Alternative energy has often been a subject of debate, especially with global temperatures rising year over year. It’s evident that humans have caused serious damage to the Earth’s atmosphere with the release of greenhouse gases — which absorbs and traps heat — and at heights higher than ever before. This method of powering our modern lives are proven harmful and outdated.
Thanks to technology improvements, the efficiency of alternative energy has been improving while the cost has been declining. But just what is alternative energy, and what are some of its benefits?
What is an Alternative Energy Source?
In regard to energy production in the United States, there are three major fossil fuels — petroleum, natural gas, and coal — which when all combined, accounted for about 77.6% of the U.S. energy production in 2017. The other 22.3% came from alternative energy sources.1
Have you been wondering what “alternative energy” really means? Alternative energy is energy that does not deplete natural resources or harm the environment by avoiding the use of resources like fossil fuels and nuclear power.2 These resources are often referred to as “renewable” energy because they are energy options that replace non-renewable energy like fossil fuels.
Types of Alternative Energy:
There are several types are energy generated by harnessing natural processes — like sun rays (solar power) or wave power (referred to as hydropower), for example. They are generally the most sustainable forms of energy.
- Biomass Energy: Biomass energy is derived from organic material that can be used to produce heat, electricity, products, and transportation fuels, such as ethanol and biodiesel that is used for transportation. These organic materials may be anything from wood waste, tree buildup, handled wood pellets, or even urban waste. A common protocol for biomass energy plants is to create biomass energy from leftover wood received by logging or sawmills. Biomass is found anywhere in the world – we can recycle and use waste from dead lives, grass and trees, and even animal carcasses for this purpose. 3
- Geothermal Energy: Geothermal energy is derived from the heat Earth generates and has been stored and radiated in the center of the Earth outward for over 4 billion years. The flow of heat is consistent and, more or less, a limitless supply for another few billion years or so. The constant flow of heat from the Earth ensures an inexhaustible and essentially limitless supply of energy for billions of years to come. Icing on the cake? It doesn’t produce notable pollution in comparison to coal and fossil fuels. 4
- Hydroelectric Energy: Also dubbed “Hydropower”, hydroelectric energy is generated with the movement of water. The hydrologic cycle refers to water moving from place to place in various areas of the world, and that movement opens doors to harnessing renewable energy. Since hydroelectric does not burn fuel, there is minimal pollution which allows it to have a major influence in reducing greenhouse gas emissions. 5
- Hydrogen Energy: Hydrogen can be produced from various domestic resources. An advantage of this energy source is that it’s one of the most abundant elements in the universe, even though it does not occur naturally as a gas on earth. Hydrogen is high in energy, yet still produces little or no pollution when burned. Most of the hydrogen that is consumed by the United States is used for refining petroleum, treating metals, making fertilizers and processing certain types of food. 6
- Ocean Thermal Energy: Ocean thermal energy uses the temperature variances between cooler deep ocean water and warmer shallow ocean water to produce electricity. This clean energy source is sustainable and can produce large quantities of energy, following the theme of being renewable and pollution-free.
- Wind Energy: Another type of common alternative energy is wind power which is generated by none other than air flow. Airflow can be captured by using wind-turbines that generate electricity when they are moved by the wind. While not always a practical option for a typical homeowner, the wind is sustainable and suited well for a business in need of cutting electricity costs. A non-pollutant, this is another great example of a way to phase out power plants. 8
- Solar Energy: Solar power is one of the most common forms of alternative energy, especially with the implementation of the ITC in 2006. Harnessed by the sun, it’s literally what makes life on earth possible. The sun produces around 173,000 terawatts of electricity continually, which is equivalent to more than 10,000 times the world’s total energy use — imagine the possibilities! Homeowners are now able to take advantage of the sun’s energy by installing solar panels on their home and saving money every month. This goes without saying, but solar energy also does not produce pollution — in fact, it helps to reduce it. 9
Save Money with Solar Panels
Solar has accounted for at least 30% of new electricity capacity in the US over the last 3 years, and currently powers 2% of all electricity nationwide. This percentage is expected to double in the next six years. What’s more – solar prices have dropped 52% over the last 5 years and show no signs of slowing down.10
Depending on how you choose to go solar, savings in your state could really make a difference for you when considering rebates and incentives in addition to the federal solar investment tax credit and additional state and/or utility incentives.
9, 10 https://www.seia.org/solar-industry-research-data