What Is Renewable Energy?
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“Renewable energy” is a phrase we hear a lot. But what exactly does it mean for an energy source to be “renewable”?
Let’s focus for a moment on how different energy sources replenish themselves. Fossil fuels are the products of ancient plants and marine organisms that decomposed over many millions of years to form coal, gas, and oil. Because of the massive timescales required to generate them, the deposits of fossil fuels stored in the Earth will not replenish themselves over a period of time that is useful to humans. They are therefore forms of “non-renewable” energy.
In contrast, renewable forms of energy replenish themselves constantly; their energy is sourced from naturally-occurring phenomena within Earth’s weather and climate systems. We can reliably assume some combination of sun, wind, and flowing water will be accessible just about anywhere you are on the planet, and we can harness these forces of nature to power our world using solar, wind, hydro and tidal power. Another renewable energy resource, geothermal power, harnesses the heat generated by the geological activities within the Earth.
Because the phenomena that power these energy technologies are essentially unending, they are defined as forms of renewable energy. As far as human timespans are concerned, these resources can be considered infinite. Even better, unlike fossil fuels, which release large amounts of carbon emissions through their use, renewable energy resources are carbon free in their power generation and therefore do not contribute to climate change. Because of the regenerative nature of renewable resources and their lack of harmful emissions, clean, renewable power is, without question, the logical path forward for humanity.