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Running head: RENEWABLE ENERGY: THE KEY TO A CLEAN FUTURE

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Renewable Energy: The Key to a Clean Future

Maíra Prata de Araújo

California State University Fullerton

RENEWABLE ENERGY: THE KEY TO A CLEAN FUTURE

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Abstract

This paper extensively concentrates on renewable energy technologies, explaining in

details three important examples: wind power, solar power and hydropower some of the fastest

growing sectors of the renewable energy industry.

The renewable energy technologies are

identified as an effective solution to reduce some environmental problems, such as air pollution,

acid precipitation, ozone depletion, climate change and global warming that are intrinsically

related with current energy use and supply, strongly based on fossil resources.

Several aspects

related with renewable sources, environmental impacts and energy utilization are examined,

exposing positive and negative points of wind power, solar power and hydropower

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1. Introduction

The concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere have reached 400 parts per

million, the highest in three million years (New Energy Finance, 2013).

Growing evidence of

environmental degradation is due to a combination of several factors, such as the increase of world

pollution, energy consumption and industrial activity.

These factors show the deep relation

between environmental and energy issues.

However, problems with energy supply and use are

intrinsically related not only to global warming, but also to such environmental concerns as air

pollution, acid precipitation, ozone depletion, forest destruction and emission of radioactive

substances.

Energy will be a determining factor in whether the world can surpass the evident

environmental and energy crisis and make a transition to a sustainable global economy.

The

renewable energy technologies are the key to a clean future and a stance based on the growth of

energy produced by renewable sources, such as wind, sun and water, is being adopted.

These

solutions are discussed in more details in this paper, presenting positive and negative aspects of

the following renewable energy technologies: wind power, solar power and hydropower.

2. Renewable energy technologies

Renewable energy sources technologies produce marketable energy by converting natural

phenomena into useful energy forms. They are continually replenished and represent a massive

energy potential which dwarfs that of equivalent fossil resources.

However, renewable energy

sources are generally diffused and not fully accessible, some are intermittent and all have distinct

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regional variability.

Such aspects of their nature gives rise to difficult, but solvable challenges

inherent in development and use of renewable energy resources.

Renewable sources of energy vary widely in their cost-effectiveness and in their

availability across the world. Although water, wind and other renewables may appear free, their

cost comes in collection, harnessing, and transporting the energy.

According to a research

developed by Boomerang New Energy Finance in 2012, hydropower, solar power and wind power

represent an important part of the global renewable energy market. In the following figure, it is

possible to visualize with more details the investments performed in the several sectors of

renewable energy.

Figure 1: Asset finance of renewable energy assets by sector, 2012, $BN

in the several sectors of renewable energy. Figure 1: Asset finance of renewable energy assets by

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2.1 Wind power

Wind power is the world’s fastest-growing energy technology. According to the Energy

Department report (2012), the United Sates is one of the world’s largest and fastest growing wind

markets. In 2012, wind energy became the number one source of new U.S. electricity generation

capacity for the first time representing 43 percent of all new electric additions and accounting

for $25 billion in U.S investment. This tremendous growth helped America’s total wind power

capacity surpass 60 GW at the end of 2012 representing enough capacity to power more than 15

million homes each year, or as many homes as in California and Washington state combined.

Renewable wind energy is an impressive energy strategy that reduces harmful greenhouse

gas emissions, diversifies the energy economy and brings innovative technologies on line. Large

and modern wind turbines are used to generate electricity with the natural wind’s energy, either

for individual use or for contribution to a utility power grid. The wind turbines usually have two

or three blades and they are mounted on tall tower to capture the most energy. As the blades turn,

the central shaft spins a generator to make electricity.

The power in wind increases rapidly with its speed, that is why wind turbines are placed in

areas of strong, steady winds.

It generates electricity without producing pollutants, helping the

environment.

However, there can be negative impacts in the nature, mainly related to wildlife

deaths. Frequently, birds and bats are killed by collision with wind turbines, but it is not more than

the number killed by collisions with other structures, such as buildings and airplanes. The impact

on wildlife can be reduced placing wind farms and individual turbines in appropriate areas.

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2.2 Solar power

Solar power is a growing sector of renewable energy.

It is considered a promising

alternative to face the challenges of expanding the supply of energy with less environmental

impact. Solar energy technologies use the sun's energy and light to provide heat, light, hot water,

electricity, and even cooling, for homes, businesses and industry. The practical applications can

be divided into two groups: solar photovoltaic (photovoltaic panels and cells) and thermal energy

(flat collectors and concentrators).

Photovoltaic system uses solar cells to convert sunlight directly into electricity. Although

sunlight is free, solar cells and the equipment needed to generate marketable energy are really

expensive, which contributes to elevate the cost of this type of energy generation.

The other

practice, thermal energy, focuses in the capture of sun’s heat. Concentrating solar power systems

focus sunlight with mirrors to create a high-intensity heat source, which then produces steam or

mechanical power to run a generator that creates electricity. Flat-plate collectors absorb the sun's

heat directly into water or other fluids to provide hot water or space heating. And solar process

heating and cooling systems use specialized solar collectors and chemical processes to meet large-

scale hot water and heating and cooling needs.

The advantages of this type of energy are evident when the environmental costs of

extraction, generation, transmission, distribution and use of fossil energy sources are compared

with the equivalent from solar sources. Solar power’s potential for supplying is enormous, but the

electricity generated is still too expensive more than twice as expensive as electricity from fossil

fuels. The other negative point is the variability. Available sunlight varies considerably as a result

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of differences in cloud cover and latitude, and also varies with the seasons. In the summer, longer

daylight hours and a higher sun angle provide more solar power, compared to the winter when the

sun is up for fewer hours and at a lower position in the sky.

2.3 Hydropower

Hydropower makes up seven percent of total U.S. electric generating capacity and is the

United States’ largest source of renewable electricity, avoiding over 200 million metric tons of

carbon emissions each year (U.S. Department of Energy, 2014). Because it has no pollutant air

emission, hydropower helps to reduce the air pollution, acid precipitation and ozone depletion.

However, the place where a hydroelectric power plant will be built has to be chosen carefully. If

a large amount of vegetation is growing along the riverbed when a dam is built, it can decay in the

lake that is created, causing the buildup and release of methane, a potent greenhouse gas.

Hydropower is a renewable energy source that uses the Earth’s water cycle to generate

electricity.

Water evaporates from the Earth's surface, forms clouds, precipitates back to earth,

and flows toward the ocean. The movement of water as it flows downstream creates kinetic energy

that can be converted into electricity.

A hydroelectric power plant converts this energy into

electricity by forcing water, often held at a dam, through a hydraulic turbine that is connected to a

generator. The water exits the turbine and is returned to a stream or riverbed below the dam.

Hydropower

is

mostly

dependent

upon

precipitation

and

elevation

changes;

high

precipitation levels and large elevation changes are necessary to generate significant quantities of

electricity.

In order to produce hydropower, it is necessary to integrate river flow, an uneven land

and an amount of water in a given period of time.

Therefore, an area such as the mountainous

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Pacific Northwest has more productive hydropower plants than an area such as the Gulf Coast,

which might have large amounts of precipitation but is comparatively flat.

3.

Conclusion

The renewable energy technology is an interesting topic to study and one that is growing

in importance as energy and environmental concerns become more pronounced.

The high

concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, the climate change, the global warming and

the air pollution are just some reflections of the current environmental degradation that affects all

the world.

Renewable energy is an effective solution to surpass current environmental problems. It

offers a secure energy supply with less negative impacts in the nature. Even with the variability

and relative high cost of installation, wind power, solar power and hydropower are gaining

increasingly space in the energy market.

Renewable technologies are the key to a clean future,

representing an excellent alternative to the current energy supply strongly based on fossil

resources.

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References

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Programme (UNEP) Centre & Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF). Report number:

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Renewable Energy Sources in the United States.

Retrieved July 8, 2014, from

Sadorsky, P. Modeling renewable energy company risk. Energy Policy, 40, 39 - 48. Retrieved July

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(2010).

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