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Where Does Renewable Energy Come From? A Look at the Different Energy Sources

written by: Tarun Goel•edited by: Lamar Stonecypher•updated: 9/23/2011

Renewable energy can be reproduced again and again and most of it does not pollute our environment much. This article talks about such sources, their applications, and consequences of using them in the modern age.

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    Sources of Renewable Energy

    Renewable energy is also known as alternative energy because it focuses on generating energy from natural sources. The term "renewable" was coined because most of the sources could be "replenished." These natural sources include the following:

    • Biomass
    • Hydroelectricity
    • Geothermal
    • Wind
    • Solar

    Hydroelectricity and solar power are the two most popular sources of renewable energy. 16% of the world's electrical generation comes through hydroelectric plants; the rest of the 3% is from other new renewable energy sources. Wind farms are also becoming popular and wind power is growing at a rate of 30% per annum. The current worldwide installed capacity of wind power is 198 gigawatts. Brazil is the leading nation in terms of renewable energy production annually. Developing nations like India, China, and Brazil have a huge scope and potential for renewable energy because these countries still have a major percentage of their population residing in villages and the electricity needs of villages can easily be met using small scale solar or wind energy project.

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    The Growth of Renewable Energy Usage

    Renewable energy has become need of the hour. We cannot rely on petroleum products and derivatives for our energy needs forever. These sources are going to become exhausted someday, and some of them are on the verge of extinction already. The world population has exploded and it is exerting unbearable pressure on our limited resources of energy. One of the best solutions to avoid an energy crisis is to switch to renewable sources of energy. Rather than burning coal to produce electricity, hydroelectricity can be generated, which is clean and does not cause emission of harmful gases. Similarly, solar energy can be used to run cars (indirectly, by charging from the grid supplied by solar and wind power) and street lights. Even in the corporate sector, renewable energy sources can be used to minimize dependency on non-renewable energy sources. Of late, global warming has literally forced governments and industries across the globe to adopt renewable energy measures to keep a check on their gaseous emissions and carbon footprints.

    Biofuels are another source of renewable energy that can reduce pollution and fuel consumption costs. The ethanol fuel program has revolutionized the automobile market in Brazil and somewhat in the US. Many countries are adopting the E10 model to reduce consumption of gasoline in automobiles. New and emerging renewable energy technologies are still under development and include ocean energy, cellulosic ethanol, and hot-dry-rock geothermal power. Numerous other technologies are on the horizon and may have potential comparable to other renewable energy technologies. The market for renewable energy technologies has continued to grow. Climate change concerns, exponentially increasing oil prices, changing industrial patterns, and increasing government support, are driving increasing renewable energy legislation, incentives and commercialization across the globe. The scope and growth of renewable energy sector is not restricted to one country or continent only and almost every nation is doing its best to promote renewable energy sources.

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    Is Renewable Energy Eco-Friendly?

    Though renewable energy has wide potential as the new energy resource, there are still concerns as to whether or not such ways are really environmentally friendly. Some experts say that even though the sources of renewable energy are mostly "natural," the methods of extracting such energy is still questionable and in the end still produces doubts as to whether or not this process is beneficial to the environment. There is also the question of consistence and longevity as most of the sources or renewable energy are based on very unpredictable forces of nature. The "unpredictable factor" is what makes other people doubt if the renewable energy sources could sustain a very wide demand of energy and if it could really fulfill the research results for the future of alternative energy.

    There are certain disadvantages of using renewable energy sources as well. The current capital cost for equipment to convert renewable energy such as solar, wind, and tide is very high, but in the long run, as Al Gore puts it, production costs would become negligible in the future, as compared to conventional sources of energy. Another major disadvantage is that it is difficult to generate the quantities of electricity that are as large as those produced by traditional fossil fuel generators. However, if renewable energy is produced uniformly, then collective production would become much more than traditional production. Few experts believe that installing wind and hydropower plants will disturb the natural flow of winds and rivers in the respective region.

    As you can see, renewable energy is a very interesting topic as there are still many discoveries still waiting to be unveiled and also some possible limitations that could hinder this fast-growing trend. If used properly and efficiently, renewable energy sources can solve the energy crisis, which is looming in front of the world.