green energy 101…
the basics of alternative energy sources

Green Energy

Green energy is a hot topic. From solar to wind and everything in between, finding sources that don’t rely on carbon-based fuels is a key to long-term sustainability. Alternative energy has come a long way in the last decade, but there is still a long way to go. Wind, solar, hydro and geothermal energy are terms you’ve probably heard. In some areas, it’s possible to opt into alternative energy with companies like Clean Currents. In others, you may be on your own.

If you are buying into a program, ask questions, find out where the energy is coming from and how it offsets carbon usage. If you are looking to install your own solar panels, come back later this week, we’ll be talking about what you need to know before hiring a solar contractor. So, what do you need to know about alternative energy?

Solar Energy

This is the big one that everyone knows about and probably thinks of first when they hear “alternative energy”. Solar harnesses the power of the sun and can be used to meet the energy needs of anything from a part of one household to entire communities.

Pros:

  • Solar is clean, renewable and sustainable
  • Extra power can be stored in batteries for later use
  • Well researched, with new companies and technologies emerging to make solar more affordable and accessible

Cons:

  • Solar can only be acquired when the sun is shining
  • Solar can be expensive and requires special training to install and may be maintenance heavy
  • Sometimes the materials used in making panels and batteries are not very planet friendly

Geothermal Energy

Think about your basement, it’s often nice and cool in summer, and even without heat or insulation, stays surprisingly warm in winter. Geothermal heat pumps circulate liquid under the surface of a building to be cooled or warmed by the earth.

Pros:

  • Renewable source of energy with almost zero emissions
  • Almost limitless supply of energy without any fluctuations
  • Can be built entirely underground and not seen as an eyesore

Cons:

  • Requires lots of digging and construction to install
  • Best locations are usually far from populated areas (think geysers and volcanoes)
  • High cost to install
  • Lots of water use

Wind Energy

Breezes may come and go, but there are places where wind is a constant, and wind cannot be depleted by human consumption. Wind energy is harnessed by rotating blades of a wind turbine. This can be small-scale to power a single home, or large-scale as on a wind farm.

Pros:

  • Clean energy source with limitless potential
  • After infrastructure is paid for, the energy is basically free
  • Will not be depleted

Cons:

  • Wind can be inconsistent
  • Construction can be expensive
  • Often the best locations are the most picturesque and bring up “eyesore” complaints
  • Turbines can be noisy and dangerous for birds

Hydro Power

Harnessing the power of water is one of the oldest forms of energy we know, think of those old waterwheels. Today, hydro comes mostly from damming rivers and redistributing the water at high pressure to turn a turbine and create energy.

Pros:

  • Clean, reliable, controllable energy
  • Renewable under ideal circumstances as rainfall replenishes rivers and reservoirs
  • Hydro plants last a long time and require relatively little maintenance

Cons:

  • Construction is expensive
  • Drought can impact production
  • Damming a river can be destructive to eco systems and communities

Clean energy is an absolute must. Finding alternative energy sources to reduce our dependence on carbon-based fuel is necessary to the sustainability of our planet. However, there are pros and cons associated with any energy source. Alternative energy is about finding balance, and part of the equation is also reducing our energy consumption.

As technologies grow and change, each of these options will also change, some will become more and more attractive and some may fade away.

Check back on Thursday for our post about solar contractors and things you want to know before you sign the dotted line.

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One thought on “green energy 101…
the basics of alternative energy sources

  1. Nice.

    As for solar panels, you’ll need maximum amount of direct sunlight to hit your array so that you can maximize the amount of energy that you get.

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