By: Thurkkha Thayalalingam
Accounting for about 75 per cent of greenhouse gas emissions, fossil fuels are currently the largest contributor to global climate change. Transitioning to alternative renewable energy sources is a vital step towards achieving net zero emissions by 2050. Not only are renewable energy sources better for the environment, but they are often cheaper than “dirty” energy sources and better for human health. Keep reading to learn more about two of the most popular renewable energy sources: solar and wind! There are many more clean sources that are not mentioned here including geothermal, nuclear, hydroelectric and biofuel.
According to the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), solar energy is one of the cheapest energy sources on the planet. Solar energy is generated using photovoltaic (PV) cells that capture and convert sunlight and heat into electrical energy (Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy [EERE]). Since the sun isn’t estimated to die for another five billion years, solar is a completely renewable energy source (National Aeronautics and Space Administration [NASA]). According to the US Department of Energy, an hour and a half of sunlight that reaches Earth’s surface can provide an entire year of energy for all.
However, solar energy does also have its disadvantages, one of the biggest being that it is weather dependent. The efficiency of solar panels is heavily dependent on the size, angle, and geographic location of the panels. Particularly in urban areas, high rise buildings can prevent sufficient sunlight from reaching panels. Solar power plants also require extensive amounts of land, which is of concern with land availability declining as the human population continues to increase. Additionally, manufacturing PV cells requires materials such as heavy metals and hazardous chemicals that are harmful to the environment (IRENA).
Wind energy, or wind power, is generated by converting the kinetic energy of moving air into electrical energy using wind turbines (National Geographic). Wind energy is also one of the lowest-price energy sources, preceded only by solar energy. Only requiring open land and wind, wind turbines are optimal for rural or remote areas.
Similar to solar power, wind power is limited by the amount of land available for wind farms. The blades of wind turbines also emit both mechanical and aerodynamic noise that is out of the normal human hearing range but can be damaging to wildlife (EERE).
For information on other clean energy sources, explore the links below: