What does ‘renewable energy’ mean?
Renewable energy is energy generated from a source that is not depleted when used. Renewable energy tends to be cleaner in terms of pollution. It is generally produced from natural processes and more sustainable because its source is infinite.
Why is renewable energy important?
The industrial revolution kicked off a reliance on fossil fuels such as coal, gas and oil to power everything from the electric light bulb to cars and factories. Fossil fuels are embedded in nearly everything we do, but the gases, most notably CO2, released from the burning of these fuels have reached historically high levels. As these ‘greenhouse gases’ trap heat in our atmosphere, average temperatures on the surface of our planet are rising. To mitigate the already apparent and devastating effect of this global warming, it is vital that societies around the world switch to renewable energy sources and cease burning fossil fuels.
What different renewable energy sources are there?
The most popular renewable energy sources (RES) are solar and wind power, hydro, tidal, geothermal and biomass energy. Nuclear-generated electricity is not considered as a RES but is it zero-carbon, meaning its production emits almost no CO2.
How do renewable energy sources work?
- Hydropower: For hundreds of years people have harnessed the power of water: from the water-driven millstone grinding a farmer’s grain to large-scale dams, hydroelectric schemes, and tidal energy projects that capture the sea’s natural wave movement.
- Wind: Wind-power can be dated back to Persia over 1,000 years ago, and the first recorded use of a wind turbine for the production of electricity was in Scotland in 1887. Wind turbines are now a common sight in the UK, both on land and offshore. Between 2001 and 2017 cumulative wind capacity increased more than 22 times.
- Solar: Sunlight can be used to create electricity using photovoltaic cells. Solar is now reshaping energy markets around the world and the energy capacity of photovoltaic panels increased by 4,300% in the decade between 2007 and 2017.
- Biomass: Biomass energy is generated or produced by living or once-living organisms such as plants, wood or animals. The most common biomass source materials are corn or soy, wood and waste materials. The energy from these organisms can be transformed into usable energy by burning, conversion into electricity or processing into biofuel.
- Geothermal: Geothermal energy is derived from the Earth’s internal heat. Water from hot springs has been used for bathing since Palaeolithic times. On a large-scale, underground reservoirs of steam and hot water can be tapped through wells to generate electricity and on a home-based level geothermal heat pumps can be placed several metres below ground and used for both heating and cooling.
What are the benefits of renewable energy?
Renewable energy is central in the battle to reduce the worst effects of the climate crisis and reduce pollution. It is versatile and adaptable; it can supply huge cities already on an electricity grid, or remote villages that are unconnected from any mains electricity. The price of renewable energy is falling – wind power costs far less than nuclear, with the price of offshore wind rapidly falling due to larger, more effective turbines. Generators can be built close to where the power is needed, and the sheer range of technologies available means that at least one type will be suitable almost anywhere.
How is renewable energy used around the world?
The founder of Practical Action, Fritz Schumacher, was a big advocate of renewable energy. We helped develop community, micro-hydroelectric plants in Nepal back in the 1980s. In his book, Small is Beautiful, Schumacher wrote:
“As the world’s resources of non-renewable fuels — coal, oil, and natural gas, are exceedingly unevenly distributed over the globe and undoubtedly limited in quantity, it is clear that their exploitation at an ever-increasing rate is an act of violence against nature.”
Today Practical Action has energy projects that reflect the importance of Schumacher’s words in every country where we work, and we continue to focus on those in remote areas and marginalised communities. Our aims around renewable energy focus on how people can transform their lives when they have access to clean, affordable, sustainable and reliable energy sources.
We remain committed to delivering projects to some of the one billion people who lack access to electricity across the world. Whether it’s installing clean cooking stoves to reduce diseases and avoidable fatalities caused by smoke from indoor stoves, micro-hydroelectric schemes powering up remote Himalayan communities, or life-changing solar-powered street lighting in Rwandan refugee camps. Energy sparks progress, improves health, and brings opportunities for and income generation. Read about some of our energy projects below.