Advantages and disadvantages of 6 renewable energy sources
In addition to the obvious detrimental effects on the environment – in 2018, 89% of global emissions came from fossil fuels and industry – our global supply of fossil fuels is not infinite. It’s estimated that if we kept burning fossil fuels at our current rate, our supply would be depleted by 2060.
For those very compelling reasons, as a global collective we are pushing towards renewable energy sources to build a sustainable future and meet targets to cut global emissions to zero – or at least to offset our greenhouse gas output.
Let’s take a look at the 6 main renewable energy sources and the advantages and disadvantages of each.
Also known as photovoltaic or PV panels, solar panels convert sunlight into electricity using materials that are energised when hit by photons, creating an electrical field. They generate direct current which is then fed into an inverter and converted to alternating current for use on-grid or off-grid.
- Don’t occupy as much space as other renewable energy technologies such as wind, biomass or hydropower (as we’ll cover later on)
- Need little to no maintenance – just occasional cleaning
- Don’t generate noise pollution and their installation is very unobtrusive
- Materials are non-toxic and there’s no danger of the photovoltaic cells leaking or emitting toxic fumes
- They have a high initial install cost
- Energy generation is obviously intermittent as it relies on the light of the sun – but energy can be generated and then stored for future use
- Inefficient in comparison to other sources – they convert approximately 14% of their available energy into power
In the UK, we generate almost 66 million MWh of electricity from wind turbines every year, making us the 6th largest global producer of wind energy.
- Cost-effective – industrial-scale wind generated power is one of the lowest priced energy sources available
- The wind energy infrastructure creates thousands of jobs
- Can be located off-shore if space in-land is limited
- Can be detrimental in reducing or degrading the habitat of wildlife, fish or plants
- The aesthetics aren’t for everyone – some see them as a blot on the landscape
- Inconsistent and unreliable in the same way solar energy is
- High initial investment needed
Hydroelectric energy uses the flow of water to generate electricity – such as the flow of water over a waterfall. Hydroelectricity is currently the most commercially developed renewable energy source – 83% of the world’s electricity generation from renewable sources comes from hydroelectricity.
- Most commercially available source of power – already an established infrastructure in place
- Reliable – water will always flow, and the flexibility and control a plant has over their water supply can mean they can hit capacity of demand in 2 minutes
- Hydropower can be used to bring energy to rural areas
- The reservoirs needed for hydroelectricity require dams – which can damage the habitats of wildlife and have a massive impact on local fish population
- No emission free – requires carbon offsetting to make it a carbon-neutral source of energy
- As global warming becomes increasingly critical, there is a risk of drought, and water may become more scarce as a resource
Tidal turbines, barrages and fences convert the kinetic energy generated by the tides of the sea into electricity. Aside from not being a viable option for landlocked countries, tidal energy can prove to be an effective source of energy.
- Long-lasting – tidal energy systems can last up to 75-100 years compared to something like a solar panel which will need replacing after 20-30 years
- Predictable – tide is easy to predict, so you can plan accordingly
- Effective at low speeds – in contrast to wind power, tidal energy can be generated when water is passing through the turbine slowly
- The installation of tidal energy system can pose a threat to marine life
- Very high construction costs
- They require a very specific set of factors and features so suitable locations are hard to come by
Geothermal harnesses the heat that comes from the sub-surface of the earth, contained in rocks and fluids below the earth’s crust, to generate energy. It’s currently used in 20 countries, with the USA being the world’s largest producer of geothermal energy.
- Incredible potential – geothermal power plants could provide between 0035 and 2 terawatts of power
- The ground is more resistant to seasonal heat changes in the air, so can act as a heat sink and source with a geothermal pump just two meters below the surface
- Highly efficient – geothermal heat pump systems use 25-50% less electricity than conventional systems
- Very restricted location-wise – the energy needs to be accessible
- Although greenhouse gases are not released, there are gases under the earth’s surface which can be released during mining which could be harmful, such as sulphur dioxide and hydrogen sulphide
- Can cause earthquakes – altering the earth’s structure during digging
- Incredibly high cost – it’s estimated that a geothermal plant can cost between $2 and $7 million for a plant with a 1 megawatt capacity
Biomass is derived from burning animal or plant waste. Biomass currently provides around 12% of the energy from renewable sources in the UK, making it the second largest contributor after wind energy.
- Widely available – almost all industries as well as household produce animal and plant waste
- Carbon neutral – as a natural part of photosynthesis, biomass energy releases the same amount of carbon into the atmosphere as was absorbed by plants in the course of their life cycle
- Rubbish is reused meaning less waste goes to landfill
- Creates additional revenue streams in manufacturing sectors who can sell of their waste for use us biomass energy
- Unsustainable – can lead to widespread deforestation
- Space – uses most amount of land out of all the renewable sources
- Not as efficient as fossil fuels – biomass has to be fortified with fossil fuels to increase efficiency
- The burning/use of animal waste results in the emission of methane – which is just as harmful to the environment as carbon dioxide
At Elmelin, we’re committed to working with our clients to build sustainable solutions around renewable energy. The value we add through our insulation solutions help our partners make renewable and clean energy projects more commercially viable. Our products are part of some of the most innovative energy storage solutions on the market, and we help to improve efficiency and the useful life of the energy storage device. Our products contribute to ensuring the safety of people operating the technology through fire protection and slowing thermal runaway events. If you’d like to find out more, get in touch.