Sinks. According to the report, 26.9% of all greenhouse gas emissions in the United States in 2018 were from electricity production.
To put that into perspective another way, 63% of our electricity comes from fossil fuels. The rest of our energy comes from renewable sources and nuclear energy.
By switching to green energy sources, the United States has the potential to wipe out a quarter of its emissions. That’s in addition to the 12% of emissions that are offset every year by land use and forests in the country.
Is solar energy the solution to the climate crisis?
Green energy is an environmentally friendly way to produce electricity. While there are many different forms of green power, such as wind, hydro, geothermal, and bioenergy, solar power has the largest potential for Utah and other southwestern states.
According to the Solar Energy Industries Association, Utah ranked 9th for solar energy in 2020. They also projected 1,628.27 MW of growth in the next 5 years.
While Utah generates most of its energy from coal and natural gas, nearly 97% of new energy capacity since 2015 is from solar power according to the EIA.
Utah gets plenty of sunlight year-round to power residential and commercial solar panels. And with the expense of heating and cooling over the years, getting a solar system can save you money.
At ES Solar, we offer quality solar panels and expert installation for your residential or commercial solar panel needs. Thinking about making the switch to solar? We provide free home evaluations and a customized solar plan to determine if solar is right for you.
Call us today at 801-614-0606. We serve all of Utah!
Article written by Chase Charaba.