Renewable Energy Basics
Renewable energy, also referred to as alternative energy, is commonly defined as usable sources of energy derived from naturally replenished, essentially inexhaustible supplies. Renewable energy is continuously regenerating, and fundamentally infinite and endless. It can come from many sources including; solar, wind, hydropower, geothermal (heat from the earth), biomass (originating with plants), and ocean energy (waves, tide and thermal).
Almost all renewable energy originates with, or is tied to the sun in some way. As radiant energy from the sun enters our atmosphere and strikes the surface of the earth, it warms our planet and accomplishes several things. It helps evaporate water from the oceans creating clouds, and cycles the moisture to the mountain tops where it flows back to the oceans, providing hydropower along the way. Uneven surface heating from the sun creates wind that moves clouds, builds waves and can spin wind turbines. Sunshine, through photosynthesis, allows plants to grow, increasing biomass for harvest. The sun's energy can be converted directly into electricity using a photovoltaic cell (PV panel) or it can warm the fluid in a solar thermal panel. The sun can also warm your home directly by beaming through strategically placed windows. This is called passive solar gain and can be extremely efficient as well as absolutely free. Arctic Sun staff have designed homes in Fairbanks that heat for more than seven months of the year exclusively by passive solar gain without the interior temperature dropping below 68 degrees.
Renewable energy has incredible potential. In less than one hour the sunshine striking the earth contains more energy than all the energy consumed by humankind in an entire year! The sun shines on the earth 24 hours per day, 7 days per week, all year long, year after year. Do the math. The sun, at no cost, provides us with about 9,000 times the energy we currently use. That has incredible potential!
Renewable energy is clean, local, stably priced and, as we have seen, essentially inexhaustible. It creates more jobs per energy unit than fossil fuels, so it provides a boost for the economy. It doesn't deplete our natural resources, and it enhances energy diversity and security. It is carbon-neutral and does not emit the air pollutants typical with burning fossil fuels, such as; sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, particulate matter (PM 2.5), mercury, chromium and arsenic. The best news is the cost for renewables is continuously dropping as technology perfects the utilization of the different supplies. In many locations, renewables are now significantly less expensive than fossil fuels and are getting cheaper as days go by. This competitive pricing has dramatically increased the installation of wind and solar equipment in recent years.
Around the world more people are realizing and utilizing the benefits of renewable energy. 2010 was the first year that worldwide power produced from renewable energy systems exceeded the power produced by nuclear power plants.
Versatility of Renewables
The versatility of renewable energy is impressive. It can be utilized for heating and/or cooling buildings, generating electricity, providing heat for everything from home cooking to industrial processes, and used for powering transportation. Alaska has a wealth of renewable energy just waiting to be tapped.
The other pages under Renewable 101 include some straightforward discussion of some of the more popular small scale renewable energy sources utilized in Alaska. Additional information is available on the American Solar Energy Society (ASES) website which has a variety of short overviews of various renewable energy sources. The ASES also hosts an annual National Solar Tour which has several times featured Arctic Sun-designed homes. Home Power Magazine is an excellent forum that brings homeowners, businesses and renewable energy professionals together in an interesting mix of perspectives regarding current trends and technologies.
There are several quality books covering the basics of renewable energy.
A few you might check out include:
Energy bills have skyrocketed in the United States, and traditional energy sources can be as damaging to the environment as they are to your pocketbook. The Homeowner's Guide to Renewable Energy will show you how to slash your home energy costs while dramatically reducing your carbon footprint.Completely revised and updated, this new edition describes the most practical and affordable methods for making significant improvements in home energy efficiency and tapping into clean, affordable, renewa…
A Zero Energy Home (ZEH) – a home that produces as much energy as it consumes – is an idea whose time has come! Authors David Johnston and Scott Gibson (Green from the Ground Up) explore the design and construction of self-sufficient houses from start to finish. They make the case for a ZEH; cite climate and geographic challenges; describe exactly how to go about building an energy-efficient home; and feature ten houses that were built for zero energy living. With unequaled knowledge and a passi…
Energy Free is designed to equip building professionals and homeowners alike with a toolkit for creating homes that use no more energy than they produce—this means homes that are free from the vagaries of energy-price fluctuations and that help to free society of the high political and environmental costs of fossil fuels.Individuals and institutions have been working toward "zero-energy" homes for decades. This volume is the first record of those collective efforts, distilling their experience i…