A solar flower system to provide solar energy

In this age of an increasingly crowded planet and an even more sharply rising demand for cheap electricity, it is clear that the use of traditional fossil fuels is rapidly ceasing to be the best bet. Not only is it in increasingly shorter supply, the exploration, extraction, transportation and usage of fossil fuels has often left a scar on the planet and imposed heavy human costs. And finally, there have long been financial, political and social costs for the dependence on fossil fuels from a relatively few suppliers.

Fortunately, the development of renewable energy has now reached the point where it is viable as a clean, sustainable and financially competitive alternative to fossil fuel based energy.

Here at Context Solar, we believe that as essential as information and insights are, context is also vital. So our aim is to always provide you with the context for the content we provide – and that includes this introduction to this section. With that said, if you need to dive right in to find a particular article, we understand. Simply click here to skip down the bottom of this page for our full contents list for this section.

Renewable Energy 101

A bulb with a tree in it as a symbol for renewable energy

In today’s current climate, there is mounting concern that society and the planet is at a crossroads. In one direction is the continued adoption of greener policies and practices for energy production and consumption (and a host of other environmental topics). The alternative route paves the way to increased fossil fuel extraction, in many cases at alarming environmental and human cost. In addition, this path is tied to alliances and dependencies of increasingly unknown implications and futures. Beyond all this, fossil fuels are running out, even if that endgame is decades away. Meanwhile, the environmental damage and the knock-on effects on livelihoods, health and wealth are manifold.

Renewable Energy Is Now a Serious Alternative

Fortunately, renewable energy has not only come of age, it is now a serious, significant option for green conscious energy production and consumption. Not only is renewable energy providing cost-competitive utility-scale power, it is also being used by a growing number of Fortune 500 companies.

Renewable Energy Types

In addition to being dramatically greener than traditional fuel sources, renewable energy comes in several different forms, making it easier to adapt to local conditions. These types include:

  • Solar energy – the use of photovoltaic ( PV) cells (in the form of groups of solar panels) to convert sunlight into electricity (or in some cases, heat)
  • Wind power – converting wind into electricity via wind turbines with built-in generators
  • Hydropower – converting the flow of water into electricity via water turbines attached to large generators
  • Tidal and wave energy – harnessing the power of the oceans, in the form of tides and waves, which power water turbines connected to generators
  • Geothermal – capturing the immense heat under the Earth’s surface to power steam-powered electricity generators
  • Biomass – burning natural waste, such as wood waste, sawdust and combustible agricultural waste materials in clean-burning generator plants
  • Biofuels – converting biomass materials into fuels such as ethanol and biodiesel

Renewable Energy is Growing Rapidly

The use of renewable energy has been growing strongly for years, and the REN21 Renewables Annual Report 2017 reported that:

  • The amount of renewable energy installed in 2016 was 9% greater than in 2015, bringing the global total to more than 2,016 Gigawatts (GW) (920 GW if hydropower is excluded).
  • As of 2015, an estimated 3% of the planet’s energy consumption was provided by renewable energy sources.

Furthermore, renewable energy goes beyond being healthy for the planet. Renewable energy produces far fewer harmful side effects that can be unhealthy or even dangerous for people. Renewable energy is also great news for business, powering an ever-increasing number of new jobs, many of which tap into local skills and cannot be outsourced to competitors abroad.

Solar Energy Overview

Not All Forms Of Renewable Energy Are Created Equal

A solar waver on a table

As great as renewable energy is, not all forms of renewable energy are created equal. For example, tidal and wave energy is only available in certain oceanic coastal areas.

Likewise, wind energy is only viable where there is a sufficient, consistent supply of wind. (And to call out the elephant in the room, wind energy has more than a little opposition to the spread of wind farms, whose detractors say they are a blight on the landscape.)

Hydropower likewise is a powerful solution, but is limited to available sites and does impose trade-offs in terms of its environmental impact, displacing people, flora and fauna during its installation and beyond.

To a lesser extent, the same can be said of geothermal, biomass and biofuel solutions.

And finally, most of these renewable energy sources are fundamentally utility-scale solutions, meaning they are suited primarily, if not almost exclusively, for use in electricity generating plants. This also means that the electricity they produce must be transmitted over distances to be used, which subjects it to leakage, loss and other inefficiencies.

Solar energy, however, does not suffer from these limitations. That is why of all the renewable energy solutions, solar energy shines brightest on many fronts.

Solar Energy is Available Cheaply Virtually Everywhere

Firstly, solar energy is available literally everywhere on the Earth’s surface. Of course, it is more effective in hot regions that are constantly soaked in sunshine, but even ‘northern’ climates are making extensive and rapidly increasing use of solar energy.

Second, the price of solar energy is dropping rapidly, and has been year-on-year for decades. This thanks to a combination of continued solar power technology advances, financial and policy incentives and significant market momentum.

Solar Energy Applications Are Quickly Becoming Limitless

Third, solar energy has the widest, deepest range of applications of any form of renewable energy.

From hand-held gadgets to home, business and public buildings, to agriculture and even space exploration, it is becoming difficult to find an area of human activity where solar energy is not already being employed, or could be readily. Even the admirable qualities of wind power and the other forms of renewable energy cannot compete on such a broad scale of availability and ready application across so many spheres.

Solar Energy Growth is Now ‘A Thing’ (In a Big Way)

Turning again to the REN21 Renewables Annual Report 2017, solar energy accounted for 47% of the renewable power capacity installed in 2016, compared to 34% for wind power and 15.5% for hydropower. This growth is also reflected in the rapid growth in solar-related jobs, which are seeing the fastest growth and greatest total number of new jobs in the United States as a whole. In other words, solar energy is booming and will continue to grow, as the demand keeps increasing and there is so much untapped opportunity to increase its usage worldwide.

Articles in this section

Now that you have a feel for the overall content in this part of Context Solar, here is our current list of articles in this section:

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Image Sources

  • Renewable Energy Bulb: Sergey Nivens | Shutterstock.com
  • Solar Energy Overview: Rawpixel.com | Shutterstock.com
  • Solar Energy 101: Alberto Masnovo | Shutterstock.com