What is Solar – Wind – Biomass Energy?

Sustainable Energy for All!

SOLAR ENERGY

S olar power consists of capturing sunlight in special photovoltaic cells that convert sunlight into electricity. That electricity is then typically stored in batteries for use later.

S olar power as a source of energy is especially exciting because it produces no pollution during its use and is completely silent. The only pollution created is during the actual manufacture of the cells and is a minuscule amount considering its other environmental benefits.

S olar power also scales incredibly well. You can use a single small cell to power a calculator, or place an array on a home in the city to supplement or replace reliance on the power grid, up to a large scale solar farm in the dessert to act as a regional power plant.

I t works great in remote locations where running power lines would be difficult or costly. The use of solar panels to power satellites in space is a great example of the ways solar can provide power to places not hooked up to the power grid (and in this case impossible to hook up)

O f course solar is not without its own drawbacks, cost to get it all set up being one of the largest. Cost however continues to come down as the technology matures and tax credits exist in many areas to encourage people to make the initial investment. Solar cells efficiency is also adversely affected by cloudy overcast weather and completely useless during the night. In spite of these negatives though, there is huge potential in the future of solar energy, especially when you consider statistics like the worlds current energy consumption could be taken care for 27 years from the energy of a single day of sunlight hitting the earth. Assuming of course we were able to capture that energy. That is pretty amazing to stop and think about how incredible that is though!


WIND ENERGY

T his is actually a pretty old source of energy for humanity, when you think of how long people have used the power of the wind to sail ships across the world’s oceans for trade and exploration, of course sailboats and windmills still exist but these days, wind turbines are used to generate electricity rather than simply crushing grain or to pump water.

W ind turbines can exist offshore or onshore, though most of the time they are placed in remote or rural areas because of noise created and because the room required for the spinning turbines is not well suited for urban environments.

W ind power has the same advantages of solar as far as its source being plentiful and completely renewable, with no harmful air or water pollution from its use. It is not as quiet as solar however, and many people complain about the aesthetics of a bunch of turbines being an eye sore or ruining an area’s natural beauty. While they might support wind power for the bigger picture of cleaner energy and lessening reliance on our dwindling supply of fossil fuels it becomes a case of a ” not in my backyard” sort of mentality.

N ot everyone however shares that opinion and it’s worth noting that as of 2014 Denmark generated 40% of its electricity from wind power, with a plan to increase that to 50% by 2020 and 84% in 2035 The Danish government has been a pioneer of using wind power since the 1970’s and a large share of turbine manufacturers on the market today are Danish.


BIOMASS ENERGY

B iomass refers to using biological material of living or once living organisms for energy. It could be as simple as directly burning it for a heat source, like a log in a fireplace, or by converting it through various processes into some form of bio-fuel such as ethanol or biodiesel.

T he main advantage of biomass as a fuel is in the use of waste material as a fuel source. Reducing waste is just as important as meeting energy needs, so getting that dual benefit is appealing. Some examples of waste as a bio-fuel would be using discarded vegetable oil to create bio-diesel and capturing methane gasses produced by the breakdown of materials in landfills.

C orn and Soy are also often used to create ethanol. While it is a renewable source, the biggest problem with biomass as a replacement for our energy needs would be it competing with our food needs. We only have so much land that is suitable for growing our food, much less having to share that limited fertile land to grow corn or soy or whatever for our fuel needs as well. Of course as our population continues to grow, needing more of food and energy, this problem becomes even worse.

I t also requires a good amount of water to grow these crops, a resource that in itself is very important for our survival and in short supply in many regions (the current California drought being a great example).

T he last thing to note about biomass as a fuel or heat source is that while it has lower carbon emissions than fossil fuels, it is still not a totally clean source of energy like wind or solar.

Author: Rinkesh | Credit: conserve-energy-future.com