This month’s Take Five takes a closer look at five renewable energy sources — what they are and how they are being used.
101: Solar energy is energy that comes from the sun and travels to earth in the form of electromagnetic radiation. The total amount of solar energy that is available to Earth is continually altered by variables such as cloud cover and Earth’s distance from the sun. Once the energy enters our atmosphere, it is measured in watts per meter (meaning how much energy is entering and at what capacity). Solar energy can be collected using solar panels which then convert it to usable energy.
At Work: Solar energy is abundant and continuous, and after the cost of the solar panels is absorbed (no pun intended), it is an extremely easy way to collect your own energy. Solar energy is popularly collected for heating and cooling and electricity.
Earth Energy (Two types: Earth and Geothermal)
101: When the temperatures found beneath the Earths surface are used to naturally generate heating or cooling processes, that is called using Earth Energy. Geothermal energy is slightly different in that it is harnessed through use of steam or hot water in the Earth’s crust. The main focus for both of these energies is that they utilize the earth as the source, which saves processed power from local grids.
At Work: Earth energies can be used to provide heating, cooling and power generation by use of bodies of water like oceans and lakes, or steam and hot water in the Earth’s crust. However, geothermal energy isn’t for every region because there need to be natural features such as cracks or holes in the Earth’s surface for the facilities to run efficiently.
101: Hydroelectric energy is power generated by the flow of water. At Hydroelectric facilities, dams harness water power and water flow is controlled and put through turbines that generate electric power due to the force of the water from gravity.
At Work: There needs to be a sufficient source and flow of water to accommodate hydroelectric facilities. However, Canada is rich with water and a variety of topography to house hydroelectric power. Whether it’s through waterfalls, rapids, canyons or rivers, this alternate energy source is plentiful throughout the nation.
101: Wind energy is created by harnessing the power of wind (the kinetic/potential energy) through turbines and transforming it into electricity and mechanical energy. The amount of potential energy in any current of wind can vary depending on air density, pressure, temperature and altitude. As long as there are wind currents, this form of energy is sustainable and pollution free.
At Work: Wind turbine generators are popping up all over the world. They can also be connected to existing power grids and provide energy for the small homes, farms, industry and the rest of the world! This is beneficial to the majority of the population who rely on the power grid.
101: Bioenergy begins as energy from the sun. Plants absorb and store this energy along with water and carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. When the plant is harvested for energy, it is initially known as biomass. This biomass is processed to gather the stored chemical energy that the plant originally created. Finally, this stored energy is processed to become fuel.
At Work: There is no shortage of discussion on the topic of bioenergy. This sustainable energy source has many options in terms of the types of biomass that can be used, and the places it can be harvested (biodiesel which can be used in cars, biogas from certain strains of bacteria could be used the same as natural gas, bio-oil from agricultural residues for various uses). It’s all a matter of time and continued study that will determine its efficiency and sustainability on Earth.