Generally, almost the entire energy that humans’ utilize today comes from the earth; and although electricity does not come directly from the earth, humans are capable of making electricity by exploiting the planet’s resources. Accordingly, the global primary energy demand is expected to grow by 1.3 percent over 2005 to 2030 (International Energy Agency, 2007, p.5). Yet the setbacks of energies from fossil fuels are that they are irreplaceable, and once used up, the energies are vanished perpetually. Homeowners are clashing against the struggling economy and the soaring energy prices, and are hoping to achieve a prevailing new tool of renewable, free energy from the wind, the sun, and other sustainable resources.
In a carbon-constrained world, the renewable energy industry will be a significant factor in order for the United States to be competitive. Further, numerous evidences have revealed that renewable energy can create jobs, drive economic development, and alleviate climate change. Despite the fact that renewable energies, particularly solar energy, do not completely solve world energy problems at present, yet it has strong potential to improve overall households’ energy consumption.
I. Renewable Energy
Even though the industry of renewable energy is in the limelight of media these days, it is obviously nothing new. Renewable programs and technologies are well understood and have existed for decades now. Accordingly, markets of renewable energy grew vigorously in 2005 (Renewable Energy Policy Network, 2006, p.4). In 2005, massive hydropower heightened to roughly 12 to 14 GW (Renewable Energy Policy Network, 2006, p.4). Wind power was second in power capacity supplement, with additional 11.5 GW and existing capacity escalating by 24 percent to arrive at 59 GW (Renewable Energy Policy Network, 2006, p.4).
Heat supply and biomass power generation continued to increase equally at small and large scales in 2005, with an approximated plus of 2-3 GW power capacity; therefore, bringing existing capacity of biomass power to approximately 44 GW (Renewable Energy Policy Network, 2006, p.4). The power generation technology that is persistently growing fast is the Grid-connected solar photovoltaic, with a 55 percent enhancement in combined installed capacity, which was 2.0 GW in 2004 to 3.1 GW in 2006 (Renewable Energy Policy Network, 2006, p.4).
Excluding hydropower, taken as a whole renewable power capacity increased to 182 GW, from 160 GW in 2004 (Renewable Energy Policy Network, 2006, p.5). The current solar hot water capacity has increased by 14 percent, therefore reaching 88 gigawatts-thermal from 77 GWth in 2004 (Renewable Energy Policy Network, 2006, p.5). The production of ethanol fuel augmented to 33 billion liters in 2005 from 30.5 billion liters in 2004 (Renewable Energy Policy Network, 2006, p.5). Biodiesel growth far outpaced that of ethanol, as worldwide production of biodiesel attained an increase of 1.8 billion liters; amounting to 2.1 billion liters in 2004 to 3.9 billion liters in 2005 (Renewable Energy Policy Network, 2006, p.5).
What is Renewable Energy?
A source of energy that can never be exhausted is classified as renewable energy. People can acquire renewable energy from: (1) water through hydropower; (2) sun through solar energy; (3) wind through windmills; (4) from magma and hot dry rocks, hot springs through geothermal; and (5) from crop residues, animal manure, firewood and waste through biomass. Renewable energy is also described as “green power” or “clean energy” for the reason that it does not pollute water or air.
Types and Characteristics of Renewable Energy
Renewable energy includes solar energy, wind power, geothermal energy, biomass power, as well as hydroelectric and water power. Wind power is in reality a type of solar power, since wind is caused by high temperature from the sun. When air moves, kinetic energy is created that is as well capable of being converted to electricity. Geothermal energy is the energy that is released from the earth, such as magma along with the radioactive decay of potassium, thorium, and uranium. While this type of energy overall is considerable, it does not perform too well when measured up to the magnitude of energy humans obtained from the sun. Biomass power is energy generated through the burning of biofuels, such as animal waste, plant materials, and specifically grown crops. Since biomass technologies employ combustion methods to generate electricity, they can create electricity whenever desired, unlike most solar and wind technologies, which only generate power when sun is shining or wind is blowing.
Hydropower is energy from water sources such as the waterfalls, rivers and ocean. The fall or flow of the moving water establishes the total of obtainable energy. Electricity is created by channeling or directing the flow of water to power electric generators. Solar power is energy which is derived from the sun. This energy is exceptionally powerful and strikes the earth notwithstanding of whether or not people obtain advantage of it. The only concern is finding out how to efficiently amass this energy.
World Energy Consumption and its Implication on the Environment
The growth of renewable energy market is occurring in nearly every country, sector, and investment stage. In a small number of sectors, the industry is confronting restricted admissions, but when these open up, transformed growth will be observed. Taken as a whole, the clean energy sector has departed well further than idealists to embrace serious entrepreneurs. Nevertheless, the prevailing source of primary energy is still fossil fuels, expected to be responsible between the years 2005 and 2030 for 84 percent of the overall boost in demand (International Energy Agency, 2007, p.4). Developing countries, whose populations and economies are rising in the fastest rate, put in 74 percent of the fossil fuels increase in principal global energy exploit (International Energy Agency, 2007, p.4).
At present, the mounting of greenhouse-gases, particularly CO2 concentrations in the atmosphere, largely ensuing from fossil-energy combustion, are contributing to changes in climate and elevated global temperatures (International Energy Agency, 2007,p.11). Greenhouse-gases emissions are projected to soar by 57 percent in the years between 2005 and 2030 (International Energy Agency, 2007, p.11).
II. Solar Energy
The solar radiation or sun’s rays that reach the earth are called the solar energy, and for billions of years, the sun has generated energy to the earth. Other forms of energy can be converted from solar energy, such as electricity and heat. Years ago, the renowned British astronomer John Herschel exploited a solar thermal collector box in cooking food for the duration of his journey to Africa in the 1830s (Energy Information Administration, 2007). At present, people utilize the energy of the sun for numerous purposes.
Different Types of Use of Solar Energy
Solar energy can be transformed to heat or thermal energy, and be applied to heat up water for swimming pools, buildings and home uses; or heat spaces inside homes, greenhouses, and other structures (Energy Information Administration, 2007). Solar energy can also be converted to electricity through the systems of photovoltaic or solar power plants. Photovoltaic or solar cells are capable of changing the sun’s rays directly into electricity, which is currently employed in calculator, watches, etc. (Energy Information Administration, 2007). The photovoltaic systems are frequently exploited in isolated places that are not attached to the electric network. In addition, the systems are utilized to power calculators, watches and lighted road signs.
The Solar Power Plants in some way produce electricity when the heat from its solar thermal collectors is applied to heat a fluid, thereby producing steam that supplies power to a generator. Out of the 15 units of solar electric generator that were identified to be operating in the United States at the last part of 2006, 5 of these are in Arizona and 10 in California (Energy Information Administration, 2007). However, there may be smaller solar plants operating in a number of other States that only produce less than 1 megawatt of electricity.
Benefits of Solar Energy
Solar thermal heat energy is regularly employed for heating up water used in homes, swimming pools, and space heating of edifices. Solar space heating systems can be categorized as active, which often incorporate some form of energy storage system, or passive, which employs no mechanical apparatus (Energy Information Administration, 2007). Benefits outlined at international “Renewables 2004” conference and World Summit Sustainable Development lat 2001, include: (1) climate change mitigation; (2) close association with energy efficiency measures; (3) provisions of clean water, particularly at homes; (4) overcoming peak oil price fluctuations; (5) improved health; (6) development and equity; (7) energy supply security; and in a bigger sphere, (8) there will be no war among countries over solar energy (Philibert, 2005, p.1)
Constraints of Solar Energy
However, there are also some disadvantages found in solar energy use; these are: (1) the quantity of sunlight that descends at the surface of the earth is unstable, since the indispensable element of sunlight depends on weather conditions, time of year, time of day and location; and (2) since the sun does not set free sufficient energy to any particular location at any one occasion, an immense surface area is necessary to pull together the energy at a practical rate (Energy Information Administration, 2007).
In addition, although exploiting solar energy creates no water or air pollution, yet it does have a number of meandering impacts on the environment. For instance, silicon is consumed and waste products are produced in manufacturing the photovoltaic cells employed to transform sunlight into electricity. Moreover, if not properly managed, outsized solar thermal farms can as well damage desert ecosystems.
The intensifying worldwide energy demand creates a growing and actual threat to the energy security of the planet (International Energy Agency, 2007, p.10). Inter-regional gas and oil trade grows at a fast pace over the anticipated period, with an expanding gap between demand in every consuming region and indigenous output. The consuming countries that mount their dependence from a small number of gas and oil producing countries threaten to aggravate short-term energy-security risks (International Energy Agency, 2007, p.10). The potential impact on international oil prices of a supply interruption is also likely to increase, since oil demand is becoming less sensitive to changes in price. Longer-term threats to energy security are as well set to develop. With stronger worldwide energy demand, every region would be confronted with elevated energy prices in the intermediate to long term in the absence of simultaneous acceleration in supply-side investment to restrain demand escalation in every country.
The present Clean Air Act of the United States and its new cap-and-trade legislation should be developed at the same time since they are equally excellent policy alternatives to deal with global warming (Pershing, 2008). From both the economic and environmental perspective, the citizens cannot afford to wait any longer for the country to provide appropriate solutions to this persistent dilemma; otherwise, the human race will find itself ever closer to extremely costly and irreversible global damages. At present, the foundation of President-elect Obama’s battle on global warming is an economy-wide cap-and-trade system, with a long-term objective to decrease emissions to 80 percent less than the 1990 levels over the next 40 years.
Moreover, both the United States Congress and Senate have recently passed a momentous legislation, and signed into law by the President last October 3, 2008, that will extraordinarily increase the utilization of solar energy all across the nation. The provisions in H.R. 1424 on renewable energy incorporate an elimination of the monetary cap for residential solar electric installations and an eight year extension of the 30 percent solar tax credit. The legislation’s solar provisions will facilitate the United States in positioning as a worldwide leader in the progressing solar marketplace, producing thousands of green-collar employments, helping to deal with climate change, and encouraging energy independence (American Solar Energy Society, 2008).
In the future, the fast-growing renewable energy, particularly the solar energy sector will be a source of well-paying jobs, several of which are not subject to overseas outsourcing, such as assemblers and installers of solar thermal collectors on commercial offices and residences for solar hot water heating and other solar heating (Bezdek, 2007, p.20).
The potential of solar thermal power plants to transmit power as necessary for the duration of peak demand phases and their ability to produce the lowest expenditure of commercial scale bulk electricity have encouraged numerous local and national governments to support the comprehensive operation of the aforesaid technology (Philibert, 2005, p.10). Solar technologies embrace the utmost assurances for the future since it is expected to become competitive in the world’s solar needs. Apart from generating electricity, solar technologies have a broad assortment of other potential or current applications, such as producing solar fuel or either to supply direct cooling or heating (Philibert, 2005, p.10).
Finally, solar energy is the right choice for households since it is free, and its supplies are unlimited. Solar energy reduces the hazards linked with fuel price in addition to invigorating the manufacturing sector, generating millions of jobs, supporting an industrial boom, and encouraging new technology. Solar energy present vast possibility for a carbon-free and clean energy production, particularly in distributing energy services such as water heating at homes, cooling and space heating, as well as in producing transmittable or even base load electricity. It is an absolutely inexhaustible and free fuel source, and no pollution, waste, or fuel is excluded in its usage.