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These include energy from water, wind, the sun, geothermal sources, and biomass sources such as energy crops. In contrast, fuels such as coal, oil, and natural gas are non-renewable. Once a deposit of these fuels is depleted it cannot be replenished – a replacement deposit must be found instead. Both renewable and non-renewable energy sources are used to generate electricity, power vehicles, and provide heating, cooling, and light. Renewable sources of energy vary widely in their cost-effectiveness and in their availability across the United States. Although water, wind, and other renewables may appear free, their cost comes in collecting, harnessing, and transporting the energy so that it can do useful work. For example, to utilize energy from water, a dam must be built along with electric generators and transmission lines. Renewables themselves are non-polluting, while the structures built to harness them can have positive or negative environmental impacts. For example, dams may affect fish migration but may also create wildlife habitat.
back to top Hydropower
An impoundment hydropower plant dams water in a reservoir.Hydropower refers to using water to generate electricity. Water is the most common renewable source of energy in the United States today. Many hydroelectric power plants use a dam on a river to store water. Water released from behind the dam flows through a turbine, spinning it, which then turns a generator to produce electricity. Electricity generated this way is known as hydroelectricity, and it accounts for about 7% of the electricity used by the nation. Hydroelectric power doesn't necessarily require a large dam – some hydroelectric power plants just use a small canal to channel the river water through a turbine. A small or micro-hydroelectric power system can produce enough electricity for a home, farm, or ranch.
No dam was required. While all hydroelectric dams have some environmental impact. industry. Because of such limitations. A dam may either create a reservoir or may be a run-of-river project that does not store large amounts of water but simply takes advantage of a river's natural flow. is often addressed with fish ladders and other structures to ensure the successful movement of fish both upstream and downstream. the impacts vary widely. environmental impacts are considered when locating dams. which has long been a concern associated with dams. In addition to power.The Tazimina project in Alaska is an example of a diversion hydropower plant. Fish migration. and on the Colorado . water power could never generate all the electricity used in the United States.creates a reservoir may flood a large area upstream. Major hydroelectric dams in the United States are found in the Northwest. the Tennessee Valley. and human settlements. habitat for a wide variety of aquatic and terrestrial species. and can change flow patterns and impact flooding downstream with resulting environmental consequences. Hydropower is one of the least expensive sources of electricity and areas with good sources of hydropower tend to attract industries with large needs for electricity. In addition. and current regulations and policies attempt to address environmental concerns.Dam sites for hydropower plants are limited both by available rivers and by competing uses for those rivers. such as recreation. either positive or negative. A dam that Fish ladder. tourism. diversion of water for irrigation. dams often provide other benefits such as recreation opportunities on upstream reservoirs. and control of destructive flooding and environmental damage downstream.
The power in wind increases rapidly with its speed. Existing hydroelectric plants (yellow) and potential high head/low power energy sites (orange) in the conterminous United States. wind has become an increasingly attractive source of renewable energy – wind energy is the world's fastest-growing energy technology. Large. Purple represents areas excluded from hydropower development due to Federal statutes and policies. either for individual use or for contribution to a utility power grid. usually with small windmills.River. Wind turbines usually have two or three blades and. Wind turbines placed at sites with strong. like hydropower it cannot be expected to supply all of our electric needs. the western United States. The strongest winds in the United States tend to be in Alaska. the turbines are mounted on tall towers to capture the most energy. and the Appalachians. Department of Energy back to top Wind Power Turbines at Martinsdale Hutterite Colony. . which means that locating windmills in areas of strong winds is critical.S. 47). Click image for larger view. the central shaft spins a generator to make electricity.For hundreds of years. Although wind will contribute more to the United States electric supply in the future. humans have used wind to pump water or grind grain. because winds above the ground tend to be faster and less turbulent than those near the surface. In recent years. Wind power currently supplies about 1% of United States electricity needs. steady winds can economically generate electricity without producing pollutants. U. but capacity is expanding rapidly. As the blades turn. modern wind turbines are used to generate electricity. Source: Water Energy Resources of the United States with Emphasis on Low Head/Low Power Resources (p.
hot water. has mostly been eliminated through improved engineering. Different types of solar collectors are used to meet different energy needs. recent studies suggest that the number of birds and bats killed by collision with wind turbines is far lower than the number killed by collisions with other tall structures such as buildings. businesses. using a flat-plate collector facing south at a fixed tilt equal to the latitude of the site. This percentage is expected to increase with the development of new and more efficient solar technologies.Click image for larger view. Capturing the maximum amount of solar radiation throughout the year can be achieved using a tilt angle approximately equal to the site's latitude. and even cooling. And solar process heating and cooling systems .Solar technologies use the sun's energy to provide heat. light. energy needs. Photovoltaic cells convert sunlight directly to electricity. including wildlife deaths. for homes. United States wind resource map. which then produces steam or mechanical power to run a generator that creates electricity. which was a problem with older turbine designs. Concentrating solar power systems focus sunlight with mirrors to create a high-intensity heat source. Noise. and industry.While wind power helps the environment by producing electricity without producing pollution. However. Flat-plate collectors absorb the sun's heat directly into water or other fluids to provide hot water or space heating. back to top Solar Power Annual average daily solar radiation per month.S. Passive solar building designs capture the sun's heat to provide space heating and light. solar power provides less than 1% of U. Despite sunlight's significant potential for supplying energy. Appropriate siting of wind farms and individual turbines can reduce the impact on wildlife. there can be negative environmental impacts of wind power generation. electricity.
compared to the winter when the sun is up for fewer hours and at a lower position in the sky. and also varies with the seasons. back to top Geothermal Power Geothermal power plant at The Geysers. California. cost is a great drawback to solar power. There are three geothermal technologies currently in use in the United States: direct-use systems. available sunlight varies considerably as a result of differences in cloud cover and latitude.use specialized solar collectors and chemical processes to meet large-scale hot water and heating and cooling needs. In direct-use geothermal systems. Part of the problem with cost is that solar cells can The parabolic troughs that make up this concentrating solar power system generate power from the sun on a large scale in California. In contrast. A disposal system . most geothermal power is generated using steam or hot water from underground. solar cells and the equipment needed to convert their direct-current output to alternating current for use in a house is expensive. These variations must be taken into consideration when planning solar collection facilities. longer daylight hours and a higher sun angle provide more solar power. and geothermal heat pumps. However. use of deep reservoirs to generate electricity. and a mechanical system—piping.Geothermal power uses the natural sources of heat inside the Earth to produce heat or electricity.only operate during daylight hours. In the summer. The water is brought up through the well. Around the United States. a well is drilled into a geothermal reservoir to provide a steady stream of hot water. a coal or natural gas plant can run around the clock. Currently. Electricity generated by solar cells is still more than twice as expensive as electricity from fossil fuels. and controls—delivers the heat directly for its intended use. which means the cost for building the plant can be spread over many more hours of use. Solar technologies produce few negative environmental impacts during collector operation. a heat exchanger. there are environmental concerns associated with the production of collectors and storage devices. Although sunlight is free. In addition. Geothermal power generation produces few emissions and the power source is continuously available.
back to top Biomass Power . which is pumped under high pressure to the generation equipment at the surface. Geothermal reservoirs appropriate for direct-use systems are widespread throughout the western United States. into a building during the winter. Geothermal heat pumps can be used in most areas of the United States. power needs. A geothermal heat pump takes advantage of this by transferring heat. stored in the ground. warmer than the air above it during the winter and cooler in the summer. The oldest type of geothermal power plant uses steam. reliable.then either injects the cooled water underground or disposes of it in a surface storage pond. drying crops. for residential and commercial applications. to directly drive a turbine to produce electricity. it currently meets less than 1% of U. They use extremely hot water (above 300 degrees F (149 degrees C)). the Earth remains at a relatively constant temperature throughout the year. raising plants in greenhouses. California. Flash steam plants are the most common type of geothermal power plants in operation today. Geothermal power plants convert hydrothermal fluids (hot water or steam) to electricity. Geothermal heat pumps are used for space heating and cooling as well as water heating. or for industrial processes. heating water for fish farms. The heat pump consists of a series of pipes. The water is used to vaporize a second fluid that has a much lower boiling point than water. at hundreds of sites around the country. While geothermal energy use is efficient. Nevada. and Utah currently have operating geothermal power plants. buried in the ground near a building to be conditioned or where water is to be heated. and environmentally friendly. Hawaii. The vapor from this second fluid is then used to drive the turbines to produce electricity. Geothermal hot water is used for heating buildings. The technology relies on the fact that beneath the surface. accessed through deep wells. Fluid is circulated through the pipes to either absorb heat from the ground or distribute heat to the ground. Binary-cycle geothermal power plants use moderate-temperature water (100-300 degrees F (38-149 degrees C)). and transferring it out of the building and back into the ground during the summer.S. The hot Estimated subterranean temperatures at a depth of 6 kilometers.water is vaporized and the vapor in turn drives turbines to generate electricity.
Biomass can be used for direct heating (such as burning wood in a fireplace or wood stove). a product of the natural decay of organic materials. The largest source of energy from wood is pulping liquor or "black liquor. In the United States. for generating electricity. These energy crops.McNeil Generating Station. manufacturing waste. or can be converted directly into liquid fuels to meet transportation energy needs. In the future. and the organic component of municipal and industrial wastes. Some generators use a mix of biomass and fossil fuels to generate electricity.Electricity generated from biomass is also called biopower. can supplement our consumption of fossil fuels and help us respond to global climate change concerns. Wood has been used for energy longer than any other biomass source and today is still the largest biomass energy resource. Biopower facilities use many different technologies. coupled with high-efficiency conversion technologies. The main contributors of waste energy are municipal solid waste. Biomass power provides two valuable services: it is the second most important source of renewable energy in the United States and it is an important part of our waste management infrastructure. Burlington. farms cultivating high-yielding energy crops (such as trees and grasses) will significantly expand our supply of biomass. such as food crops. Waste energy is the second-largest source of biomass energy. Tracy. the pulp and paper industries are major . and paperboard industry. paper. and landfill gas. grassy and woody plants. California. the most common is burning of wood or other biomass feedstocks to produce steam which then is used to drive turbines and produce electricity. while others burn methane. Truck unloading wood chips that will fuel the Tracy Biomas Plant. the country's only utility-owned and operated wood-fired power plant.Biomass power is power obtained from the energy in plants and plantderived materials. Vermont. residues from agriculture or forestry." a waste product from processes of the pulp. Biomass energy can also be derived from waste and from alcohol fuels.
producers of biopower. municipal solid waste. Current research is exploring ways to efficiently convert cellulose (agricultural waste. It may reduce emissions and pollutants. biomass fuels "recycle" atmospheric carbon. It can be used as an additive (typically 20%) to reduce vehicle emissions or in its pure form as a renewable alternative fuel for diesel engines. The two most common types of biofuels are ethanol and biodiesel. it can potentially be produced almost anywhere in the United States. As with other . but factory farming of biomass crops can reduce biodiversity and negatively impact wildlife habitat. Ethanol is mostly used as a fuel additive for vehicles to increase octane and cut down carbon monoxide and other smog-causing emissions. Biopower facilities produce fewer other pollutants than equivalent fossil fuel power facilities. Thus. animal fat. The majority of ethanol produced in the United States is made from corn. Because biomass power is produced from plant sources. Biodiesel is made by processing vegetable oil. it can have both negative and positive environmental impacts. Biomass power is close to a carbon-neutral electric power generation option — biomass absorbs carbon dioxide from the atmosphere during its growth and then emits an equal amount of carbon dioxide when it is processed to generate electricity. and energy crops) to ethanol. forest residue. It is made by fermenting any biomass high in carbohydrates through a process similar to beer brewing. Biomass and biofuels resource potential in the conterminous United States. Biofuels are liquid fuels produced from plants. Ethanol is an alcohol. using residues from paper production to produce electricity for industrial plant use. or recycled cooking grease with alcohol or other chemicals. Municipal solid waste may contain toxins which could cause pollution if it is used as a biomass feedstock. While biomass is a renewable energy resource. the same as in beer and wine. and may reduce global warming impacts.
renewable resources. . use of appropriate technology will promote the most positive environmental impacts.
In the UK the average amount of solar energy available is about 4. Water circulates through channels or pipes inside each panel. Solar energy What is solar energy? Every year the Earth receives about 300. A PV cell may power your calculator. Photovoltaic cells are made of semiconductors. unlike nonrenewable energy resources. If less than a quarter of the population had solar panels this would save about 30 per cent of our annual energy demand. Until recently these cells were very costly to produce. because black surfaces readily absorb heat. Cloud cover can reduce efficiency. but more can be gathered in areas on or near the Equator. PV cells are still quite expensive. energy from the wind or waves.000 kJ of energy. Scientists also try to use the energy of the Sun directly.000 kJ per square metre.000. The inside is usually painted black. they are still only about 10-15 per cent efficient. Disadvantages There is less available solar energy in areas near the poles of the Earth.Introduction Some sources of energy are known as renewable energy resources. similar to those used to make computer chips. 'Solar' means 'sun'. Advantages Solar energy is renewable. each with transparent cover to admit sunlight. The water is heated.000. However. Where can solar energy be collected? The Sun's energy can be collected anywhere. energy from tides and energy from biomass. they will not run out. This energy drives processes in the atmosphere that cause the wind and waves. geothermal energy.000.000. . This is because. Solar energy can also be used to generate electricity in photovoltaic (PV) cells. the Sun is the source of most energy resources available to us. This we call solar energy. So ultimately. Some energy is absorbed by green plants and used to make food by photosynthesis. Simple types use flat collector panels mounted on a south-facing roof or wall. including fossil fuels. Renewable energy resources include solar energy. then the hot water is pumped to a heat exchanger that extracts the heat for use within the house.000.000. non-polluting and relatively maintenance free. How is solar energy collected? Solar energy can be used to heat a fluid such as water in solar collector panels.
The temperature at the Earth's core is over 70. Advantages Geothermal energy will not run out.Geothermal energy What is geothermal energy? Geothermal energy is the natural heat of the Earth's crust. This heated ground warms the air above Huge turbines in a wind farm can it. The rocks not too far below the surface are also quite hot. This is usually near where the earth's tectonic plates meet. a geothermal plant has been operating since the early 1900s. In some areas there are 'hotspots' where the temperature below the surface is higher. It can be non-polluting (as in Southampton).The generate enough electricity to supply uneven heating of the earth's surface causes winds. where the crust is thin and hot rocks are near the surface. There are also geothermal power stations in the USA. In Tuscany. Disadvantages It can only be used in some areas around the world. The water is about 700�C and is used to heat a number of nearby offices and civic buildings. In Southampton (UK) there is a district heating scheme based on geothermal energy. Hot air rises in what are called convection currents.000�C. Where can geothermal energy be collected? There are not many places that can currently exploit geothermal energy cost effectively. How is geothermal energy collected? In some places there are reservoirs of hot water below the surface that can be tapped to provide energy. perhaps 500�C about 1 km down. Wind energy What is wind energy? When the Earth is irradiated by the Sun the ground absorbs some of this radiation.800 metres below ground. Hot water is pumped up from about 1. geysers and volcanoes point to evidence of hot rocks below the surface. It is renewable. a small town. Sometimes the hot water that is pumped to the surface contains pollutants such as sulphur. New Zealand and Iceland. . The existence of hot springs. Italy. The water is pumped to the surface and used to heat buildings. The running costs can be very low.
This energy can be harnessed to drive turbines that generate electricity. Wind turbines are collected together in wind farms. This looks unsightly. It is processes like these that give rise to high and low pressure areas. Where is wind energy collected? This energy can be harnessed in areas subject to reasonably consistent and strong winds. The blades of these wind turbines are about 30 metres long. the land heats up more quickly. large wind turbines are used to generate electricity. Waves can be many metres in height and contain a great deal of energy. How is wind energy collected? Renewable energy from the wind has been used for centuries to power windmills to mill wheat or pump water. As a result the colder air over the sea will rush in to fill the gap left by the rising air. Wind turbines are becoming more efficient. Advantages This source of energy is non-polluting and is freely available in many areas. This results in the air above the land moving upwards more quickly than that over the sea (hot air rises). Another disadvantage is that winds are intermittent and do not blow all the time. Offshore wind farms in coastal waters are being developed because winds blowing across the sea are often stronger than those inland. often with about 20 turbines. and thus to winds. Nowadays.For example. Wave energy What is wave energy? Waves are caused by the action of winds on the sea. There may be large areas of flat land or those near coasts that are subject to prevailing winds. Because the UK is on the edge of the Atlantic Ocean it has one of the best wind resources in Europe. Turbines can produce between 500kW and 1MW of electricity. and can be noisy. The wind farms also need to be sited reasonably close to populations so that the electricity generated can be distributed. How is wave energy collected? . Disadvantages To be efficient wind turbines need to be linked together in wind farms. A 20-turbine wind farm can generate enough electricity (about 1MW) for a small town. if the Sun's rays fall on land and sea. There are wind farms around the world. The cost of the electricity they generate is falling.
consequently. and to a lesser extent the Sun. Where can tidal energy be used? Barrages are built in river estuaries that have large tidal ranges. Tidal energy What is tidal energy? Tides are caused by the gravitational pull of the Moon. Disadvantages Present designs do not produce a lot of electricity. The difference between high tide and low tide can be many metres. There has been one such device working on the island of Islay in Scotland since the early 1990s. Where is wave energy collected? Wave energy can be harnessed in coastal areas. and the energy of the tidal movement can be used to generate electricity. close to the shore. The first type directs waves into man-made channels. Wave heights vary considerably. The second type uses the up and down movement of a wave to push air. Hydroelectric energy What is hydroelectric energy? . on the oceans around the world. Advantages The rise and fall of the tide is constant. at high tide. this water can be passed through a turbine that can generate electricity.Wave energy collectors are of two main types. so they would not produce a constant supply of energy. Wave turbines are relatively quiet to operate and do not affect wildlife. and does not depend on the weather. the habitat for birds and other wildlife. Advantages This is a non-polluting source of energy. The production of electricity in this way is relatively cheap. where the water passes through a turbine that generates electricity. How is tidal energy collected? If. Disadvantages The turbines can be unsightly. water can be trapped behind a barrage and then let out as the tide ebbs. and barrages across river estuaries can change the flow of water and. such as the River Severn in the UK. producing 75kW of electricity.
The reservoir then provides a 'head' of water that can be directed through a turbine. Hydroelectric power is generated by the falling of water through a turbine. constant source of hydroelectric power for large communities. The building of large dams floods large areas and causes damage to existing habitats. Most people live on flatter land. Where is hydroelectric energy used? Hydroelectric power schemes exist in many countries. the supply of electricity is relatively cheap. Disadvantages A good site for a hydroelectric scheme. such as a mountainous region. water can be allowed to flow in a controlled way through turbines that generate electricity. They can be built in areas where there are fastflowing rivers. These are often hilly or mountainous regions where rivers flow down steep slopes. How is hydroelectric energy collected? If a dam is built across the river. Advantages The river flows continually and provides a constant source of energy. is not always near towns. Energy from biomass . so most hydroelectric schemes require large dams and flood a lot of land. This may cause problems of irrigation for crops. so very large artificial dams have to be built to create reservoirs. On flatter land rivers flow more slowly. This energy can be collected and used. Once built. Changing the flow of a river will affect the water supply to lands nearer the sea. A dam across a river can provide a cheap.Flowing rivers have kinetic energy.
Carbon dioxide. Alcohol can be used in cars as a substitute for petrol. How is biomass energy collected? Plant material such as wood or hay can be burned to provide heat to raise steam and so generate electricity in a power station. In the Western world. which is produced when these fuels are burned. people are developing ways of using biomass as an alternative to fossil fuels. In Brazil. There is a large biomass plant in Sweden. while in the UK attempts are being made to develop a power station that will run solely on wood from a nearby farm.htm#chapter2 Renewable energy resources in the UK . published in December 1999.detr. entitled Energy in Brief. animal slurry from a farm) can be treated to provide gases that can be burned to generate electricity. called RME (rape methyl ester). large numbers of cars run on alcohol rather than petrol. In many parts of the developing world biomass (not always from trees) is still the major source of energy. Disadvantages Biomass energy sources are no more environmentally friendly than fossil fuels because they recycle carbon into the atmosphere when they are burned. Transport and the Regions. Landfill sites emit gases (mainly methane) that can also be used to provide energy. Where is biomass energy used? About 200 years ago biomass in the form of wood was the major source of energy. Some plant materials such as sugar cane and maize (sweetcorn) can be fermented to produce alcohol. Crops can be grown as energy crops rather than food crops. After treatment with chemicals it can be used as a fuel in diesel engines. is a major cause of the greenhouse effect.What is biomass? Biomass is material from living things. or fermented to produce gas. The following is an extract from a paper by the UK government's Department of the Environment.environment. Oilseed rape (the fields of yellow flowers you see in the UK in summer) produces oil. Biomass energy can be used in similar ways to fossil fuels.g. The full publication can be obtained at: www. trees can be replanted or coppiced. About 32 per cent of the seed is oil.gov. Organic matter can be burned to provide heat. Sources of biomass are readily available worldwide. Energy can be extracted from wastes.uk/des20/chapter0/2. This could be plant material. Animal waste (e. Advantages Biomass is a renewable resource – for example. animal material or even bacteria.
Renewable energy resources Equivalent amount in oil (thousands of tonnes) 1990 1996 8.2 174.6 1998 9. and the equivalent amount of oil.7 79.0 57.6 1997 9.1 710.319.1 71.7 567.0 191.66 million tonnes of oil equivalent of primary energy use accounted for by renewables in 1998.0 Active solar heating Onshore wind Hydroelectric Landfill gas Sewage sludge digestion Wood Straw Municipal solid waste Other biofuels Total 6.73 million tonnes were used to generate electricity and 0.4 0.7 427.2 354.8 447.3 71.655.3 Renewable energy resources used in UK between 1990 and 1998.93 million tonnes to generate heat.102.8 184.7 185.7 368.6 41.5 2. Hydropower accounts for 17 per cent and wind power contributes 3 per cent.8 316.3 71. How renewable energy sources are used Biofuels account for approximately 80 per cent of renewable energy sources.2 709.7 2.0 80.6 1. Of the 2.8 289.3 400.7 71.8 138.0 182.1 449.1 2. .7 175. 1.7 160.2 190. with most of the remainder coming from large-scale hydroelectricity production.5 76.5 710.159.0 247.
compared to 2 per cent in 1997.Renewable energy use grew by over 4 per cent in 1998 and has more than doubled since 1990. Renewable electricity accounted for 2. .5 per cent of UK electricity supplies in 1998.
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