Exploration into green energy production is at an all-time high. For some people motivation is saving money. For others, it’s about saving the planet. With news from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) that July 2019 was the hottest month ever recorded (but that record will likely soon be broken), many people are calling for an even greater investment in green energy generation.
What exactly is green energy? Green energy is a term used for power that’s generated via a renewable resource that has minimal impact on the environment and greenhouse gas emissions. But that’s just one part of a complex process. Some aspects of green energy production are the same as traditional power generation while other parts are dramatically different.
Primary Sources for Green Energy Production
All energy comes from a source. Conventional energy sources come from combustible fossil fuels that are not renewable, emit greenhouse gases and cause air pollution. Nuclear power is another option, and even though it doesn’t emit greenhouse gases, the production does have a negative impact on the environment from the mining and radioactive waste storage. This is where clean green energy differs the most from traditional power production. Right now there are three primary sources of green energy:
If you drive across Iowa, Southern California or West Texas you’ll notice towering white turbines slowly turning. Each rotation creates power supplied by the wind. These wind farms are playing a significant role in green energy generation in the U.S. At the beginning of 2019 the power capacity of wind was 96,433 megawatts.
Solar energy is the green power source people are most familiar with because residential solar power systems have been around for some time. There are also massive solar arrays, sometimes referred to as solar farms, that are used to generate electricity for the grid. Even though solar power production has increased 300-fold since 2000, it still represents just 2% of the world’s energy production. That meager number is set to increase significantly in the coming years. Photo-voltaic capacity in the U.S. is expected to double from its current capacity of 64.2 GW by 2024.
Power produced by water falls into the hydro power category. However, there is debate over which hydro power sources are considered green. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) lists “low-impact small hydroelectric sources” as green energy. Large hydroelectric plants produce a lot of energy but are sometimes not considered green due to environmental impact.
Today the green energy front-runners are wind and solar. The Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) has determined half of the country’s electricity could come from these two sources in the next few decades. Other sources of green energy include geothermal, biogas and edible biomass.
Image Courtesy: https://www.epa.gov/greenpower/what-green-power
Turning Natural Resources Into Energy
It may come as a surprise to some that green energy is not a new concept, although the term is relatively recent. People have been using wind and hydro power for centuries. Today, however, the energy generation process is more technologically advanced and large scale.
A wind turbine has hundreds of components, but energy generation is fairly straightforward. Kinetic energy is turned into mechanical power that is converted into electricity. The blades of a wind turbine are connected to a rotor. The rotor is connected to a generator inside the turbine. As the blades turn in the breeze (kinetic energy) it spins the rotor shaft that has gears that speed up the revolutions to engage the generator (mechanical power). This allows the generator to convert mechanical power into electricity.
The higher the wind speeds, the faster the blades turn, which means more energy is generated. That’s why wind turbines are so tall. Wind speeds tend to be higher farther from the ground. Currently, utility-scale wind farms are present in 41 states.
Converting energy from sunlight is a little more complicated than wind power, but solar power production has become much more efficient over the years. The process begins with solar panels that allow photons (light energy) to pass through. Solar cells within a panel capture light energy. The photons then disrupt atoms in the solar cells by knocking electrons free (the photo-voltaic effect). The freeing of electrons produces direct current (DC) electricity that moves through wiring. An invert-er connected to the panels converts the DC electricity into alternating current (AC) electricity.
There are a few different materials that are capable of capturing the light energy. Silicon has proven to be the most efficient and cost effective option. If numerous layers of material are used more photons will be captured.
Home solar arrays are connected to the utility meter. The meter can gauge power generation and access the power that’s created. This is what allows power produced by homes to go to the electric grid.
Hydro power works in a similar way to wind power, except moving water is the root energy source. A turbine in the water captures the kinetic energy of the flowing water and converts it into mechanical energy. The turbine is connected to a generator that turns the mechanical energy into electricity. Transmission lines carry the electricity away so that it can be used by the grid. Hydroelectric plants make use of a dam to raise the water levels so that the water can fall creating kinetic energy. A dam also controls the flow of water.
The amount of power that’s generated depends on how much water is flowing and how fast it’s going or how far it’s falling.
In 2018, renewable energy sources provided 11% of total U.S. energy consumption. Some experts estimate that green energy could supply up to 80% of the U.S. electricity needs by 2050. With Verde Energy you don’t have to wait decades to clean up your electric use. We offer competitively priced green energy plans that are available today across the northeast region. Check to see which plans are available in your area!