Renewable Energy Explained: Overview & Types

Clean energy is becoming increasingly prevalent in Singapore and around the world. Renewable energies are a low-cost and environmental-friendly way to get the energy we need to power our society.

What Is The Renewable Energy?

Renewable energy is energy that comes from resources that cannot be depleted or those that constantly replenish over time. The most common examples of renewable energy are solar energy, wind power, geothermal power, hydropower, and biomass. Many forms of renewable energy are directly or indirectly derived from the sun; others come from heat within the earth or the gravitational pull of the moon.

While some types of renewable energy like solar and wind power are virtually limitless, renewable resources like biomass are replenished within a human lifespan. This is a key distinction from non-renewable energy sources like coal, oil, and gas; these resources take millions of years to form deep in the earth, and as such, they are depleted many times faster than they can regenerate naturally.

Renewable Energy Vs. Clean Energy

The terms “renewable energy” and “clean energy” are both commonly used to describe energy derived from renewable resources. While often used interchangeably, it’s important to understand the differences between these two terms as each one refers to a slightly different type of energy.

Renewable energy refers to energy from renewable resources that replenish on a human timescale and don’t run out. Renewable energies are often environmental-friendly but include power sources that can have some negative environmental impacts, such as hydropower.

Clean energy refers to any energy that is net neutral or positive in terms of pollution and environmental impact. Most forms of renewable energy can also safely be called clean energy.

Renewable Energy Sources

There are 5 main types of renewable energy: solar energy, wind power, hydropower, geothermal energy, and biomass. Each type has pros and cons and unique applications, and they will all undoubtedly play an important role our clean energy future.

1. Solar Energy

Solar energy is energy derived directly from the sun. We can capture this incoming light energy is a variety of ways, including with concentrated solar technology, solar thermal design, and solar photovoltaic (PV) panels. Solar energy is collected at various scales, from small residential setups to sprawling utility-scale solar farms.

2. Wind Power

Wind power is energy generated from the wind, which is simply air flow within the earth’s atmosphere. Wind energy is actually an indirect form of solar energy; because the sun heats the earth’s surface unevenly, air flows in small and large patterns around the globe to distribute the sun’s heat. By using wind turbines of various sizes and setups, we can harness this moving air to spin turbines that generate electricity.

3. Hydropower / Hydroelectricity

Hydropower (also referred to as hydroelectricity) relies on energy in moving water to produce energy. There are several ways we can generate power from water. Most commonly, rivers are dammed to store water in a reservoir that can be released through a turbine system to generate electricity. Additionally, tidal power and wave power are secondary ways of generating electricity from water, using the ebb and flow of tides and the power of ocean waves, respectively. All three of these types of hydroelectricity generation rely on moving water to spin turbines.

4. Geothermal Energy

We can also find a reliable source of renewable energy beneath our feet. Geothermal energy is heat derived from the radioactive decay of particles deep within the earth. All rocks contain trace amounts of radioactive material that decays slowly over millions of years, generating heat in the process. This heat can be seen in at the surface in the form of volcanoes, but just about everywhere under the earth’s surface, geothermal heat warms the ground and rock, thus can be used for heating and electricity generation.

5. Biomass / Biofuels

Renewable energy generated from organic plant and animal matter is known as biomass. Biomass is perhaps one of the most traditional renewable energy sources: some examples include wood, crop waste, and animal manure. Biomass fuels can either beburned directly to produce heat, or converted into biofuels like ethanol and biodiesel that can be burned later.

The Role of Renewable Energy Today

Although renewable energy still makes up only a small portion of our overall energy mix, that portion is expanding and has experienced immense growth over the last several decades.

Recently, renewable energy such as solar energy, was highly popular in Singapore. However, the industrial revolution brought about the use of fossil fuels like coal and oil, which have since remained the dominant energy sources in the country.

As of 2018, about 0.8% of Singapore electricity generation is produced by renewable sources. While grid-connected installed capacity grew sharply from 7.7 MWac in 2012 to 96.7 MWac in 2016, its growth had moderated recently and total installed capacity stood at 114.8 MWac in 1Q 2018.

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