Renewable energy sources rated
The earth will run out of fossil fuel sources. But if we continue to use non-renewable energy sources as we currently do, we will pollute the earth with toxic chemicals, carbon, and other dangerous substances to the point of no recovery. I think we can all agree that this is not the future we want for coming generations.
But there is a solution. Our planet offers us many alternative energy sources. The cost of implementing these energy sources comes from research and development and from the technology needed to make it happen. But no business or corporation will supply air, water, sunlight, or tidal power to us for a price. These are free resources.
The technology that enables us to generate renewable energy is complex and expensive to develop, but we should not let that stop us. And as we know, the cost of technology drops every year.
What are the alternative energy sources available to us right now and how do they compare to each other?
Falling water or fast running water
New Zealand’s use of hydroelectric power is high compared to the rest of the world. Almost 60% of the electricity used in New Zealand comes from hydropower.
In the United States, hydropower is the largest sources of renewable energy. But the total percentage of energy produced is not even 10% of the country’s requirements.
Hydropower is, in fact, “powered” by the sun. Solar energy heats water, which evaporates and falls again as rain. This rain enters the streams and rivers and the flow of water moves turbines that spin generators to produce electricity.
You can probably see where the problem with Hydropower lies. There is a finite number of rivers and areas of moving water (apart from the oceans) that can produce energy.
We also have the contentious issue of dams that are expensive and damaging to the environment to build. Dams also affect wildlife and there have been many cases of protests against dam building in New Zealand in the past.
Green Rating: 6/10
Energy from tides
We could lump wave power in with hydropower but it’s a bit different in how it is harnessed. Tides are created by the gravitational pull of the moon on the seas. When we harness the massive energy created by the rising and falling tides with underwater turbines, we can convert tidal energy into electricity.
It’s safe to say tidal power will be a free source of energy for a long time.
The one advantage that tidal power has over wind and solar power is that it is more predictable. The tide always rises and falls. Every day. Clouds can affect solar power generation and the wind doesn’t always blow.
The problem with tidal power is the practicality of building and maintaining turbines around coastlines without affecting shipping, wildlife, and other environmental factors. Electricity generation only happens during tidal surges so for around half the day the turbines generate no power.
Green Rating: 6/10
Energy from the wind
New Zealand has 19 wind farms in operation, supplying around 6% of the country’s energy needs.
Wind power's problems lie mainly with the unsightly (for many people) wind generators that need to cover large areas of land in order to produce electricity. Apart from the visual impacts, wind turbines also create a lot of noise and can be harmful to animals and birds.
The turbines are expensive to produce and are often located far from urban areas, meaning the electricity generated must travel long distances to the consumer.
Green Rating: 5/10
Energy from organic matter
Organic material from plants and animals used for producing energy is called biomass.
Again, the sun plays a key role in delivering the energy, although it is an indirect source. Energy from the sun is stored in the cells of plants and when we burn these plants, we can extract chemical energy. We also derive energy from biomass through fermentation processes for ethanol and decomposition processes for methane.
One downside of biomass production is the creation of high levels of carbon dioxide from burning organic matter. When trees are used as biomass, we have the problem of cutting down carbon-reducing trees, to burn them, which puts more carbon in the atmosphere.
Green Rating: 4/10
Energy from the heat of the Earth
New Zealand’s location not the Pacific Rim of Fire means that it experiences earthquakes and volcanic activity. And as anyone that has visited hot springs around the country will know, geothermal energy produces a constant source of heat that is free to use.
Geothermal energy comes from deep within the earth’s core and the temperatures are extreme. The problem with using the energy on a large scale is that geothermal activity happens at only certain points around the globe. Even in New Zealand and places like Iceland, Japan, and the Philippines (where it accounts for almost 20% of the country’s energy needs) energy can only be harnessed in certain areas and must be transported to cities and homes.
The benefits of this type of energy are that it is cost-effective and environmentally friendly.
Geothermal energy is clean and can be harnessed at a small scale without specialised equipment.
Green Rating: 10/10
Energy from the sun
And finally, the source of energy we believe will give us all the power we need in the future.
Deserts are vast open spaces with great potential for solar panel farms. Building vast solar panel farms will affect the environment and wildlife, but the impact is a fraction of what it would be in a rural or urban area.
The roof of the average home, unused space in gardens, commercial building rooftops, and even the roofs of vehicles are all potential locations for solar panels.
The return on investment on solar power is excellent and in periods of lower power usage can even make you money.
Green Rating: 8/10
Summing up alternate energy sources
With all the options available to us, it’s easy to see why we should start investing in renewable energy. New Zealand is at the forefront of this movement towards alternative energy sources but more could we could do more.
Governments create initiatives for renewable energy use, but it’s up to the individual to consider whether the future of the planet is more important than cheap electricity at this stage. Renewable energy sources will one day be sources of cheap electricity.
Solar Power comes out as the winner. Of course, we’re biased at Wanaka Solar, but we believe that solar energy is the future and will eclipse other forms of alternative energy. Why not draw power from the one thing that powers everything else on earth, the sun?