Posted by Jaga - 28 June 2016
With so many renewable energy options now available to us, just how can you ensure you choose the option that is best for you and your household?
There are pros and cons to each renewable option, but hopefully the details below will help you to make a more informed choice:
Solar power is clean and unlimited and, a fact that will be important to most people, it is also affordable, with the price dropping by 70% percent since 2009. As technology continues to advance, the price of solar is only expected to continue decreasing.
Many business models for solar energy generation and distribution already exist, from huge-scale plants, such as that in Pakistan’s Quaid-e-Azam Power Park, which is predicted to generate electricity for 320,000 households to the smaller scale solar panels we see being regularly fitted onto our homes and businesses’ roofs.
It has been proven time and time again that investing in solar now will pay off long term, not just because it’s better for the environment but for saving people money on their energy bills and in buybacks from utility companies as a result of the extra energy being generated.
The biggest disadvantage for solar power is the distribution of costs. Those who use energy generated from solar power have to pay for this energy, but also have to pay for the system that transports it to their household. Whereas those who have a solar system at home get paid back rates by utility companies, which can then result in a higher cost for those who don’t have solar at home.
As with solar power, energy generated through wind is also clean and plentiful. Indeed in a study conducted by Nature Climate Change, it was reported that there would be enough wind energy to generate enough power for the whole of the world over and over again.
Wind – the weaknesses
The main issue with wind energy is in its distribution and transmission across a long distance is difficult. There are also a number of storage issues, since wind patterns are often impossible to predict and unfortunately cannot be aligned to demand. Whilst of huge benefit to fighting the effects of climate change, it is also important to note that wind turbines pose a risk to wildlife, with a huge number of birds being killed each year.
Hydro – the strengths
Hydro is actually often the most widely used renewable energy source, despite wind and solar getting the majority of the publicity. A major selling point of hydro is that it can produce power on demand, unlike wind and solar, which obviously comes in very handy if it is not sunny or windy.
Hydro – the weaknesses
There are two key negatives to hydro. The first is its dependency on location: in order to generate power through hydro, you must have a lot of water. The second is the environmental impact the dams have on natural habitats, i.e. stopping fish from reaching their spawning grounds, redistributing drinking water, as well as creating new flood plains.
Geothermal – the strengths
A major positive of geothermal energy is that deployment can be at a utility scale, as well as home-based. It is also very reliable, unlike both solar and wind energy. This means it can be deployed on demand, which is very efficient and a huge bonus. Another advantage is that geothermal is a very efficient source of energy as it doesn’t lose any of its power during processing, which means that home geothermal heating systems can operate at huge efficiency levels, receiving almost immediate return on initial investment.
Geothermal – the weaknesses
Although geothermal can be both home-based and utility-based, the latter tends to be specific to location and as such rarely are the systems located near to where people are living. This means energy is lost during transmission, making it less efficient. There are also environmental consequences, with the geothermal systems requiring a lot of water (approx. 1,700–4,000 gallons per megawatt hour), which when arriving back up from the ground can be contaminated with salts and sulphur. Geothermal energy has also been linked to earthquakes.
Nuclear – the strengths
The reliability of nuclear energy is unquestionable. It can be operate on demand and also has a very low carbon footprint, as well as many economic benefits, such as the ability for plants to be built anywhere and the resulting creation of jobs. The ability to build a plant anywhere is a positive because it means you reduce transmission costs and inefficiencies.
There is no question that nuclear energy holds many horrendous risks. Chernobyl is a stark reminder of what happens when a reactor meltdown takes place, with 31 people dying and numerous people contracting cancer as a result. The nuclear leaks which occurred in Japan after the 2011 earthquake and tsunami, devastating in their own right, are still to this day having a devastating effect on the Pacific.