Are Fossil Fuels Efficient? (Coal, Oil, Natural Gas)

Are Fossil Fuels Efficient? (Coal, Oil, Natural Gas)

This is a short guide outlining the efficiency of the different types of fossil fuels (coal, natural gas, oil).

We also discuss what factors might contribute to the efficiency of fossil fuels.

 

Summary – Efficiency Of Fossil Fuels

  • Fossil fuels tend not to keep as much of their original energy input as renewables
  • Much of this has to do with the waste and inefficiencies involved with the energy conversion processes of fossil fuels (mining, refining, etc)
  • In addition, energy is used to mitigate or address the environmental and social problems caused by fossil fuels (and this energy is usually not reported on)
  • In comparison, modern renewable energy can be a lot more efficient to convert to usable energy sources like electricity
  • Efficiency numbers and %’s are usually provided as a national average, but can also vary from State to State depending on different variables and factors
  • Other analysis’ of energy efficiency mention that we have to take into account theoretical maximum efficiency, and the capacity factor of different energy sources. We also have to consider how each energy source operates in reality in a real energy system and power grid when other energy sources are also providing power to a grid. Economically, when we take into account these factors and consider efficiency, renewables still come out ahead because they don’t even have to be efficient … they just have to run enough over the course of time to pay for their capital costs … whereas the marginal operating costs of fossil fuels should place pressure on them to be efficient.

 

How Efficient Is Coal Energy?

In the US, as a % of energy input retained when converting fuel to electricity:

  • Coal retains 29% of it’s original energy (this is a national average – so, the actual % can vary State to State)

– hortidaily.com

 

How Efficient Is Natural Gas Energy?

In the US, as a % of energy input retained when converting fuel to electricity:

  • Natural Gas retains 38% of it’s original energy (this is a national average – so, the actual % can vary State to State)

– hortidaily.com

 

How Efficient Is Oil Energy?

In the US, as a % of energy input retained when converting fuel to electricity:

  • Oil Energy retains 31% of it’s original energy (this is a national average – so, the actual % can vary State to State)

– hortidaily.com

 

Why Are Fossil Fuels So Inefficient?

Because of the inputs and resources required to turn fossil fuel into electricity. 

Processing, refining etc. actually requires other fossil fuels to turn a fossil fuel into electricity.

As described by Vox.com:

  • … fossil fuel combustion is wasteful [i.e. it wastes and uses a lot of energy across the conversion process]. Mining or drilling fossil fuels, transporting them, refining them, burning them, converting them to useful energy, using the energy, disposing of the waste and pollution — at every single stage of that process, there is loss. Burning fossil fuels, for electricity, heat, or transportation, inherently involves enormous levels of waste.

 

The Hidden Inefficiency Of Fossil Fuels

Something that isn’t talked about as frequently when it comes to efficiency (perhaps because it might be harder to measure), is that fossil fuels emit greenhouse gases, emit air contaminants, and have other environmental and social consequences.

These problems can use energy to either mitigate or clean up – adding to the potential inefficiency of fossil fuels.

 

How Energy Source Efficiency Numbers Are Calculated

Something that should be noted is that the numbers are based on economic efficiency:

  • Hortidaily.com explains the methodology of calculating the averages in their resource 

Borntoengineer.com also has some information on how to measure the efficiency of an energy generation method.

 

Some Other Notes On The Efficiency Of Energy Sources

Paraphrased and summarised from Michael Barnard on Quora.com, reappearing on Forbes.com:

  • Fossil fuel has to be paid for, where as the sun and wind are provided by nature for free
  • ‘Efficiency is explicitly a measurement of how much of a given resource’s energy potential gets turned into electricity’
  • ‘Solar turns around 20% of it’s energy potential into electricity’ [but the other 80% that is wasted is not expensive and is not really even a waste]
  • ‘Car engines only turn about 20% of the energy in gas into movement, with the rest being waste heat.’
  • ‘Coal plants achieve from 33% to 40% efficiency in the best cases, with the rest being just wasted heat.’
  • ‘Combined cycle gas plants, where the heat is used in addition to the mechanical energy to generate electricity manage to make it up to about 54% efficiency’
  • … with fossil fuels … we are paying for 100% of it plus the costs associated with addressing carbon emissions and other externalities … so it’s ‘arguable that we are paying for 300% of the fuel but only getting 20% to 50% out of it’
  • Each energy source has a Betz’ Limit theoretical maximum efficiency, and the theoretical maximum efficiency of wind energy isn’t that different from a combined cycle gas plant
  • … but, maximum efficiency has to be combined with the capacity factor (how much capacity for energy generation an energy source has in a given year) to determine the electricity generation potential of an energy source
  • Solar capacity factor ranges from 15% to 25%, and modern wind farms range from 40% for onshore to 77% one year for the best offshore site
  • In a real energy grid – renewable energy can be curtailed because they have to exist with nuclear and other baseload forms of generation can’t be turned down quickly
  • Nuclear and other baseload energy sources tend to have worse economics
  • Traditional/legacy forms of electricity generation tend to have low capacity factors … ‘Nuclear is high at 90% because it can’t actually run at less than that capacity factor and pay for itself’ … ‘Coal in the USA was at 60% or so a decade ago, but now it’s at 50% for the country because wind, solar and gas are cheaper so it can’t compete. Many gas plants are at 10% simply because they only turn them on to provide peak power at highest profit’
  • ‘So wind and solar don’t have to be efficient, they just have to run enough over the course of time to pay for their capital costs. Their marginal operating costs are dirt cheap, much cheaper than coal and gas plants.’

 

Sources

1. https://www.bettermeetsreality.com/renewable-energy-vs-fossil-fuels-vs-nuclear-comparison-guide/

2. https://www.hortidaily.com/article/6011458/us-what-is-the-most-efficient-source-of-electricity/

3. https://www.vox.com/energy-and-environment/2019/6/18/18681591/renewable-energy-china-solar-pv-jobs

4. https://www.bettermeetsreality.com/is-renewable-energy-efficient-solar-wind-hydro-geothermal-more/

5. https://www.borntoengineer.com/efficient-form-renewable-energy

6. https://www.forbes.com/sites/quora/2017/11/08/is-solar-energy-less-efficient-than-non-renewables/#7f8b511f4d4a

7. https://www.quora.com/If-solar-energy-is-inefficient-then-how-do-solar-energy-organizations-sell-their-products

Why Do We Need Renewable Energy, & Why Should We Use It?

Why Do We Need Renewable Energy, & Why Should We Use It?

Renewable energy is increasingly seen as one of the pillars of a sustainable society and world.

But, why exactly do we need renewable energy, and why should we use it?

… We’ve looked to provide answers to those questions in this guide.

Additionally, we’ve also outlined some reasons we might not need renewable energy and why we might not use it.

 

Summary – Why We Need, & Why We Should Use Renewable Energy

  • We might need to use renewable energy for a range of reasons, with some of the most important being that it perhaps won’t deplete as we continue to use it like fossil fuels might, and also, it’s probably more environmentally friendly than fossil fuels.
  • We might not use or need renewable energy in the short term for a range of reasons including initial/upfront costs, variability/intermittency, lack of natural resources potential in a given country or region, and other reasons
  • Based on all the pros and cons of renewable energy compared to fossil fuels and nuclear energy, it certainly seems like renewable energy is a wise decision to use to address incredibly important issues like climate change, air pollution, and depletion of natural resources over the short, medium and long term. It can help start addressing some issues immediately, but also help address some issues on a longer term scale
  • Some people outline the use of renewable energy (for electricity and eventually transport and heating), and sequestration or carbon farming of carbon dioxide, as the two most important solutions we have to keeping global warming below certain temperatures in the future
  • Overall, renewable energy may be used in different amounts in different countries, States and regions around the world in their energy mixes and electricity systems – and, individual assessments and decisions should be made for each of these locations (as they all have different variables, factors, challenges and considerations at play). All the economic, social and environmental pros and cons should be weighed up for the short, medium and long term, and a decision should be made to progress with, or hold off on renewable energy based on these pros and cons. Obviously, if the short term cons of transitioning to renewables are significant, then it should be transparent how renewables are beneficial in the medium to long term to justify these costs.

 

Why Do We Need Renewable Energy, & Why Should We Use It?

We already put together a few guides that answers this pretty well:

In these guides, we mention how renewable energy is a sustainable energy source, and has environmental, economic, social and health benefits.

It might be surprising to some how many potential economic benefits like job creation that renewable energy might have in the future.

Environmentally, addressing climate change (because renewables tend to emit less carbon dioxide and greenhouse gases), and air pollution (because renewables tend not to emit air contaminants that dilute air quality) are important considerations.

Socially and health wise, renewables can help address the health issues and costs related to air pollution.

 

Why Don’t We Need Renewable Energy, & Why Shouldn’t We Use It?

It’s not necessarily that we don’t need or shouldn’t use renewable energy, but there can be barriers with transition to any share of renewable energy in a given energy mix.

We’ve put together several guides that outline the problems and challenges with moving towards renewable energy:

So, for example, a country like China may not use as much renewable energy right now for consumption (even though they lead in installed capacity), because their current energy system is heavily reliant on coal.

But, there can also be general barriers common to many cities and countries.

Also, we’ve put together a guide comparing renewable energy sources:

There’s several areas where renewable energy doesn’t compare as favorable as fossil fuels, such as in some capital cost, and variability/intermittency aspects.

 

Other Resources About Renewable Energy Use For The Future

 

Sources

1. Various BMR Guides

Is Renewable Energy Sustainable? (Solar, Wind, Hydro, Geothermal, + More)

Is Renewable Energy Sustainable? (Solar, Wind, Hydro, Geothermal, + More)

In this guide, we look at the different types of renewable energy and outline why they may or may not be sustainable.

 

What Is Renewable Energy?

Essentially, renewable energy sources generally come from natural sources and/or natural processes, replenish quickly (immediately or within the course of a human lifetime), and won’t deplete when used.

 

Why The Different Energy Sources Are Renewable

 

What Is Non Renewable Energy?

Essentially, renewable energy sources generally require processing, take hundreds of thousands or millions of years to replenish, and may deplete in the future as we continue to use them.

 

What Are The Different Types Of Renewable Energy?

 

What Does Sustainable Mean?

There’s many different definitions of sustainability. Sustainability can refer to environmental, economic and other types of sustainability.

But, a general definition of environmental sustainability might be:

  • the ability to to be maintained constantly, especially over the long term
  • … without depleting natural resources, degrading the environment, ecosystems or biodiversity

 

Renewable vs Non Renewable Energy Sources, & Sustainability

Based on the above definitions of renewable energy and non renewable energy, we can already see that non renewable energy sources like fossil fuels and nuclear/uranium may deplete over time the more we mine them and use them.

So, this alone brings their sustainability into question.

But, apart from depletion, we must also look at environmental impact, and any waste produced.

Fossil fuels has some pretty significant negative environmental consequences like greenhouse gas emissions leading to climate change, air pollution from air contaminants, water pollution, land degradation from mining, and so on.

Nuclear also has to deal with mining and nuclear waste.

Renewable energy sources on the other hand do have some environmental consequences, but, they are thought to be nowhere near as large and significant as that of fossil fuels. For example, most renewables have no greenhouse gas emissions or air pollution while in operation.

Sustainable energy tends to be renewable, but not all renewable energy is sustainable.

And, there are different types of renewable energy. Let’s look at them each individually …

 

Is Solar Energy Sustainable?

Solar uses the sun’s energy and tends to be relatively sustainable as there are no emissions, no air pollution, and no waste products.

There is also no human processing of sunlight before it can be converted by solar panels or used for heat.

Solar energy does use a lot of land resources though with the big utility solar farms.

 

Is Wind Energy Sustainable?

Wind energy uses the energy from wind gusts and tends to be relatively sustainable as there are no emissions, no air pollution, and no waste products.

There is also no human processing of wind before it can be converted by wind turbines.

Wind turbines use a lot of land onshore though.

And they can disrupt sea beds and marine life or aquatic life offshore.

 

Is Hydro Energy Sustainable?

Run of river hydro tends to be quite sustainably. There’s no emissions or air pollution.

Hydro electric dams can have some environmental impact such as impacting aquatic life when water is discharged. There’s no emissions or air pollution.

Pumped storage hydro though can use fossil fuels to pump water uphill – so it will need to use solar and wind energy for this application in the future.

 

Is Geothermal Energy Sustainable?

Generally quite clean and sustainable compared to fossil fuels.

But, can release waste steam and gas, can cause hydraulic fracturing, and can cause air and water pollution, amongst other issues.

 

Are Wave & Tidal Energy Sustainable?

Generally quite clean in operation with no emissions or air pollution.

But, can dislodge and have a negative impact on seabeds, and marine life.

 

Are Bioenergy, Biomass & Biofuels Sustainable?

Some can be, whilst others may not be as much.

Some may produce waste after operation, as well as emissions or pollutants like methane, because it requires the combustion or break down of organic matter.

Some types of bioenergy also require human processing, or biocrops may require resources like water, land, fertilizers, pesticides and so on … bringing into question their overall sustainability

 

Other General Sustainability Problems With Renewable Energy Sources

Renewable energy sources do have some environmental impacts.

It’s also worth noting that over the lifecycle of renewable energy, it does have some environmental impact, such as the water and carbon used and emitted to make solar panels, wind turbines, construct hydro dams etc. Materials do also have to be recycled or dumped once a solar panel gets to the end of it’s lifetime as well for example.

There could also be sustainability issues in the future in certain areas like the mining of, and potential scarcity of precious metal like lithium for example, that are used in renewable energy technology like energy storage batteries for power, and for electric vehicles.

 

Sources

1. https://www.bettermeetsreality.com/challenges-problems-with-transitioning-to-renewable-energy/

2. https://www.bettermeetsreality.com/the-different-types-of-renewable-energy-sources-with-examples/

3. https://www.bettermeetsreality.com/non-renewable-energy-definition-with-examples/

4. https://www.bettermeetsreality.com/why-different-energy-sources-are-considered-renewable-solar-wind-hydro-geothermal-more/

5. https://www.bettermeetsreality.com/renewable-energy-definition-with-examples/

Why Different Energy Sources Are Considered Renewable (Solar, Wind, Hydro, Geothermal, & More)

Why Different Energy Sources Are Considered Renewable (Solar, Wind, Hydro, Geothermal, & More)

This is a short guide outlining what renewable energy is, what non renewable energy is, and why exactly different energy sources are considered renewable.

 

What Is A Renewable Energy Source?

Essentially, renewable energy sources generally come from natural sources and/or natural processes, replenish quickly (immediately or within the course of a human lifetime), and won’t deplete when used.

 

What Is A Non Renewable Energy Source?

Essentially, renewable energy sources generally require processing, take hundreds of thousands or millions of years to replenish, and may deplete in the future as we continue to use them.

Non renewable energy includes energy sources like coal, oil, natural gas, and uranium (for nuclear energy).

 

Why Is Solar Considered A Renewable Energy Source?

Solar energy comes from the sun, and as long as the sun is out, we can continuously use solar energy for things like the generation of electricity and for heating (of water for example).

According to most estimates, the Sun is going to last for roughly another 5 billion years (theconversation.com).

 

Why Is Wind Considered A Renewable Energy Source?

Wind energy is available as long as winds are blowing (onshore of offshore), and we can continuously use wind energy for electricity generation.

Wind energy actually comes from the sun (originating from the sun’s radiation warming the Earth and bodies of water that result in an air exchange and wind) (wisepowersystems.com)

As mentioned above, the Sun is expected to last billions more years.

 

Why Is Hydro Considered A Renewable Energy Source?

There’s probably two types of hydropower to consider when classifying hydro as a renewable or non renewable energy source:

Hydro Power On Rivers

Includes hydro electric dams (usually built on large rivers – like the Three Gorges Dam built on the Yangtze River), and run-of-river hydro.

  • Hydropower is called a renewable energy source because it is replenished by snow and rainfall. As long as the rain falls, we won’t run out of this energy source (lsa.colorado.edu)

 

Hydro Power From Pumped Storage Hydro

These hydro energy sources may or may not have access to replenishable water (from rainfall/snow, or from other sources).

 

Why Is Geothermal Considered A Renewable Energy Source?

  • Because its source is the almost unlimited amount of heat generated by the Earth’s core. Even in geothermal areas dependent on a reservoir of hot water, the volume taken out can be reinjected, making it a sustainable energy source (energy.gov)

 

Why Are Bioenergy & Biomass Considered A Renewable Energy Source?

There are many different types of bioenergy and biomass (that are used for bio energy like electricity and heat energy, and for biofuels for transport).

Biomass is considered renewable because it comes from organic matter, and organic matter gets it’s chemical energy from photosynthesis from the sun.

Organic matter can be re-grown fairly quickly.

Some types of bioenergy have somewhat of an asterisk against them though because if they involve biocrops, there can be a question to how resource intensive they might be (using land, water, fertilizers, pesticides, and so on), and how sustainable this might be long term.

 

Why Are Tidal & Wave Energy Considered Renewable Energy Sources?

Wave Energy

  • Waves comes from the wind blowing across the surface of ocean water with enough consistency and force (boem.gov) … and, as mentioned above, wind comes from the Sun’s radiation

Tidal Energy

  • High and low tides are caused by the moon (scijinks.gov)
  • The future of the moon seems to be closely tied to the future of the Sun (futurism.com)

 

Sources

1. https://www.bettermeetsreality.com/renewable-energy-definition-with-examples/

2. https://www.bettermeetsreality.com/non-renewable-energy-definition-with-examples/

3. http://theconversation.com/the-sun-wont-die-for-5-billion-years-so-why-do-humans-have-only-1-billion-years-left-on-earth-37379

4. http://wisepowersystems.com/learn-more/wind-energy-another-gift-from-the-sun/

5. http://lsa.colorado.edu/essence/texts/hydropower.html

6. https://www.energy.gov/eere/geothermal/geothermal-faqs#why_geothermal_energy_renewable

7. https://www.boem.gov/Renewable-Energy-Program-Overview/

8. https://scijinks.gov/tides/

9. https://futurism.com/a-rocky-relationship-is-the-moon-leaving-the-earth

Why Is Renewable Energy Good, & Bad

Why Is Renewable Energy Good, & Bad

Is renewable energy good, or bad? And, why?

In this guide, we outline the reasons on both sides, along with an overall summary of the role of renewable energy in society now and in the future.

 

Summary – The Good & Bad Of Renewable Energy

The good and bad of renewable energy centres around what renewable energy can offer us in comparison to fossil fuels, nuclear energy, and other types of energy (although, some energy mixes may benefit from a mixture of different types of energy over the short or even long term).

There are certainly going to be short term problems and challenges integrating renewable energy into our energy systems, and transitioning over to majority renewable energy supplied electricity and other forms of energy (such as in transport and heating), but it’s likely that the benefits/good parts of renewable energy outweigh the bad aspects over the mid to long term. 

Overall, each region, city, State, and country will have different approaches to their uptake and inclusion of renewable energy in their electricity and energy mixes because the variables and factors facing each are different

 

Why Is Renewable Energy Good?

We outlined why renewable energy is good in our guide on the importance of renewable energy, and the environmental, economic, social and health benefits and advantages it offers.

It’s worth reading the full guide, but as a short summary:

  • Sustainable Energy – Renewable energy can renew itself quickly and might not face the depletion or scarcity of resources issues that fossil fuels might in the future. This makes it a potentially more sustainable energy source
  • Economic Benefits – there’s many potential economic benefits to renewable energy, but something a lot of people might not know is that renewable energy is projected to create more total jobs in the future than fossil fuels. We may also save a lot of money spent addressing other environmental, social, and health related issues that dirtier forms of energy contribute to.
  • Environmental Benefits – there’s many potential environmental benefits, but perhaps the biggest two are reducing greenhouse gas emissions (and helping address climate change and global warming), and reducing air contaminants (helping address outdoor air pollution and reduction of air quality).
  • Social & Health Benefits – there’s several potential social and health benefits, but perhaps the biggest benefits are the reduction of air pollution leading to decreased air quality related health problems and mortality rates, and the subsequent decreased costs and burden on the health system. 
  • Other Benefits – renewable energy may have other direct and indirect benefits. One example is the water that we may save switching from some types of fossil fuel plants (that use water for cooling and other applications) to some types of renewables. Water is a precious resource we need to use efficiently in the future.

 

Why Is Renewable Energy Bad?

We’ve discussed the drawbacks to renewable energy in several guides across the site, with a couple of examples being:

Some drawbacks may only be short term, such as costs for renewables reducing over time, or technological breakthroughs and other solutions solving some problems over time. Some drawbacks can be longer term or permanent.

Potential drawbacks to renewable energy can include:

  • Capital costs
  • Requirement to upgrade existing infrastructure, and build new infrastructure (and power grids and power lines)
  • Reliance on government support (at least in the short term) – although, it should be noted that fossil fuels receive heavy subsidies as well, and have done so for at least the last 100 years
  • Decentralization presenting siting and transmission issues
  • Intermittency and variability
  • Overcapacity
  • Grid stability
  • Impact on electricity prices
  • Impact on a competitive market
  • Need for other energy sources, or dispatchable energy sources to make the entire system flexible and diverse
  • Need for expensive battery energy storage to make the entire system flexible and diverse
  • Political, social, cultural and institutional barriers
  • Solving penetration into other sectors like transport and heating/cooling (currently, electricity and the power sector is the only sector where renewables has penetrated heavily)
  • Difficulty of market entry
  • How established fossil fuels and other energy sources already are in the energy market
  • Misconception of renewables
  • Environmental problems with each renewables energy source
  • + Other potential issues and drawbacks/problems

 

Other Resources On The Good & Bad Of Renewable Energy

 

Sources

1. https://www.bettermeetsreality.com/importance-renewable-energy-benefits-advantages-social-environmental-economic-health/

2. https://www.bettermeetsreality.com/transitioning-towards-renewable-energy-solutions-strategies-considerations/

3. https://www.bettermeetsreality.com/challenges-problems-with-transitioning-to-renewable-energy/

4. https://www.bettermeetsreality.com/renewable-energy-vs-fossil-fuels-vs-nuclear-comparison-guide/

5. https://www.bettermeetsreality.com/pros-cons-of-fossil-fuel-energy-now-into-the-future/

6. https://www.bettermeetsreality.com/pros-cons-of-renewable-alternative-energy-now-into-the-future/

How Does Renewable Energy Work, & What Is It Used For? (Solar, Wind, Hydro, Geothermal & More)

How Does Renewable Energy Work, & What Is It Used For? (Solar, Wind, Hydro, Geothermal & More)

Renewable energy is used for a number of things in society.

Different types of renewable energy also work in different ways.

In the guide below, we outline each renewable energy source, what renewable energy is used for, and how each renewable energy source works.

 

Firstly, What Is Renewable Energy, & What Are The Different Types Of Renewable Energy?

Although bioenergy is classified as a renewable energy by some, other argue how sustainable and renewable some forms of bioenergy are compared to other forms of renewable energy like solar and wind energy for various reasons.

 

What Is Renewable Energy Used For?

Renewable energy is mainly used for electrical energy (hydro power is currently the leading renewable energy source for electricity generation, but solar and wind are expanding).

But, some renewable energy sources like solar thermal can also use renewable energy sources for thermal energy (to heat water for example). 

 

How Does Solar Renewable Energy Work?

You can read about how both Solar PV (Photovoltaic), and Solar Thermal work in this guide:

 

How Does Wind Renewable Energy Work?

You can read about how both Onshore Wind and Offshore Wind work in this guide:

 

How Does Hydro Renewable Energy Work?

You can read about how Hydro Dams, Run Of River, & Pumped Storage Hydro Energy work in this guide:

 

How Does Geothermal Renewable Energy Work?

You can read about how geothermal renewable energy works in this guide.

 

How Does Bioenergy & Biomass Renewable Energy Work?

Bio energy is energy made from organic matter (it can be solid, and even sewage biomass).

The energy in solid organic matter is ‘stored sunlight in the form of chemical energy’ (wikipedia.org). This chemical energy usually comes from photosynthesis.

Traditional biomass has been used since the beginning of human time – using organic matter like wood to provide heat energy.

But, there are many forms of bioenergy and biomass in modern times that are used and converted for electrical energy, heat energy, and as biofuels for vehicles.

There are many ways to create bioenergy from biomass:

  • Electrical and Heat Energy – [some of the methods used to create heat and electrical energy from biomass are conventional combustion, gasification, pyrolysis, and anaerobic digestion] (energy.vic.gov.au)
  • Biofuels – First generation biofuels are produced from sugar and vegetable oil. Algae biofuels are most advanced form of biofuels that produced from algae as its source of energy-rich oils (omicsonline.org). Algae production for transport fuels, requires a controlled growing environment using specific microalgae species. The algae are then processed to separate the oils which are refined into biofuels (energy.vic.gov.au).

 

How Does Wave Renewable Energy Work?

You can read about how wave renewable energy works in this guide.

 

How Does Tidal Renewable Energy Work?

You can read about how tidal renewable energy works in this guide.

 

Sources

1. https://www.bettermeetsreality.com/renewable-energy-definition-with-examples/

2. https://www.bettermeetsreality.com/the-different-types-of-renewable-energy-sources-with-examples/

3. https://www.bettermeetsreality.com/installed-capacity-production-consumption-of-renewable-energy-worldwide-by-country-by-source/

4. https://www.bettermeetsreality.com/solar-pv-vs-solar-thermal-csp-comparison-what-they-are-differences-examples/

5. https://www.bettermeetsreality.com/hydroelectric-dam-vs-run-of-river-vs-pumped-storage-hydro-energy-comparison-what-they-are-differences-examples/

6. https://www.bettermeetsreality.com/onshore-vs-offshore-wind-energy-comparison-what-they-are-differences-examples/

7. https://www.energy.vic.gov.au/renewable-energy/bioenergy/bioenergy-sustainable-renewable-energy

8. https://www.omicsonline.org/conferences-list/different-forms-of-bioenergy

9. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bioenergy

‘Which Renewable Energy Source …’ (FAQ Guide)

'Which Renewable Energy Source ...' (FAQ Guide)

This is an FAQ guide answering some of the most common questions that start with ‘Which Renewable Energy Source’.

*Note – this guide mostly refers to modern renewables solar, wind, hydropower, geothermal, and tidal/wave energy. Bioenergy may have been omitted in some of the stats and figures below.

 

Which Renewable Energy Source Produces The Most Energy, & Electricity?

There are global, but also country or city specific renewable energy stats for energy and electricity production, and these stats can differ.

It should also be noted that total energy production is different to electricity production (as energy involves other sectors like transport, heating etc., whilst electricity is just the power sector). But, hydropower tends to be the prominent renewable energy source in terms of production and consumption

  • Globally, hydropower was responsible for 7% of total primary energy consumption in 2015 (wikipedia.org)
  • Globally, hydropower was responsible for 15.8% of total electricity produced in 2018 (bettermeetsreality.com)

You can read about the energy mixes of some of the major countries in the world in this guide.

 

Which Renewable Energy Source Is The Most Used Worldwide?

As mentioned above, hydropower has the highest installed capacity, production and consumption totals and shares worldwide. But, the most used renewable energy source can vary country to country, and city to city.

 

Which Renewable Energy Source Is The Most Efficient?

According to some sources, wind, geothermal and hydropower are the most efficient renewable energy sources.

But, efficiency can sometimes be dependent on the technology available, and also the specific type of renewable energy source e.g. offshore vs onshore wind, large hydro dams vs run of river vs pumped storage hydro, and so on.

 

Which Renewable Energy Source Is The Cheapest?

‘Cheapest’ can refer to a few different things:

Overall though …

  • Historically, hydropower has been the cheapest way to source renewable electricity. But that’s changing. Wind and solar (also called photovoltaic solar, or PV) have become the most economic forms of electricity. They are the renewables of tomorrow. (cnet.com)

 

Which Renewable Energy Source Has The Greatest Environmental Footprint?

Solar and wind can have a large land footprint for the utility sized wind and solar farms.

But, large hydroelectric dams, geothermal energy, and tidal/wave energy might have some of the most negative environmental side effects. Bioenergy with the use of resource intensive bio crops can also be environmentally damaging. 

Despite the environmental side effects of renewable energy, it’s often mentioned that these environmental side effects are nowhere near as bad as fossil fuels like coal, oil, and natural gas.

 

Which Renewable Energy Source Is The Worst?

There are a number of ways you can measure the worst renewable energy source:

  • Which source is the most expensive
  • Which source is the most unreliable
  • Which source provides the least energy and electricity
  • Which source has the least long term potential
  • Which source is the most environmentally damaging
  • Which source is the most socially damaging
  • Or, you could combine all factors

Out of wind, solar, hydropower, geothermal, and tidal/wave energy … tidal and wave energy are probably the ‘worst’ at this point in time because they are costly, speculative and produce almost no electricity as a share of total renewable electricity (but, both might have much better long term potential than what they produce right now).

Bioenergy can be good in some applications and not so much in others. Bioenergy that requires the growth of biocrops can be resource intensive and environmentally damaging/unsustainable in some aspects.

 

Which Renewable Energy Source Is The Most Plentiful?

This can be country or city specific. 

Based on global stats, you might say that hydropower in most plentiful because it has the highest installed capacity and generation.

But, in reality, each country or location with populations of people has different natural resources available.

Just as one example, Iceland gets most of it’s electricity from hydropower (about 87%), with a smaller amount from geothermal (about 13%) (reuk.co.uk)

On the other hand, different States in Australia have different renewable energy mixes, and Australia overall, because of it’s masses of available land, is seen as having tremendous potential for solar and wind energy (because solar and wind farms use up a lot of land).

 

Which Renewable Energy Source Is The Most Reliable?

In this instance, we define reliable as the consistency of the power supply.

Solar and wind can be reliable when part of a flexible and diverse energy system. But, right now, on their own or when used solely/primarily together, they are seen as variable and intermittent sources of energy. They usually need other complementary sources of energy to help meet energy demand at certain points (when sun and wind conditions are poor or when energy demand is high), or they need expensive battery energy storage, or both. This of course could change in the future with technological breakthroughs.

Hydropower is probably the most reliable renewable energy source right now along with geothermal (neither are seen as intermittent sources).

 

Which Renewable Energy Source Is The Best?

There is no clear objective way to classify the ‘best’.

But, if we had to pick, we would say that solar, wind and hydropower are the best renewable energy sources because:

  • Hydropower already has proven energy and electricity generation capability in the present day, and pumped storage hydro has the capability to store energy
  • Solar and wind have been expanding rapidly the last decade or two, receive most of the investment money, are getting cheaper, are performing better, and are overall seeing the most development and real life results of the modern renewable energy sources. Specifically, solar PV and onshore wind.
  • Most of the studies and reports about a 100% renewable energy future specify solar, wind and hydro as key parts of that future

If you are interested in reading about other considerations such as cost, efficiency, power density etc., we have put together a guide discussing some of these things, and comparing renewable energy to fossil fuels and nuclear energy in some of the same areas.

 

Sources

1. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/World_energy_consumption

2. https://www.bettermeetsreality.com/installed-capacity-production-consumption-of-renewable-energy-worldwide-by-country-by-source/

3. https://www.bettermeetsreality.com/which-renewable-or-green-energy-source-is-the-best/

4. http://www.reuk.co.uk/wordpress/geothermal/renewable-energy-in-iceland/

5. https://www.bettermeetsreality.com/energy-sources-energy-mix-by-country-where-major-countries-in-the-world-get-their-energy-from/

6. https://www.bettermeetsreality.com/renewable-energy-vs-fossil-fuels-vs-nuclear-comparison-guide/

7. https://www.cnet.com/news/if-renewable-energy-can-power-entire-countries-why-isnt-everyone-doing-it/

8. https://www.bettermeetsreality.com/challenges-problems-with-transitioning-to-renewable-energy/

Non Renewable Energy Definition (With Examples)

Non Renewable Energy Definition (With Examples)

This is a very short guide that outlines the definition of non renewable energy, along with some clarifications of what it is in comparison to other types of energy, and also includes some examples of different types of non renewable energy.

 

Definition Of Non Renewable Energy

There’s many slightly different definitions of non renewable energy. 

Most definitions include the following components … non-renewable energy:

  • Comes from non natural sources, or non natural processes (for example, oil has to be refined by man made processes)
  • Comes from a source, that when used, will deplete, or takes a long time to regenerate (more than the length of a human lifetime – usually hundreds, thousands or millions of years)

It’s called non renewable, because if you compare it to energy sources like wind and solar, these energy sources are natural and are available almost immediately for an infinite amount of time (as long as the wind is blowing and the sun is shining). Non renewable energy sources in comparison may face scarcity and depletion issues over time.

Fossil fuels for examples take hundreds of thousands or million of years to form from the heat and pressure under the Earth’s surface, whilst uranium ‘has been thought to be produced in one or more supernovae over 6 billion years ago. More recent research suggests some uranium is formed in the merger of neutron stars. Uranium later became enriched in the continental crust’ (world-nuclear.org)

 

Types & Examples Of Non Renewable Energy

They mainly consist of fossil fuels (coal, oil, gas), and nuclear energy (from uranium):

Coal

Oil

  • Crude oil and other liquids produced from fossil fuels are refined into petroleum products [via human processes] that people use for many different purposes. We use petroleum products to propel vehicles (such as gasoline and diesel), to heat buildings, and to produce electricity (eia.gov)

Natural Gas

  • Natural gas is a hydrocarbon fossil energy source that formed deep beneath the earth’s surface. Once raw natural gas is processed, and the natural gas liquids are separated, various natural gas products can be created and used for many energy applications, such as heating and cooking, transport, and electricity generation.
  • If we take gas powered cars for example – A natural gas vehicle (NGV) is an alternative fuel vehicle that uses compressed natural gas (CNG) or liquefied natural gas (LNG). Natural gas vehicles should not be confused with vehicles powered by LPG (mainly propane), which is a fuel with a fundamentally different composition (wikipedia.org)

Nuclear

  • Uranium ore is mined from the ground, which is then processed and refined, before we can use it as a nuclear reactor fuel. We use nuclear reactors for electricity generation (when uranium atoms are split).

 

An Asterisk With Nuclear & Uranium

Although uranium and nuclear are looked at as non renewable, there are potential technological breakthroughs that could significantly extend the supplies of uranium we have left. 

These breakthroughs might include new types of reactors, and extracting uranium from seawater

 

Other Resources On Non Renewable Energy Sources

 

Sources

1. https://www.world-nuclear.org/information-library/nuclear-fuel-cycle/uranium-resources/the-cosmic-origins-of-uranium.aspx

2. https://www.eia.gov/energyexplained/index.php?page=oil_use

3. https://www.bettermeetsreality.com/brown-coal-vs-black-coal-comparison-differences-emissions-more/

4. https://www.bettermeetsreality.com/pros-cons-of-fossil-fuel-energy-now-into-the-future/

5. https://www.bettermeetsreality.com/pros-cons-of-nuclear-energy-now-future/

6. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Natural_gas_vehicle

7. https://www.bettermeetsreality.com/how-much-uranium-is-left-in-the-world-on-land-in-oceans-when-will-we-run-out/

Renewable Energy Definition (With Examples)

Renewable Energy Definition (With Examples)

This is a very short guide that outlines the definition of renewable energy, along with some clarifications of what it is in comparison to other types of energy, and also includes some examples of different types of renewable energy.

 

Definition Of Renewable Energy

There’s many slightly different definitions of renewable energy.

Most definitions include the following components … renewable energy:

  • Comes from a natural source or natural processes
  • Comes from a source, that when used, doesn’t deplete, or can regenerate very quickly (either immediately, or within the course of a human life time)

It is called renewable because, if you compare it to an energy source like fossil fuels, fossil fuels take hundreds or even millions of years to form from the buried remains of decayed plants and animals, that are exposed to heat and pressure over that time. Once mined and used, these sources aren’t renewed quickly. They can eventually present scarcity issues, and issues with depletion of resources.

 

Modern vs Traditional Renewable Energy

Traditional biomass, such as the burning of wood for heat and energy, is considered a traditional form of renewable energy.

Modern renewable energy is generally all other forms of renewable energy (including modern bio fuel and modern forms of waste-to-biomass conversion).

 

Different Types Of Renewable Energy (With Examples)

The different types of renewable energy are:

Read more about the different types of renewable energy in this guide.

 

Renewable vs Clean/Green vs Alternative Energy

There is a difference between renewable, and green or alternative forms of energy. 

Nuclear is an example of an energy source that isn’t renewable (yet), because uranium has be mined to use it. But, nuclear is far cleaner in it’s operation stage (in terms of emissions and pollution) than energy sources like coal and natural gas.

Bioenergy is another example of an energy source that may be renewable in some ways, but, where crops, trees, and other organic matter has to be planted and grown, there are questions over the use of other resources (land, water, fertilizer, pesticide etc.), pollution/emissions, waste produced, and overall how sustainable some methods of bioenergy prodution are.

Read more in this guide about what green energy is.

Alternative energy is usually just an energy form that is different from the conventional energy that is used in a particular sector. For example, an alternative energy car might use renewable energy to power a hydrogen fuel cell car (as compared to a combustion engine car using petroleum or diesel).

 

Sources

1. https://www.bettermeetsreality.com/solar-pv-vs-solar-thermal-csp-comparison-what-they-are-differences-examples/

2. https://www.bettermeetsreality.com/onshore-vs-offshore-wind-energy-comparison-what-they-are-differences-examples/

3. https://www.bettermeetsreality.com/hydroelectric-dam-vs-run-of-river-vs-pumped-storage-hydro-energy-comparison-what-they-are-differences-examples/

4. https://www.bettermeetsreality.com/the-different-types-of-renewable-energy-sources-with-examples/

5. https://www.bettermeetsreality.com/what-is-green-clean-sustainable-eco-friendly-energy-what-are-the-different-types-sources/

The Importance Of Renewable Energy, & The Benefits & Advantages (Economic, Environmental, Social & Health)

The Importance Of Renewable Energy, & The Benefits & Advantages (Economic, Environmental, Social & Health)

This guide outlines why renewable energy is important to our future.

It also outlines the benefits and advantages of renewable energy economically, environmentally, and socially (including health benefits).

 

Summary – Importance Of, & Benefits & Advantages Of Renewable Energy

  • The importance of renewable energy for the future is significant. One of the main reasons is the fact that these energy sources won’t face the same depletion and scarcity issues that non renewable energy sources might
  • But, this is only one of many reasons. Renewable energy has different economic, social (and health), and environmental benefits and advantages, as well as other types of benefits and advantages
  • Perhaps two of the biggest issues (apart from depletion of resources) that renewable energy has the potential to help us address are climate change via reduced greenhouse gas emissions, and air pollution/air quality via reduced air contaminant pollution
  • Something that should be noted is that individual types of renewable energy all provide their own set of benefits, and pros and cons. For example, wind and solar may provide different benefits to hydropower and geothermal. Furthermore, there can be different types of bioenergy (which is considered a renewable source of energy), and the different types of bioenergy may provide different pros and cons to each other. So, the different types or energy production methods of an individual renewable energy source need to be considered too. This guide looks at renewable energy as a whole.
  • For the purposes of this guide, renewable energy sources are solar, wind, hydropower, geothermal, and wave and tidal energy. Bioenergy can also be classified as a renewable energy, but not all bioenergy processes can be classified as sustainable. Nuclear isn’t a renewable energy source, but it does have a relatively clean operational stage with little or zero emissions and air pollution.
  • Non renewable energy sources generally include fossil fuels like coal, natural gas, and oil. 

 

Why Is Renewable Energy Important?

Renewable energy is important for a number of key reasons. 

What makes renewable energy different from non renewable energy is that it generally comes from natural sources and processes, and it won’t deplete after use.

Compare this to non renewable energy like fossil fuels which often need refining processes, and take hundreds of thousands, and even millions of years to regenerate after being mined.

Immediately, we can see that renewable energy sources don’t face the same depletion or scarcity issues that fossil fuels might. So, they have the ability to provide us with sustainable energy sources going into the future.

But, there’s additional factors that make renewable energy important – the potential economic, environmental, and social benefits they provide.

 

Economic Benefits & Advantages Of Renewable Energy

Some of the economic benefits of renewable energy are:

  • Job creation (increase the total number of jobs)
  • Higher quality and safer jobs
  • A good ROI on investment in renewables
  • A trickle effect on other areas of the economy
  • Economic stimulus
  • Can reverse the poverty cycle in poorer regions
  • Trade, import and export benefits
  • More independence and control over energy, which leads to more independence and control over the economy for individual countries
  • More competition creating lower electricity prices
  • Creates additional and different sources of income for individuals
  • Increase locally sourced services
  • Saves costs having to address other issues caused by fossil fuel energy (environmental, health, etc)
  • Save on costs with increased energy efficiency and reduced consumption
  • Other indirect economic benefits

 

We’ve already written several guides on the economic impact of renewable energy:

 

Environmental Benefits & Advantages Of Renewable Energy

How environmentally friendly an energy source can be looked at:

  • Across the entire lifecycle of the energy source (from extraction, all the way through to use and any waste products)
  • Or, at a particular stage of the energy process e.g. during operation/during energy production.

 

Renewable energy in general tends to be more environmentally friendly than non renewable energy, especially fossil fuels, because:

  • The energy source doesn’t need to be mined (like coal, oil, and natural gas do for example … compare that to sunshine which we get directly from the sun for solar energy)
  • The energy source doesn’t need to undergo processing or human refinement (like for example refinement of crude oil into gasoline or diesel products)
  • Greenhouse gas emissions during operation are generally far lower, or zero
  • Air pollution and air contaminant emissions are generally far lower, or zero
  • There’s reduced, or zero waste products from energy generation (compare that to coal for example which produces coal ash, which contains heavy metals, just as one example)

 

Some of the main environmental benefits of renewable energy are:

  • Addressing Climate Change – fossil fuels tend to emit carbon dioxide and greenhouse gases during energy generation, and GHGs are thought to be the main cause of climate change and global warming. Renewable energy sources are clean in their operation with little to no greenhouse gases emitted.
  • Addressing Air Pollution – fossil fuels emit an array of air contaminants, which degrade air quality (the air that humans breathe in – especially around cities and heavily populated areas). Renewable energy does not pollute the air during operation.

Other environmental benefits of renewable energy can include:

  • Addressing Water Pollution – both mining of fossil fuels, and the discharge from power plants (including heavy metals and other toxic chemicals) can pollute the water. Renewable energy can severely reduce water pollution in these regards.
  • Addressing Land Degradation – mining of fossil fuels can cause land degradation, and other land issues.
  • Address Waste Pollution – wastes from fossil fuels like coal ash can compose a large and toxic % of a country’s waste stream. Renewables have little to no waste
  • Provide Better Ecosystems For Our Wildlife – water and air pollution, as well as the clearing of land for mining, are not good for the ecosystems that wildlife live in. 
  • Address Ocean Acidification and Warming – side effects of carbon emissions.
  • Reduce Acid Rain – a side effect of air pollution.
  • Other Environmental Benefits – there are sure to be other indirect environmental benefits of using renewable energy not mentioned above.

 

The above is not to say renewable energy has no environmental issues at all – every energy source has at least some environmental considerations. In addition to these environmental issues, the mining of precious metals (and their scarcity/depletion), and recycling energy storage batteries (from electric cars and for electricity energy storage) in the future may become bigger environmental issues.

 

Social (& Health) Benefits & Advantages Of Renewable Energy

Renewable energy sources:

  • Are some of the least dangerous and most safe forms of energy generation for humans. Outdoor air pollution is one of the biggest causes of health problems and increased mortality rates in some cities and countries. Using renewable energy sources can not only improve our health, but also decrease the number of energy workplace accidents
  • Can put less strain on our health systems
  • Can provide better and higher quality jobs compared to fossil fuels
  • Can reduce the political and power based wars that are fought over oil and fossil fuels
  • Can give energy sovereignty to less powerful States and countries
  • Can reach remote and rural areas, and help lift the quality of life in societies and countries worldwide

 

Other (Miscellaneous) Benefits & Advantages Of Renewable Energy

  • Save water (which is a precious resource) in energy generation – fossil fuel plants like coal plants use a lot of water in cooling towers and for other applications. Renewables tend to be far more water efficient.
  • Renewable energy seems to have a lot more potential left to increase performance and energy capabilities (to provide more benefits to society) with further technological breakthroughs compared to fossil fuels 
  • Renewable energy can be portable
  • Renewable energy can be used on an individual, domestic and large scale commercial/utility level – can be used as part of, or away from the grid. Lots of flexibility

 

Further Resources On Renewable Energy

 

Sources

1. https://www.bettermeetsreality.com/pros-cons-of-renewable-alternative-energy-now-into-the-future/

2. https://www.bettermeetsreality.com/pros-cons-of-fossil-fuel-energy-now-into-the-future/

3. https://www.bettermeetsreality.com/renewable-energy-vs-fossil-fuels-vs-nuclear-comparison-guide/

4. https://www.bettermeetsreality.com/which-energy-source-is-the-most-dangerous-harmful-which-is-safest/

5. https://www.bettermeetsreality.com/economic-impact-benefits-of-renewable-energy-clean-energy/

6. https://www.bettermeetsreality.com/the-different-types-of-renewable-energy-sources-with-examples/

7. https://www.bettermeetsreality.com/challenges-problems-with-transitioning-to-renewable-energy/