If the world is going to tackle climate change, they have to change the way they generate power. With scientists warning that nations have to act fast, a lot of power companies have set deadlines to become carbon neutral. The main way at becoming carbon neutral is to stop burning fossil fuels which release carbon into the atmosphere. Clean energy sources provide power which is renewable and doesn’t harm the planet. Some nations are excelling particularly well in their respective categories, which shows that renewables are an effective way to harvest energy.
Hydropower is power produced using water. A typical hydropower plant consists of 3 stages: a power plant where the electricity is produced, a dam that can be opened or closed to control water flow, and a reservoir where water is stored. The water from the dam flows through and turns the turbine – the turbine spins the generator to produce the electricity. A place that is specifically good at generating hydropower is Norway. According to the International Hydropower Association (IHA), hydropower regularly accounts for more than 95 per cent of total Norwegian power production. The country has steep valleys, plenty of rivers and concentrated rainfall which leads to high levels of running water in rivers and waterfalls, so you could say that Norway is built for hydropower. “The abundance of massive hydropower resources have led to calls for Norway to become the green battery for Europe,” says Andrew McKay to Life In Norway. The fact that Norway can generate so much green power means that they could sell the energy which they don’t use to other countries. This would be highly beneficial to countries that still use a lot of non-renewable sources, or to the countries who might use sources such as wind and solar, who might not be generating enough due to the wrong weather.
A renewable energy source which uses heat is Geothermal energy. Geothermal energy comes from the sub-surface of the earth – it’s held in the rocks and fluids beneath the earth’s crust. To access the energy, wells are dug a mile deep into the underground reservoirs to reach the steam and hot water there. This is then used to turn turbines connected generators. A nation known for its geothermal energy is Iceland. 66% of houses in Iceland are heated by geothermal energy and so is 25% of the country’s total electricity production. “It is difficult to imagine that at the beginning of the 20th century Iceland was one of the poorest countries in Europe and was dependent upon imported coal and turf for its energy.” Writes Arctic Adventures. This was mainly because Iceland’s location means it is so isolated. Switching over to hydropower and later adding geothermal energy makes Iceland one of the best countries for using renewable energy sources. This means that Iceland hardly needs any imported fuel to run on, except for the fuel for their cars, making them very self-sufficient.
Germany, despite being among the countries with the least sunshine hours in the world, is a nation who are leading in solar power. The solar power is generated when the sunlight strikes the solar panel, which attracts the electrons to the surface of the cell. This causes a voltage to form between the top and the bottom layers of the cell. When an electric circuit is formed across the top and the bottom of the cell, a current will flow, which generates the electricity. At the start of June 2014, Germany produced 50% of its electricity needs from solar power: a new world record (source: Guardian Liberty Voice). According to the International Energy Agency (IEA), the country has over 1.6 million installed solar arrays, which accounted for roughly 10% of the global installed capacity that year. It is hard to imagine that for a rather small country compared to some, that Germany has 10% of the world’s solar panels. Other counties should follow Germany’s lead because they have shown how well solar power can be optimised, especially since it’s not a particularly sunny country.
A well-established source of renewable energy is wind energy. Wind energy is generated when the wind hits the rotor blades and causes them to turn. The blades are mounted to a low-speed shaft, and a gearbox connecting the low-speed shaft to a high-speed shaft, which then turns a generator. Wind turbines are usually found in places exposed to high winds so they can get the post power, so they can be located at the coast, up hills, or even out at sea. The earliest known use of wind power is by the Egyptians around 5000 years ago. They used it to sail their boats from shore to shore on the Nile. Nowadays a lot of countries are using the wind to harvest power; with China being the world leader. China boasts the world’s largest onshore wind farm in Gansu Province, which currently has a capacity of 7,965MW – it is five times larger than its nearest rival, capable of generating enough electricity to power a small country. Unfortunately, most of the turbines lie idle. “About 60% of their capacity goes unused each year. “Only the state can intervene.” Says Zhou Shenggang, a manager at a state-owned energy company who oversees 134 turbines there. China is the world’s largest emitter of greenhouse gases. If China was to start making the most of their wind farms by using them to their full potential it will lead to a cleaner atmosphere positively impacting the world. With one out of every three turbines in the world now in China, they have all the ingredients to do their bit to help combat climate change.
With a new report saying that renewable energy will be cheaper than fossil fuels in two years, now is the perfect time for governments to back clean energy – this means that they can no longer use the excuse that fossil fuels are more economical. As seen in a few of the countries discussed today, they show that it is possible to efficiently generate a large, if not most, of their energy supply from just one or two sources of green energy. In the upcoming years, it will be interesting to see which sources of green energy nations decide on to generate their power from.