Renewable Energy Options for Businesses and Homes

A globe out of solar panels as a symbol for Renewable Energy

For the past several decades, there has been a growing awareness of the need for moving away from the dependence on nonrenewable fossil fuels as energy sources, which have been in heavy use for more than a century. The key question has been that of finding renewable sources that could compete at least reasonably well with their fossil fuel counterparts. Although no energy source is perfect, wind and solar energy are now well-established sources of sustainable, clean energy, with increasing innovation particularly noted in solar.

Therefore, these two sources are now seriously viable as energy sources for both businesses and private homes.

What Is Renewable Energy?

Renewable energy refers to energy generated from natural resources and processes that renew themselves naturally, unlike oil, gas, coal and uranium, each of which need constant exploration and extraction from the earth, in order to fuel power generating plants which rely on these sources. Another key distinction is that renewable energy sources are by definition sustainable, that is, they replenish themselves faster than they are consumed. For example, where such as sunlight and wind. They are replenished faster than they are consumed, hence “renewable”. Some forms of renewable energy include solar, wind, geothermal, hydro and biomass. They’ve been around for quite some time and are now picking up steam more significantly now that the world has found itself in a position where it has no other choice but to embrace renewable technologies. As a result, there are now plentiful renewable energy options for businesses and homes.

Major Renewable Energy Types and Their Advantages & Disadvantages

The leading types of renewable energy sources for business and homes are as follows:

Solar energy

How it works: Photovoltaic (PV) solar panels capture sunlight, which creates an electrical current when the sunlight passes through the semi-conducting materials within the panels.

There are three types of solar installations:

  • Roof mounted: traditionally, groups of solar panels have been mounted on roofs, and recently, solar roof tiles (incorporating PV panels) have also become popular.
  • Ground mounted: again, groups of solar panels are combined into an installation (including stunning self-contained innovations like this one).
  • Standalone charging stations: increasingly, devices are being built as standalone charging stations for ebikes, mobile phones etc., for use by businesses, homes and cities/ communities, to promote and facilitate the use of solar energy

Advantages:

  • Unlimited energy supply (only limited to the amount of sunlight)
  • Solar panels don’t need direct sunlight to work – they can still generate electricity on cloudy days (this will be a decreased but still reasonable amount)
  • Exceptionally low maintenance costs
  • Solar panels are typically guaranteed to last 25 years
  • Excess energy can be stored in local batteries for later use

Disadvantages:

  • Significant upfront investment and installation required
  • Energy is only generated during daylight hours
  • The amount of sunlight received is determined by cloud cover, the angle of the solar panels at each point of the day and whether any other objects block the sunlight from reaching the panel
  • Solar panels can be obstructed by snow or dirt

Fun facts:

  1. Every minute, enough solar energy hits the earth to meet the world’s energy needs for one year.
  2. Solar energy has been used for over 2700 years. In 700 BC, glass lenses were used to make fire by magnifying the sun’s rays.
  3. In 1447, Leonardo Da Vinci predicted that there would be a solar industrialization.

Wind power

 A wind power plantHow it works: Long-bladed wind turbines are turned by the wind, and this resulting mechanical motion is converted into electricity. In addition to the large wind farm turbines, wind energy is also suitable for domestic use, and comes in two types of domestic-sized installations:

  • Pole mounted: these are free standing and are erected in a suitably exposed position, often about 5kW to 6kW.
  • Building mounted: these are smaller than mast mounted systems and can be installed on the roof of a home where there is a suitable wind resource. Often these are around 1kW to 2kW in size.

Advantages:

  • Unlimited energy supply (only limited to the amount and speed of wind)
  • Can be supplied to individual businesses, public buildings and homes
  • Low maintenance costs
  • A well-maintained wind turbine should be expected to last more than 20 years
  • Excess energy can be stored in local batteries for later use

Disadvantages:

  • Significant upfront investment and installation required
  • Energy is only generated during daylight hours
  • The amount of sunlight received is determined by cloud cover, the angle of the solar panels at each point of the day and whether any other objects block the sunlight from reaching the panel
Read more:  Outdoor Standalone Solar Charging Stations for Retail and Hospitality Businesses & Public Spaces

Fun fact: About 40 percent of all wind energy in Europe blows over the UK, making it a prime location for wind energy.

Biomass energy from Wood

How it works: Wood or bark and other wood waste products are burned in open fireplaces or increasingly, specially designed wood-burning stoves – primarily in homes. For all of human history until the mid-19th century, wood was the primary source of energy for heating and cooking in businesses and homes in the U.S. and many other countries (with the exceptions of peat and coal in some parts of northern Europe). To a significant degree, wood fires were also a valuable source of light, although of course candles and oil lamps are thought of as the primary indoor light sources.

The reliance on wood lessened with the large-scale adoption of coal and natural gas. Also, wood was rarely managed as a sustainable resource until the 1970’s and 80’s, when awareness grew about the need for sustainable practices. Today, the use of wood as a renewable energy source is increasing in some quarters, aided by the introduction of clean burning wood stoves.

According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration:

  • In 2016, about 2% of total U.S. annual energy consumption was from wood and wood waste.
  • About 19% of total U.S. wood energy consumption in 2016 was by the residential sector, and wood energy accounted for about 2% of total residential energy consumption.
  • In 2015, about 11.5 million U.S. households used wood as an energy source, mainly for space heating, and 2.3 million of those households used wood as the main heating fuel.

Advantages:

  • Wood is a natural source and is now managed as a renewable source of energy
  • Incredibly pleasing aesthetically and psychologically, given our historical attachment to wood fires throughout human history
  • Exceptionally low maintenance costs

Disadvantages:

  • Requires having a constant supply of wood (or wood products) on hand
  • Unfortunately, wood burning – even from clean wood burners – release pollutants into the air, including very fine particulates that can infiltrate even closed windows, and even more worryingly, toxins such as dioxin
  • Even the ability of clean wood-burning stoves to filter out harmful emissions degrades over time

Renewable Energy Conclusions

Renewable energy is now a significant and growing answer to the growing energy needs of businesses and homes around the world. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, around 10% of all energy consumption in the U.S. in 2016 was from renewable energy sources, and just over half of all U.S. renewable energy use is by the electric power sector for producing electricity.

Although no energy source is perfect, wind and solar energy are now well-established sources of sustainable, clean energy, with increasing innovation particularly noted in solar. Therefore, these two sources are now seriously viable as renewable energy options for businesses, homes and public spaces. Given its exceptional versatility and continuing innovation, solar energy in particular has a very bright future.

Key references for this article:

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