Renewable energy resources are alternative to fossil fuels like coal, oil, and gas. Options like solar energy, wind, hydropower, and geothermal are becoming more and more popular as their reduced impact on the environment and increasingly attractive economics turn heads in the energy industry.
What is a renewable energy resource?
A renewable energy resource is any source of power that is naturally replenished on a human time scale. While fuels like coal and oil are formed over millions of years deep within the earth, alternative energy sources like solar and wind don’t take years to build up and are readily available for human use.
Renewable energy resources are great alternatives to fossil fuels, as they are less damaging to the environment and in some cases are more cost effective to harvest and use. Many corporations, utilities, and homeowners are already making the transition to clean, renewable energy.
4 examples of renewable energy resources
There are several main alternatives to fossil fuels available:
- Solar energy
Depending on your energy needs, the type of renewable energy resource best fit for you will vary. For example, solar energy is a great option for individual property owners, while wind and hydropower are more suitable for utilities.
How do these renewable energy resources generate power? Read on for an overview of each option:
Solar energy is energy from the sun. By capturing this solar energy, we can convert it to forms used for generating electricity, heating water, and heating and cooling your home.
- Solar Photovoltaic (PV) Systems: use the sun’s energy to generate electricity.
- Solar Thermal – Hot Water Systems: harvest the sun’s heat to produce hot water—even in winter!
- Solar Thermal – Space Heating Systems: harvest the sun’s heat and use it to keep you comfortably warm inside your home or business. They can also be used to produce hot water.
- Solar Thermal – Air-Conditioning Systems: use the sun’s energy to heat water or antifreeze. This captured heat is then used to power an absorption chiller to provide air-conditioning.
Wind energy is captured by massive wind turbines that use the force of flowing air to spin and generate electricity. While not popular for residential, small energy systems, many utilities around the country have been installing wind farms to supply power to the electrical grid. Even more recently, certain companies have invested in offshore wind farms built out in the ocean, where wind currents are strong and there is plenty of available space to build.
Similar to wind power, hydropower is a popular renewable energy resource for utilities. By building a dam and blocking a flowing river, hydropower plants divert the flowing water to spin turbines and generate electricity. Some of the largest dams in the United States (like the Hoover Dam on the Colorado River) are also hydroelectric plants producing power continuously. While hydropower is one of the primary energy sources offsetting fossil fuel use, it does have negative implications for the environment. Some main concerns with hydropower are its impact on fish migrations and upstream flooding.
Geothermal systems use the constant temperature of the ground just below the Earth’s surface to heat and cool homes and businesses and produce hot water. Geothermal systems are less popular than solar and wind, but they are equally effective and are growing in use. Geothermal systems use a pump to transfer warmer ground temperatures indoors during the colder months, and cooler ground temperatures indoors the warmer months. In addition to heating and cooling homes and businesses, geothermal systems can also produce hot water.
Start your renewable energy journey on EnergySage
There is a wide array of clean energy technologies to choose from, and most homes and businesses are suited to use at least one as an alternative to fossil fuels. The next step is determining which system is the right choice for your home or business, and comparing your options. For those considering solar, our Solar Calculator offers free personalized estimates for your home based on real offers in your area. If you’re already ready to start comparing quotes from vetted solar installers in your area, register your property on the EnergySage Solar Marketplace.