You’ve probably heard of green energy, but do you know exactly what it means? Put simply, green energy is energy produced using natural resources, and as the name suggests, renews itself. As the entire world aims to cut dependence on energy sources such as oil, coal and gas that are finite fossil fuels, more research and development is going into sources of green energy.
Here in Australia, the electricity sector powered by fossil fuels is our nation’s biggest polluter, accounting for 33 per cent of our emissions according to a Climate Council report published in 2018. However, Australia is blessed with some of the best conditions on the planet to produce, use and supply renewable energy to the world.
Here are some of the more common methods of producing green energy:
Energy from the sun via solar panels is the best known and most prevalent method here in Australia. As of December 2020, the number of Australian households with rooftop solar systems passed 2.8 million, and installations have boomed since then as people turn to solar to reduce their electricity bills and carbon footprint. The International Energy Agency has called solar the “cheapest source of electricity in history” and it was estimated in 2018 that Australian households with solar power systems enjoyed an average saving of $540 annually on their electricity bills.
Most green energy technologies can only be implemented with the backing of government and big business, but solar power is accessible to anyone who owns their own home and has a suitable roof and appropriate conditions. If you wish to join the solar bandwagon, simply call a solar installer to have panels fitted on your roof that gather energy from direct sunlight and a home battery to store excess power for use when the sun isn’t shining. Some electricity providers will also buy excess power from solar-equipped households, further reducing power bills. Solar can both save money in the long run and add value to your property, offering a financial incentive as well as a step towards a greener future.
This energy type is electricity generated by harnessing the wind. Figures from 2021 show that wind energy meets around six per cent of global electricity demand. It is expected to continue to grow its share of electricity generation globally, as well as in Australia.
Wind turbines use the energy of the wind to spin an electric generator, which produces electricity. These giant structures are commonly located on hilltops or near the ocean. In some countries, wind turbines have also been built in the ocean and float on the surface.
Wind turbines come in various shapes, although the windmill is the most common. Some international companies are also exploring ‘airborne wind’, which works like a giant kite.
As the wind does not continuously blow, researchers have developed ways to use energy from wind that also help to maintain a reliable supply of electricity, such as pairing wind farms with solar farms and energy storage such as batteries.
Hydropower converts the energy of moving water into electricity. It includes a number of generation and storage technologies, predominantly hydroelectricity and Pumped Hydro Energy Storage (PHES). Hydropower is one of the oldest and most mature energy technologies and has been used in various forms for thousands of years.
Hydropower now provides some level of electricity generation in more than 160 countries and provides approximately 80 per cent of electrical energy in Tasmania.
Geothermal energy is heat from deep in the Earth. It is a renewable energy source with multiple applications including heating, drying and electricity generation. Geothermal systems extract the Earth’s heat in the form of fluids such as steam or water. The temperatures achieved determine the possible uses of its energy.
Australia has considerable geothermal energy potential, however, the electricity produced is not financially viable in Australia (yet).
Bioenergy is a form of renewable energy generated from the conversion of biomass into heat, electricity, biogas and liquid fuels. Biomass is organic matter derived from forestry, agriculture or waste streams available on a renewable basis. It can also include combustible components of municipal solid waste.
Biomass can be converted to bioenergy using a range of technologies depending on the type of feedstock (raw material), scale/size of the project and form of energy to be produced.
Some conversion processes also produce by-products that can be used to make useful materials such as renewable bitumen and biomass-based concrete. Additional benefits include emissions reduction, waste disposal, providing support for rural economies, and improving air quality.
While the move to completely green energy may take a while yet, it’s going to be an inevitable part of a greener, cleaner future we can all enjoy.
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