In general, the sources of renewable energy, such as wind, solar, and hydro energy, are largely (and rightfully) considered to be sustainable. That said, however, there are some renewable energy projects, such as the cutting of forests for the production of biofuels, that can lead to even worse climatic problems than using fossil fuel energy itself. (This is why it is important not to consider the terms ‘renewable energy’ and ‘sustainable energy’ interchangeable.)
Nevertheless, the utilisation of both sustainable and renewable energy solutions are no longer just an attractive option: it is an imperative. Increased awareness (particularly in view of the recent reductions in pollution—which perhaps only 2020’s COVID-related lockdowns could achieve) about the impact of human activities on the global environment has caused many alarm bells to ring. Knowledge of the population’s increasing use of energy, depletion of resources, and other forms of waste generation is drumming up more urgency to reconsider the current human practices and to address the priorities related to sustainability.
Increasingly, the UK has been generating clean and green energy from renewable sources, especially throughout 2020. Indeed, having foreseen the rises in energy prices due to the shortage of gas and oil supplies, particularly from the North Sea, the UK has been further pushed to act on its need to commit to green and sustainable energy to try to realise its own energy independence, reasonable prices, and the ability to meet its fast-approaching emissions targets.
A collection of terms (such as ‘fossil fuel’ and ’deforestation’) relevant to the key point: climate change. Image Credit: Bigstock.
Addressing the Environmental Impacts of Human Activities
All human activities, including the generation of electricity (whether this is achieved through conventional or sometimes even renewable means), carry an environmental impact. Coal, gas, and nuclear power stations cause the emission of greenhouse gases, affect air quality, and generate dangerous wastes that are difficult to handle. The negative impact of conventional means of electricity generation on our planet cannot be ignored, and because of this, renewable technologies are becoming the new normal.
With this in mind, we discuss below the benefits of green energy on the global environment.
Benefits of Renewables
There are many renewable energy sources, and they all have a few things in common that differentiate them from nuclear power and fossil fuels:
- Renewable energy generation does not cause the emission of harmful greenhouse gas
- Renewable energy, by definition, cannot run out
- Renewable energy can not produce perilous byproducts that require complex and costly waste management
The natural world holds unlimited resources of energy. Clean, green, and generally sustainable sources of energy mostly harness the power from the surrounding environment. If these resources alone were to be utilised well enough, with viable energy continuing to be harnessed from them, we would in theory be able to generate eco-friendly power for decades to come. A few of the renewable sources are discussed below in the next sub-sections.
An engineer observes a solar panel array with a tablet, around which renewable and sustainable energy concepts, such as electric cars and eco-friendly lighting, are presented as graphics. Image Credit: Bigstock.
The sun is the heart of our solar system and is essentially a fusion reactor whose core converts the star’s helium and hydrogen into pure energy—released as heat and light. Worldwide, solar energy is one of the most popular kinds of renewable energy solutions.
In keeping with this, solar panels have become increasingly popular on both an industrial and consumer level (such as on the rooftops of homes for household heating). Solar panels are able to either capture the light or transform the heat from the sun into electricity, depending on their structural design.
Wind energy solutions, such as both offshore and onshore turbines, enable some of the most affordable forms of electricity generation in the world (with solar power reportedly being the most cost-effective of all). This makes it particularly popular with energy providers.
The UK is a world leader in wind power, owing to its diverse weather and buffeting winds.
While natural gas comes from fossil fuels, the term ‘green gas’ refers to the byproduct released from biomass (organic matter) as it decays naturally. This makes green gas much more environmentally friendly and sustainable than fossil fuel natural gas, because the decay of natural matter would occur in any case.
The UK’s interests in the potential of green gas has become increasingly clear in recent years.
Net-zero concept. Pictured: various renewable technologies: solar panels, wind turbines, and battery energy storage systems. Image Credit: Bigstock.
Going ‘Net Zero’: Both the Progress and the Concerns
Again, in its plans to combat climate change, the UK government has (as of 2019) pledged to go ‘net zero’ by 2050. And according to environmental network Friends of the Earth UK, in six years, the United Kingdom has increased its renewable electricity production from 7% to 25%—with Scotland continuing to achieve its 100% renewable electricity target through renewable sources.
Although the global trend, even in many developed countries, is shifting towards clean and sustainable energy sources, the world as a whole needs to rely more on renewable energy than conventional means of energy to counter the negative impacts of harmful emissions. But at least, in what is a rare plus side to the COVID-19 pandemic, the reliance on lockdowns seen in 2020 has certainly helped to lead governments to act on the importance of renewable solutions.