What is renewable energy?

Solar energy is a renewable energy source that can be captured by solar panels.

Renewable energy refers to natural, continuous and large sources of energy. This includes solar power, wind power, hydropower, geothermal power and certain biofuels. The downside of renewable energy sources is that they usually require a substantial amount of infrastructure to extract appreciable energy. For example, collecting solar energy requires expensive solar panels. Harvesting wind energy requires wind turbines. Getting energy from running water requires dams and so on.

A ship passing through a lock at the Three Gorges Dam, the world’s largest hydroelectric plant, a source of renewable energy.

Today, renewable energy is underexploited. Most countries get less than 10% of their energy from renewable energy sources. Fossil fuels are easier to find and currently return more energy per dollar invested in extracting them. Certain countries such as Iceland and Norway get up to 99% of their energy from renewable energy sources, but this is because they are conveniently located in areas where there is abundant geothermal activity. For other countries, the transition to renewable energy will require significant investments and upfront costs.

Wind energy is a form of renewable energy.

Investments in renewable energy have been increasing since the environmental movement of the 1960s and 70s and more recently due to new concerns about global warming and Peak Oil. Fossil fuels pollute the Earth, are limited by nature, and are controlled by undemocratic states in politically volatile regions. Using our limited amounts of fossil fuel energy to invest in a renewable energy infrastructure seems like a wise collective decision for mankind to make.

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Hydroelectric plants such as the Hoover Dam are sources of renewable energy.

Ultimately, the renewable energy source that will provide the greatest amount of energy is solar energy. There are millions of venture capital and government dollars being invested in start-ups looking to increase efficiency and reduce the cost of solar cells, and progress is being made. Solar ovens, which condense the sun’s rays into a focus with mirrors, then use that heat to boil liquid and run turbines, are an even more efficient means of harnessing solar energy than conventional solar panels. The surfaces of the world’s oceans are largely unused and life in certain parts of the sea is very scarce, making them ideal locations for the deployment of floating solar panels that power the world’s cities. Eventually, we’ll tap into the massive volumes of space to install solar panels and send power where it’s needed.

Renewable energy is better for the environment while reducing monthly utility bills.

In the meantime, we can extract appreciable amounts of energy from other renewable sources such as water and wind. For example, the recently completed Three Gorges Dam in China will produce 18 gigawatts of continuous power when all of its generators are in place. This will supply about 3% of the national electricity demand. The project cost about one billion US dollars (USD).

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