Why Green Energy?
The goal of many new regulations, building codes (see our building codes page for contact info in your area), as well as by individuals is to find alternative sources of energy that generates power for homes and buildings and also produces as little toxic output as possible. This is often referred to as "going green." There are many types of green energy, including solar and nuclear power, but all are designed with the same goal in mind; namely to save the planet. Ultimately, the harmful emissions generated when power is produced are a huge concern as they affect all life worldwide.
Over the course of the past few decades, research has demonstrated that fossil fuels, coal, oil, and other resources used to generate power emit harmful side effects. They pollute the air, water, and ground, eventually negatively impacting the products required for survival by the numerous species that inhabit the planet. Although the side effect of global warming has been widely researched in recent years, it pales in comparison to the harm done to other resources used to produce food and maintain clean water.
What Is Green Energy?
Green energy produces power from natural resources that do not produce harmful side effects that can pollute the Earth's atmosphere and surface. Although many people are familiar with solar and wind power, there are many other alternatives that are environmentally friendly yet provide the power needed to keep the planet running. Water, wind, and the sun have been used to generate power, heat water, and operate machinery since ancient times. It is only within recent years, however, that technology has expanded on designs, types, and uses of alternative sources of energy.
Although any energy source generates some pollution, greener alternatives minimize harmful side effects. One way alternatives are being expanded is by finding ways to extract energy from existing fossil fuels and coal but in less harmful ways. This requires removing harmful by-products first; however, at the present time, this has been less than effective and still fails to be achieved in cost-efficient ways. Despite this, there are many alternatives that are proving to be viable options.
Green Energy Types and Options
1. Solar Power: People are probably most familiar with solar power. This design captures the sun's energy with photovoltaic cells that capture the electrons contained in the sun's light rays. Although this concept has been used since ancient times, such as for heating water, it is only since 1973 that it became a viable alternative for other purposes. The panels used in this method are large, take up a lot of space, and are expensive. Despite this fact, they are now used in homes, on cars, in agriculture, and in industry with great success.
2. Wind Energy: Another common alternative source of power is generated by the wind. Today the sight of wind farms is not uncommon. These result in the appearance of large land masses appearing to be a windmill community where large propeller-like blades constantly rotate. The way this works is that the strength in the wind is captured and channeled to generators that produce electricity. Wind farms are generally privately owned and the electricity produced is sold to public utility companies. Although windmills have been used by ranchers for decades, wind farms are a fairly new concept. The advantage is that there are no pollutants emitted when using this method and the power generated can be used in many settings; however, they are noisy and expensive.
3. Hydropower: Power generated by water is called hydropower and has been used since ancient times. In this case, water from a moving source, such as a stream or river, spins turbines that generate energy. Prior to the time commercial power plants came into being, hydropower was used for everything from irrigation to turning a grinding stone in a flour mill. This method is expensive and produces less energy than other sources. The biggest concern, however, is the impact on wildlife and water quality. This issue has yet to be researched thoroughly.
4. Hydrogen: Hydrogen is one of the newer technologies that has been advanced recently and is now being considered for use in cars, to heat buildings, and for many other uses. Hydrogen is a natural gas that is liquefied, held in large tanks, and then fed through thousands of solid fuel cells. The fuel cells contain an electrolyte fluid, much like is found in a car battery. As the electrolytes intermingle with hydrogen and oxygen they produce an electric charge which is captured and held in a battery. The only by-product is water. This alternative is just as efficient as an average combustion engine without harmful side effects, but the cost of hydrogen is currently still too high for mass use.
5. Biomass: Another newer form of power is generated from what is called biomass. This is made from various forms of organic matter that includes both wood and non-wood waste. This can include such materials as decomposing plants or compounds found in commercial, industrial, domestic, animal, and agricultural waste. It can also include forest products, grasses, fast-growing trees, animal waste, and biodegradable food products. The energy in this organic material is converted into electricity when gases expelled while the material burns is trapped in a boiler.
6. Geothermal: An up-and-coming alternative is geothermal energy. In this method natural heat from the Earth, in the form of steam or hot water, powers generators where turbines are rotated from the pressure. One of the problems with this power source is the fact that natural land sites are limited. California's geysers are one of the largest sites in the world. While the production of electricity is not limited by weather or the time of day, such as when solar power is generated, it is unclear as to the impact this alternative has on the stability of surrounding landmasses and ecosystems. The advantage is that emissions are low.
With rising oil prices and a planet in peril from toxins emitted when power is generated, finding alternative energy sources has become the focus of many countries around the world. It is important, therefore, to find options that are both natural and renewable. For many people, it may be as simple as selecting unique architectural designs that keep buildings cool in the summer and warm in the winter. For others, an anaerobic design that uses current energy producing systems, but replaces fossil fuels with other resources is the answer.
There are many other types of green energy. The ultimate goal is to minimize the impact on the environment while ensuring that the growing need for power is filled. Fortunately, technology and research have now found many choices, such as solar power, biomass, geothermal energy, and others mentioned previously. They could all fulfill the need for power while saving the planet. In the near future, it is anticipated that this field will continue to grow and will add sources such as fusion to the already growing list. Ultimately, however, it will be up to individuals to make the difference by demanding alternatives that are not only viable but also cost-effective.
Green Energy Resources
- Williams.edu: Explores Geothermal Energy, Hydroelectric Energy, Hydrogen Energy, Solar Energy, Wind Energy, Biomass Energy and Ocean Energy.
- National Renewable Energy laboratory: NREL is the only federal laboratory dedicated to the research, development, commercialization and deployment of renewable energy and energy efficiency technologies.
- Buildings Guide: Tips for Building Greener
- US DOE: The Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE) invests in clean energy technologies that strengthen the economy, protect the environment, and reduce dependence on foreign oil.
- Whitehouse.gov: President Obama's weekly address talks about "Clean energy to out-Innovate the Rest of the World".
Author: Conrad Mackie