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Renewable Energy Statistics by Country

May 14, 2018
renewable energy statistics by country

The rest of the world is not as reliant on fossil fuels as the United States. Many other countries have taken steps to embrace renewable energy. These nations lead the way toward a future of greener electricity. Discover some of the most interesting renewable energy statistics by country. These nations are pushing the world toward going to green energy within the next 20 to 40 years.

Renewable Energy Sources

Renewable energy includes more than solar panels. Despite decades of using electricity, mankind still gets most of its power from using something to turn a turbine. Fossil fuels burn to generate steam, but renewable sources do this without burning nonrenewable resources. Wind, water and geothermal heat can all turn turbines. Biomass is a renewable source of fuel for burning. Of these, the most cited in renewable energy statistics by country are solar, wind and water.

Iceland

With a name like Iceland, you’d be excused for thinking this is a land of ice. But this island nation is built on the Trans-Atlantic Ridge, which pushes magma to the surface. This hot magma fuels the country’s geothermal energy, which accounts for 13 percent of its energy production. As a country with 100 percent renewable energy, Iceland’s remaining 87 percent of its power comes from hydropower.

United Kingdom

The United Kingdom is turning to renewable energy with Scotland at the front. Much of the UK now uses wind power. For a nation that once relied on coal, this is a tremendous change. Its coal use has dropped from 42 percent of its electricity production to only 7 percent in 2017, just five years later. In Scotland, some especially windy days produce more electricity than the nation uses. Ireland also benefits from wind power. In 2015, a single day was blustery enough to power 1.26 million homes.

China

Since 2000, China has dramatically increased its production of renewable energy. In 2000, the amount barely registered above three billion kilowatt-hours. By 2015, this measurement rose to 295 billion kilowatt-hours. Part of this power comes from wind. China produces one-third of the world’s wind power and is the top producer on earth. When the world’s most populous nation makes such a drastic change in energy sources in just 15 years, it gives hope for other countries around the world.

United States

Many link the United States to its dependency on fossil fuels such as oil and natural gas. But this country is also making strides toward greener energy. Over the most recent seven years, the United States dropped emissions from energy production by 12 percent. This marks a small start in a trend toward becoming greener and relying less on nonrenewable resources.

Costa Rica

While small, Costa Rica is making a large impact on worldwide renewable energy use. This nation uses nonrenewable energy for 99 percent of its electricity production. It’s even logged pairs of consecutive using 100 percent green power. With a 2021 deadline of achieving full carbon neutrality, Costa Rica is on track to achieve its goal. Along the way, this tiny country shows the world how geothermal, wind and water can power an entire population.

Romania

All of Europe has a low target of 20 percent of energy coming from renewable sources by 2020. To showcase its drive toward a greener, cleaner world, Romania set its own nation’s goal of 24 percent renewable power. The country has already exceeded this. The eastern European nation uses renewable resources to generate 24.8 percent of its country’s power, setting them well on their way to exceeding the EU renewable energy target of 27 percent of energy coming from renewable sources by 2030.

Uruguay

Uruguay is the answer to those opposed to significant government intervention in switching to greener energy. In less than a decade, this country has rocketed to using renewable for 94.5 percent of its electricity generation and 55 percent of the country’s total energy mix. Additionally, it did not increase the amount consumers paid nor did the country use subsidies to achieve this. It’s a true testament that greener energy goals do not require subsidies to reach.

Kenya

Kenya has made strides toward stepping away from standard fossil fuels and hydroelectric power to wind power. In 2015, this nation set out to build the Lake Turkana Wind Power Project. This would become the largest wind farm on the entire continent. Though two-thirds of Africa’s population does not have electricity, Kenya is looking to the future of switching to wind power as it and the rest of the continent seek to increase electricity access.

Germany

Though the climate in Germany has posed problems for integrating renewable energy in solar power, by 2015 the nation had increased its use of green energy sources almost 3000 percent compared to 1991. Though still behind places like Iceland and Scotland, Germany in 2015 recorded a day that reached a peak of using 78 percent renewable energy. Wind power is a major contributor. Germany has the third highest wind power production in the world.

Austria

Despite having only one-third of its energy from renewable sources, Austria is doing well with using hydroelectric sources for power. This country gets the majority of its electricity from water with a potential capacity of 13 gigawatts. Wind and solar power fall far behind, but these sources are not insignificant. Wind power can produce 2.4 gigawatts. Power from solar can be 900 megawatts. For reference, home electricity use is measured in kilowatts per hour. A megawatt is 1,000 kilowatts, and a gigawatt is 1,000 megawatts or one million kilowatts.

Norway

Many Scandinavian nations rely more on renewable energy as time passes. Norway ranks close to 100 percent with renewable sources supplying 98 percent of the country’s power. Like Austria, most of the power Norway uses comes from hydroelectric sources.

Sweden

Sweden has successfully switched to getting a majority of its energy from renewable sources. Over the last 48 years, the country dropped its reliance on oil significantly. In 1970, 75 percent of Sweden’s energy came from oil. Today, the number is below 20 percent. This country has put forth a challenge to the rest of the world’s nations to make earth a 100 percent renewable energy planet.

Though renewable energy is not universal, yet, many countries are trying to make it so. As these renewable energy statistics by country show, these places sit on the edge of a future of greener electricity. Perhaps one day, the rest of the world can achieve the goal of 100 percent clean, renewable energy.

Green Technology

Wind Energy vs. Solar Energy for Meeting Renewable Energy Goals

April 30, 2018
wind energy vs. solar energy

Having goals is an integral part of progress, regardless of what they entail. Individuals, families, communities — and yes, even countries — set a series of goals. As you achieve goals and set new ones, your options change. Moving from fossil fuels to renewable energy for an entire nation doesn’t require you to decide on one kind of energy source. Instead, it’s a better idea to take a look at all the available options and use as many of them as possible.

With that in mind, it’s important to note there are tons of options for renewable energy sources. The factors that determine what’s “best” for a given area depend on its natural resources. Places like Chile in South America have a plethora of wind, sun and geothermal energy. Other regions, like Iceland, are better suited to water and geothermal than they are to solar. Meanwhile, China has arranged to make biomass available to their citizens regardless of natural availability, which changes individuals’ ability to produce energy independently.

The U.S. is in a unique position. We have a vast landmass to work with that enables us to take advantage of many resources, not just one or two. However, given the availability of land and the way the economy has worked out, our two most common options are wind and solar. Here, there are solar options for everything including backpacks and sunglasses. Wind isn’t as common for everyday use, but it is a significant contributor to the energy grid.

In 2017, non-renewable sources besides nuclear contributed about 60 percent of the U.S. energy supply, while nuclear and renewables made up the remaining 40 percent. Last year marked the first time renewables overtook nuclear, surpassing them by a small, but important, margin. That’s a significant jump, since renewables only contributed about 15 percent in 2016, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

Of renewable energy sources in the U.S., solar, wind and hydropower are the most prominent. The problem with hydropower is that it isn’t always the wisest way to generate energy. Building a dam destroys so much land it’s often akin to wiping out entire forests. Once the dam is complete, it can produce power for generations. The forests, however, may never regrow. That leaves solar and wind power as the cleanest, most efficient methods for energy generation.

Wind Energy vs. Solar Energy: The Breakdown

Right now, solar is taking off. There are a few reasons for this. First of all, people are more familiar with solar power. Most people own at least one solar-powered product, even if it’s just a dancing flower that sits in your window. That makes it less of a change to adapt to, and we all know how much people resist change!

The demand for solar has, so far, overshot practically every estimate governments have made. Some of this might be thanks to subsidiaries from governments, but in large part, solar has accomplished most of these strides independently. With the current administration in the U.S., we’ll be able to see how it does when the cards are stacked against it as well. With as robust a base as solar currently has, all it needs to do is continue its current path to successfully create an energy revolution.

But solar power can’t do it alone, and so far, it hasn’t had to. While there is a contribution of wind energy vs. solar energy, the two work better together than apart. Wind power has been a boon for large companies that can hold enough land and contribute enough money to create wind farms. The main issue is that they’re difficult for individual people to get into. Most people don’t want a giant windmill in their yard. The power might save some money, but the actual structure could decrease the home’s value.

That means unless a home can connect to a wind farm that already exists as part of the energy grid, it’s hard to convince people to install them individually. Solar hasn’t had that problem, since most homeowners can get panels installed right on top of any roof, and it usually increases the market value of the house. In only two years, we could see 3.8 million households with solar power. That’s a pretty massive push, since solar panels first emerged as a viable energy solution in the 1970s.

The Discrepancy

Wind power is still a significant contributor to the energy bill. In the U.S., it could produce as much as 10 percent of the country’s power by 2020. Remember, renewable energy overall was only about 15 percent in 2016, so in four years’ time, wind power could almost double that. The main contributor to that push isn’t the average American, though — it’s corporations.

Many U.S. corporations have decided to pursue wind energy instead of solar, for a variety of reasons. For starters, it tends to be a bit cheaper. As the prices for both wind and solar continue to fall, that could change, but so far, it hasn’t. The price difference is so small it’s virtually inconsequential for an individual family, but that’s not the case with companies. When you have to generate a lot of power constantly, any cost discrepancy adds up.

For renewables, wind is cheaper. Amazon, one of the largest corporations in the world, has invested so heavily in wind power that their solar investment is almost nonexistent in comparison. Google, Microsoft and even Facebook have all shown a great deal of preferential buying of wind over solar, and are helping drive demand for the products.

Wind energy, once installed, needs very little maintenance. Solar power, on the other hand, has to be kept clean and updated regularly. It’s also more likely to sustain damage from mild storms like hail, while wind turbines almost have to be hit by a tornado to sustain severe damage.

However, the renewable energy revolution is still in its infancy. There is plenty of time, and resources, for solar to catch up to wind in the corporate sector, and for wind to become more attractive to individuals. As we move closer and closer to using renewables as our primary energy source, we will have to see what the government and the markets come up with.

The only thing we know for sure is that right now, we can and should use all the resources available to us. With almost every country in the world committed to meeting their renewable energy goals, wind and solar both have important roles to play.

Green Technology

How Does Renewable Energy Compare to Nuclear Power?

April 19, 2018
Renewable energy compare to nuclear power

As concerns about increasing populations and the environmental impacts of fossil fuels grow, the energy industry is looking for ways to evolve. Renewable energy and nuclear power both have the potential to be significant players in the next era of electricity generation. Each type of energy resource has its benefits and challenges, and both have their proponents.

Will nuclear or renewables be the answer to our energy woes? The issue isn’t quite so straightforward. We already use both, and comparing these two very different types of energy can get a bit messy. Circumstances vary from facility to facility, and opinions vary widely. However, we’ll do our best to break the differences down for you in this article.

Capacity

In 2016, the world used about 592 million tons of oil equivalent (MTOE) of nuclear power and 1330 MTOE of renewables, 910 of which was hydroelectricity, according to BP’s 2017 Statistical Review of World Energy. REN21’s 2017 Renewables Global Status Report estimates nuclear makes up 2.3 percent of energy consumption, while renewables — including biomass, hydropower, solar, wind and geothermal — make up 19.3 percent.

It wasn’t until relatively recently, though, that renewables surpassed nuclear in terms of production and consumption. Renewable markets have been growing fast, while nuclear plants are struggling to remain economical.

Nevertheless, the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) predicts global demand for nuclear power will increase by 1.5 percent per year from 2015 to 2040. Renewables, according to the agency’s forecasts, will be the fastest-growing energy source at 2.3 percent per year over that period. Total world energy consumption is expected to increase by 28 percent during that time.

Power Attributes

Nuclear plants and renewable energy resources generate power in very different ways. Even among renewables, generation attributes vary substantially.

One of the most frequently cited differences between the two types of energy, especially by nuclear advocates, has to do with baseload power. This term refers to energy from plants that can generate electricity continuously and have a certain amount of fuel stored on site.

Nuclear power plants have such a fuel supply, while solar and wind farms depend on input from variable natural processes — sunlight and wind. Some say we need baseload power to have a reliable electric grid, and that nuclear plants are necessary because of this need.

However, others point out hydropower is already a baseload power source, and batteries give solar and wind the ability to store fuel onsite. Battery technologies are quickly becoming more efficient and more affordable.

Still others say we don’t even need baseload facilities, or at least not many, that store fuel onsite. With enough renewable plants, they argue, we could reliably meet all our energy demand.

Environmental Attributes

One of the most persuasive arguments for both renewables and nuclear is their zero-emissions attributes. Generating power with nuclear and renewable resources does not release any emissions that pollute the air or contribute to the greenhouse effect.

To get a full understanding of each technology’s environmental impact, we have to look at the whole lifecycle, which includes everything from mining fuel to building facilities to generating electricity.

Estimates of lifecycle emissions vary according to the parts of the lifecycle analyzed. Actual lifecycle emissions can also differ substantially depending on the specifics of each project. On average, though, nuclear has slightly higher lifecycle emissions than most renewables. Solar PV has slightly higher emissions than nuclear. Both nuclear and renewables, though, have far fewer emissions than fossil fuels.

Another concern with nuclear power generation is the waste it produces. This radioactive waste is currently in interim storage sites. Permanent underground storage facilities are under construction in Finland and Sweden, but plans to build a repository in the U.S. have stalled due primarily to opposition from politicians and citizens.

While hydroelectric power causes very few emissions, it does present other environmental concerns, such as the disturbance of aquatic ecosystems.

Technologies

In terms of technological advancement, renewables have beaten out nuclear power in recent years. Renewable technologies have become more efficient and cost-effective, while nuclear has remained relatively static. Innovations in renewables continue to come about, with battery technologies being a prime example.

There is a lot of research and development underway in the nuclear field as well, though, and there’s always a chance new technology will emerge and flip everything on its head. Areas of study include molten-salt reactors and nuclear fusion, as opposed to fission, which is the technology in use today.

Emerging renewable technologies include concentrated solar photovoltaics, marine energy and artificial photosynthesis.

Costs

Another ever-present concern is cost. You can describe the expenses associated with an energy resource in terms of its levelized cost of energy (LCOE), which represents the cost per megawatt-hour of a plant over its lifetime. It incorporates capital costs, financing costs, assumed usage rate and expenses associated with fuel, operation and maintenance.

The costs of wind and solar energy have fallen dramatically in the past decade, which has contributed substantially to their increasing prevalence. The LCOE for large-scale solar projects built by utilities is between about $46 and $61 without subsidies, according to asset management firm Lazard. For residential rooftop solar, it’s about $138 to $222. Wind has an LCOE of $32 to $62, which is one of the lowest compared to other renewables and all other energy sources.

Nuclear’s LCOE is between $60 and $143, putting it ahead of residential rooftop solar, but behind utility-scale solar and wind.

In recent years, though, nuclear plants have been struggling to compete with natural gas, as well as utility-scale wind and solar. One reason for this is that it takes a long time to build nuclear plants and to see a return on the investment. With technology moving as fast as it is, you risk never seeing a return at all.

According to EIA forecasts, the LCOE for resources entering the market in 2022 will be:

  • Nuclear: $93
  • Solar PV: $63
  • Onshore wind: $59
  • Offshore wind: $138
  • Hydroelectric: $62

Safety and Security

Safety and security are some of the most often-cited concerns when it comes to nuclear power. There have been three high-profile accidents in the nuclear energy industry: Three Mile Island, Chernobyl and Fukushima. These incidents have soured the public’s view on nuclear, but proponents argue it’s as safe as any other energy source overall.

The routine operation of nuclear plants doesn’t cause a safety concern. The potential for accidents, however, causes apprehension. Percentage-wise, these incidents are extremely rare. An increased focus on safety in recent years has reduced the rate of incidents requiring plant shutdown in a year to 0.1. Still, many are apprehensive about what could happen in the event of another disaster.

In fact, nuclear waste is more of a safety and security issue. There still isn’t a good solution in place for storing it. While in interim storage, it must be protected to prevent it from falling into the wrong hands. Establishing a permanent storage solution would reduce these risks.

Renewable energy resources don’t inspire the same fear nuclear plants do. One concern some cite is the security implications of an unreliable electric grid caused by too many intermittent energy sources. As of now, though, there’s no evidence renewables are threatening the reliability of our power system.

The energy industry is somewhat complicated, especially considering its environmental impacts and quickly advancing technologies. Nuclear and renewable energy are two technologies that have the potential to help us address our energy-related challenges. Only time will tell exactly how we choose to progress.

Green Technology

Geothermal vs. Solar Heating: Which Should You Install in Your Home?

March 26, 2018
geothermal vs. solar heating

“Green” home heating is the ultimate energy saver. Imagine the money you would save if you didn’t have to pay electricity or gas bills to keep warm — and think of the positive impact this change would have on the environment if whole communities switched to green energy.

If you are prepared to make a financial investment to convert your current heating system into environmentally friendly, renewable energy, you will have to decide on two major sources of energy: geothermal and solar.

Both are effective, and both are available. Each has its pluses and minuses, and one may be more applicable depending on where you live. Let’s take a look at geothermal vs. solar heating and see which is better for you.

What Is Geothermal Energy?

Geothermal energy is the harvesting of the Earth’s core heat through a series of underground pipes and converting it into power. The center of the earth is roughly as hot as the sun’s surface, almost 10,000 degrees, Fahrenheit. This heat radiates from the center and is an inexhaustible and potentially limitless supply of energy. We just have to find effective ways to harness this energy.

What Is Solar Energy?

Solar energy is power produced by capturing the sun’s rays and converting the heat into electricity. This is achieved primarily through the use of solar panels which are filled with silicon solar cells. These cells are arranged in negative and positive sides, and they conduct electricity much like a battery. The more panels you have, the more electricity you can generate.

Regional Considerations

Most of your choice will come down to what climate you live in. If you live in the northern parts of the U.S., most of your utility expenses come from the demand to heat your home. In these regions, especially where it seems to never be sunny, geothermal energy makes sense. Geothermal systems are extremely efficient, and because of the expense of heating oil and natural gas, it only takes a few years to recoup your initial investment.

In the Southwest, you get a lot more sunshine — sometimes up to 300 days out of the year. In these regions, solar energy would be a wiser choice. If you aren’t sure what to do, take a look at your past utility bills for help. If you spend more money to air condition your house than to heat it, then solar energy is better for you. If you spend more to heat it, geothermal is most likely the way to go.

What Are the Downsides of Geothermal Energy?

To harvest geothermal energy, you have to dig deep holes in the ground to install the needed pipes and equipment. Your initial investment will be significant, and for people who live in the cities, digging deep into the ground may not be an option.

You will still have an electrical expense as well. Geothermal energy eliminates fuel costs and heating bills, but it can increase your electrical usage because of the pumps and equipment needed. Additionally, geothermal energy doesn’t produce exceptionally hot water and takes longer to restore its heat.

Drawbacks to Solar Energy

The simplest concern with solar energy is that if the sun isn’t shining, you aren’t going to have power. There are methods of storing energy, but they won’t last forever. Cloudy, rainy days are going to affect your system’s ability to maintain power.

There’s an expense to set it up as well. You might get some tax credits for installing solar systems, but the upfront costs are still your responsibility. You have to buy solar panels, batteries, wiring and inverters, and you have to pay for the installation.

Also, solar panels take up a lot of space — but the fewer panels you have the less energy you can produce. Some rooves can’t accommodate the needed amount of panels, either, so they’d potentially have to be installed in your yard.

Production, transportation and installation of solar panels can produce polluting greenhouse gases, too. There are toxic and hazardous materials used in the production of solar panels which can escape into the environment. This pollution isn’t anywhere near the amounts caused by our exploration and use of fossil fuels, but still, it exists.

Another consideration is that solar panels aren’t weatherproof. If a tree branch hits a solar panel, it is destroyed. Solar panels are vulnerable to Mother Nature and may require ongoing maintenance.

Both Are “Green,” Just Different

When it comes to being green, though, solar panels and geothermal energy both are. Solar energy is abundant and renewable, and it’s available wherever the sun is shining. There are no moving parts or noises associated with its use, plus it’s versatile. You can use solar energy to heat your home and power your electronics. Solar energy can be used to distill water to make it safe for drinking, even to power satellites in outer space. The technology is improving and expanding.

Geothermal energy is also eco-friendly and renewable. There is no combustion of fuel, and the systems emit almost zero greenhouse gasses. Geothermal pumps use electricity, but not as much as traditional heating units. They are also ranked among the most efficient of the heating and cooling systems. Geothermal energy can be used to power a single-family home or used in industrial applications.

Geothermal energy is only limited by our ability to harvest it. It’s there waiting for us and will be there for the life of the planet. The technology is expanding, and scientists and engineers are always looking for new and better ways to use the earth’s energy.

This creates new “green” jobs. Installing geothermal power plants requires skills and intensive labor. People are needed for engineering, operations, management and administration of the projects and companies. Communities can enjoy an increase in their economic development as unemployed or underemployed works find jobs in the industry.

So, What’s the Answer?

In the geothermal vs. solar heating debate, there is no loser. Both “green,” renewable energies are much better for the environment than the polluting fossil fuels we continue to burn, and both require a significant financial investment to convert from traditional heating sources. However, the drawbacks associated with each may not apply to you or may not be a factor in your consideration.

Most of it depends on where you live and what your desired outcome is. If you have the money and space to do so, install both. But if that isn’t an option, choose the system that best suits your particular needs and concerns.

Green Technology

Renewable Energy Installations Costs by State

March 12, 2018
renewable energy installation costs by state

Renewable energy differs slightly for each state. This can lead to confusion for homeowners who are looking to improve their homes and reduce their energy costs because a simple google search for green technology on homes doesn’t give you a solid picture. There are some similarities across borders though. Most states agree on the major components of what renewable energy is and include at least solar, wind, hydroelectric, geothermal, biogas and biomass.

This is far from an exhaustive list of renewable energy sources, but it covers the main ones that most homeowners are familiar with and have a high probability of trying to incorporate. Each one has a different kind of market, depending on location and availability. Even when working with the best possible options for an area, there are still substantial costs and challenges to overcome.

Wind

Wind energy is, currently, difficult for individual households to install. That’s because our primary tool is still wind turbines. An industrial wind turbine is over 300 feet tall, so it’s not something most people are willing to install. However, there are smaller models available for homeowners that are much more reasonable. Many people aren’t familiar with them, and they stick out pretty significantly. If you have any trees or hills around your home, it would be hard to get enough airflow to make it worthwhile.

However, if you live in an open, windy area and you have enough land, then wind turbines might not be a bad idea. A residential wind turbine comes in at around $48,000. It’s still a hefty price tag, but if you live in Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, Colorado, California, North Dakota, or one of the other big states for wind power, it may be well worth the investment.

Solar

Solar power is probably the most versatile and well-known option for renewable energy. Almost anywhere you go, you can now find homes that have solar panels installed, and that’s a big deal! It allows people to have more control over their energy use without having to depend on the grid, which in turn, helps to cut down on the strain the network is already under.

Evaluating how much money it can save you is pretty tricky since renewable energy costs by state are so varied. However, the installation of one product can help reduce your reliance on the grid, which is mainly powered by fossil fuels. As we continue to use them, fossil fuels will continue to get more expensive, while solar power will continue to fall as demand rises.

The installation cost of solar power is usually what stops people from making the jump, and if you’re not planning to stay in your home, then you may not want to have them installed. However, if you’re going to be there for at least five to 10 years, then solar is a great option. Right now, the average is around $15,000-$20,000, but that price is expected to continue falling. Some companies, like Tesla, are looking to move their production more into the US to avoid penalties for importing solar panels.

Hydro

Hydroelectric power is already well integrated into our power grid, but not on an individual scale. Dams are built all over the world, but it’s a lot harder to have one on your property. Hoover Dam is known throughout the world as one of the first, most advanced hydroelectric dams in the world. But hydropower like that isn’t considered renewable. The creation of a large lake often wipes out so much land that the resulting power, while sustainable, devastates the native area.

For an individual home to take advantage of hydroelectric power, most people would assume that you’d need to be close to a stream or flowing body of water, but micro-hydro power generators are available. It’s still recommended that you live near a naturally occurring body of water, but the cost comes down a lot with this method. One generator can be installed without a professional and costs less than $100. Of course, if you don’t live near a stream, then it’s probably not worth the trouble of moving!

Geothermal

Geothermal has a lot of potential in the West and Midwest of the United States. Areas out there have a vast supply of geothermal heat and seismic activity, and homes are often fairly rural. This makes for the perfect place to install geothermal.

Geothermal heat is based on heat from the ground, where it is both stored from the summer and provided by seismic activity. Places close to Yellowstone, for example, would have ample supplies of geothermal energy due to the natural resources in the area. Getting them installed requires a decent amount of land and geothermal has substantial installation costs, with estimates starting at $20,000 for the low end.

It’s nearly impossible to estimate what those costs would be since it’s so dependent on the exact location you live in, but you can figure out if it’s worth it! Hawaii, Alaska and western continental states can get the most bang for their buck when it comes to geothermal. If possible, joining together with multiple houses or an apartment complex can reduce the cost for everyone involved and create a massive opportunity for community funded renewable power sources.

Biogas/Biomass

Biogas is a greener option for most places than biomass. Biomass is burning organic matter, which many people do in their homes. Fireplaces are conventional, and they can certainly help cut down on the heat, but they aren’t very useful in areas that are warmer year-round. However, this can be useful if you have a method to alter your fireplace to act as an incinerator or can have one installed. Burning enough waste, installing incinerators and expelling scrubbed air will be prohibitively expensive for most individuals though.

Biogas, however, has a more distributed use. People can use it to collect and store energy even in the remotest areas. AgStar is a government based program dedicated to reducing methane emissions from livestock waste, making this a perfect option for farmers. The cost is on the lower end, especially since you can rig up a system on your own and have it cost well under $5,000. Systems like this are the most cost-effective on large farms where you have to pay to store and eliminate animal waste anyway. You might as well get something back for it!

Unfortunately, it’s almost impossible to give a breakdown of what any energy system will cost for a home. There are just too many variables to consider, so you would have to call and request an estimate. The government offers a variety of programs for help with funding and tax breaks for homeowners who do it, so check with those sites and ask the representative that you meet.

Green Technology

Cost Advantages of Rooftop Solar Panels vs. Grid Electricity

February 23, 2018
rooftop solar panels vs. grid electricity

Installing solar panels on your roof can significantly reduce your environmental impact and give you more control over the energy you use. The use of solar power has been spreading rapidly across the globe as it becomes more accessible to people.

The environmental benefits of solar power are clear, but how does it stack up regarding cost? Installing solar panels can reduce your energy costs, but installation costs and the amount you can save varies widely depending on where you live, rebate programs you’re eligible for, what type of technology you use and many other factors.

Let’s take a look at three cost advantages of installing solar panels on your property as compared to getting your energy from the grid.

1.    Upfront Costs

Installation costs are the most expensive part of going solar. On average, it costs about $22,000 to install a system on your home. The range of prices varies widely though from as little as $2000 to as much as $40,000. Of course, a significant factor is how many solar panels you need.

Another large part of the equation is the type of panel you choose to install. Some technologies are more expensive than other, but as these things usually go, you get what you pay for. Your options include:

  • Thin-Film Panels: These typically cost from $0.70 to $1 per watt. They have an efficiency of seven to 14 percent, require 100 to 215 square feet and last for 14 to 17 years.
  • Polycrystalline Panels: These panels sell for between $0.90 and $1 per watt. They have an efficiency of 15 to 20 percent, require 85 to 100 square feet and last for 23 to 27 years.
  • Monocrystalline Panels: Monocrystalline panels sell for between $1 and $1.50 per watt. They have an efficiency of 17 to 24 percent, require 65 to 100 square feet and last for 25 to 35 years.

While monocrystalline panels cost the most, they last the longest and are more efficient, so they’ll generate more electricity from the same amount of sunlight compared to the other technologies.

Also, solar panels that can rotate to follow the sun are more efficient than those that stay in a fixed position, although this technology is more common on large solar farms operated by utility companies. There are other solar technologies, too, such as concentrated solar energy and solar thermal energy, but they’re not typically used for residential installations.

2.    Financial Incentives

Depending where you live, you may be eligible for programs aimed at reducing the costs of installing solar and making it accessible to more people. You could even have a solar array installed for $0 down.

The federal government offers some financial incentives, as do many state and local governments. Depending where you live, you could get an exemption from property or sales taxes, a tax credit, a rebate or another incentive. You might even get help from the federal, state and local governments.

The policies in your state matter, too. Some have a rule called net metering, for instance, which allows you to sell any excess energy you generate back into the grid.

Some energy companies also offer rebates and leasing programs that can reduce your initial and overall costs. Be on the lookout for deals in your area, but always make sure you work with a company you trust and thoroughly read any contracts before signing.

3.    Energy Savings

Even if you didn’t save a whole lot on installation, you might still be able to recoup your upfront costs through consistent savings on your energy bills. An average sized solar array of five kilowatts can cut your monthly electric bill in half.

Exactly how much money you save, though, depends on how much electricity your panels generate, which will vary based on how much sun hits your panels. Your local climate and weather impact this, as well as the orientation of your panels and whether there are any obstructions between them and the sun.

States like California, Texas and Florida are among the best for solar panels because they get a lot of sun. Less sunny areas can still benefit from solar, but you’ll get more bang for your buck if you live somewhere exceptionally bright.

Another factor is the cost of electricity where you live. Customers in different locations pay different rates, and utilities get their electricity from a range of sources. Your local service might even get some of its power from large-scale solar farms. Of course, if you have higher rates, you’ll save more money by generating your own electricity.

Even if you don’t get a full solar array, you can still switch some of your appliances to solar power. An Energy Star-approved water heater, for instance, can reduce your water-heating bill by half and prevent as much carbon dioxide emissions as not driving your car for four years.

Although buying and installing a pool heating system powered by the sun costs around $3000 or $4000 to purchase and install, you can make your money back in lower energy bills in between 1.5 and seven years.

Factors to Consider

Remember, the savings of self-installed solar panels versus standard electric service is not a cut and dry issue. It depends on several factors, including:

  • The type of system you buy
  • How much energy you need to generate
  • The financial incentives available to you
  • The energy policies in your state
  • How much sun you get
  • The electricity costs in your area

It’s worthwhile to keep in mind, too, that the price of solar technology has been falling, while its efficiency continues to improve. This means the cost of installation is decreasing, as the amount of energy savings you can get is increasing. Researchers are also working on enhancing batteries that store energy from solar panels. These devices allow you to get energy from your solar system even if it’s not actively generating any power.

Depending on these factors, installing solar panels on your home can provide substantial financial benefits over the long term, in addition to its significant environmental advantages.

Green Technology

Propane vs. Geothermal: Which Should You Invest In?

February 5, 2018
propane vs geothermal

There are some great options available for heating your home, but two of the best options are propane and geothermal. Each one provides different benefits and has different drawbacks to it. Understanding the differences can help you make the best decisions for your situation. Propane vs. geothermal isn’t just about the cheapest option, though. You also have to take into account how it will affect the value of your home, how it will pay you back over the long-term and what kind of improvements in the area you can expect.

Propane Benefits

Propane offers high-efficiency heating systems that most people are familiar with. An updated system can add significant value to your home, and practically every HVAC service will know how to work with it. If you run into any issues, it will probably be relatively easy to fix. All of these things are incredibly important aspects in the depths of winter.

You can also use propane for parts of your home besides heating. You can use it to run various appliances like your stove and oven, and the efficiency of a propane heating system is no joke. They top the market as one of the most efficient heating systems available. This helps to make them better for the environment than other gas-powered furnaces. They use about 97 percent of the heat they emit, while most other heaters will allow as much as 20 percent to escape as emissions. If you want to be environmentally friendly, this is a good option.

You also get a lot of variety when it comes to propane. Depending on how your home is set up, you can choose between three styles of heating. Wall units, central units and combination units are all available. Wall units are great for small spaces. Central units offer the highest efficiency, and combination units allow you to use propane for other appliances like water heaters.

Geothermal Benefits

Geothermal is vastly different from propane. Instead of a classic combustion system, geothermal heat uses a series of underground pipes. It will draw heat from the warmer soil beneath the surface during the winter, and siphon it back into your home, keeping it at a comfortable temperature. It will provide the same service of heating your home, but with a few additional benefits:

  • You won’t receive a monthly bill for it.
  • The heat will be stable.
  • It’s about as clean as you can get.

There are emissions associated with building any heating system, but once a geothermal system is established, it has nearly zero emissions. This can make it extremely attractive to anyone who is concerned about the environment and is looking to craft a home that won’t need to be updated to fit changing standards.

You probably noticed that propane could be used for heating and hot water. The same is true of geothermal, but the same system that keeps your home warm in the winter will also keep it cool in the summer, eliminating any need for a separate air conditioning system. Hot water can be added on for an additional price. Once you have it, though, you never need to pay for it again.

As technology for geothermal improves, more options become possible. Instead of heating a single home, it would be entirely possible to create an underground geothermal field designed to heat multiple homes. If this particular idea manages to take off, then the conundrum of propane vs. geothermal would essentially be null.

Propane Cons

Of course, propane doesn’t pop up out of the ground and find its way to your home. You have to pay to have it filled regularly. Depending on how much you need to use, that can get expensive pretty quickly. The cost of propane itself is also likely to vary with the price of oil, the season of the year and the availability of it. As demand increases for propane, supply doesn’t grow with it. Instead, because of how propane is produced, there’s a rather steady supply of it year-round. It can’t fluctuate with demand, and that can cause price hikes for consumers.

If the home you’re in doesn’t already have a propane heating system, there’s a pretty hefty upfront cost to install one. This can be worth it, though, if you’re losing a great deal of efficiency with an older system that needs to be updated anyway.

Lastly, there are always health risks. Any kind of gas heating system is a potential fire hazard, but basic safety inspections and regular maintenance can counteract those. Propane isn’t really any more dangerous than other furnaces, despite what you may have heard. And it’s almost certainly less risky than having an open fireplace!

Geothermal Cons

The very nature of how geothermal works should be a significant consideration. It requires underground pipes to be dug, which may be impossible if you live in an urban or developed area and don’t have enough ground for it. It may also violate homeowner codes in certain associations.

If you live in an area where the ground has permafrost, it may also be almost impossible to dig deep enough to generate comfortable heat. That alone could prevent you from being able to use geothermal. Plus, if you live in an area with permafrost, you probably won’t get too much use out of the system’s ability to cool your home, either!

There may be a similar challenge when it comes to the hot water. If you like very hot showers, geothermal heat might have some difficulty delivering that for you. If it can, it may take a longer time to restore the hot water after, just because there is no flame.

The other biggie for geothermal is the cost of installation. Yes, once it’s installed it costs practically nothing, but the price tag for that installation isn’t something to ignore. It’s easily the most expensive installation of any heating system. That’s because you have to dig and install underground pipes. When it comes to installation prices of propane vs. geothermal, propane wins it by a long shot. Most geothermal systems will pay for themselves within 10 years, but that’s still a pretty significant price gap.

What you need for your home depends on just that — your home. A mobile home probably wouldn’t benefit much from geothermal heating. On the other hand, an apartment complex that could install geothermal heat for multiple units would see massive savings and attract a great many clients.

The best option is still too dependent on individual situations to call a clear winner, but one thing is sure: Fossil fuels won’t be around forever. As their prices increase, geothermal expenses are likely to get lower. That will make this a more realistic option for people.

Green Technology

How Do Offshore Wind Farms Compare to Onshore Wind Farms?

January 29, 2018
Offshore wind farms compare to onshore wind farms

Picture a boat 7,000 years ago carrying pottery, iron tools and a fresh haul of fish from the Nile. Okay, now how is it moving? Wind, of course! Fast-forward 5,000 years to China in 200 B.C., and we see simple windmills used to pump water — once again, harnessing the impressive power of the wind.

While we are the first to commercially exploit the wind’s power on an industrialized scale, using the power of wind — and that of the other elements such as water and sun — is not a new concept. Nevertheless, the progression to today’s wind farms both on and offshore is striking.

In the UK alone, onshore wind farms have the capacity of more than 8,800 megawatts, and offshore farms have the capacity of over 5,000 megawatts. So how do wind farms produce all this energy? Let’s briefly go back to basics. Wind farms are made up of groups of wind turbines, located within relatively close vicinity to each other. More often than not, wind farms are home to hundreds of turbines across hundreds of square miles, and each one produces electricity.

Each wind turbine has carbon-fiber blades which are turned by the wind, and which turn a motor to convert energy from kinetic to electric. Initially, the energy is transferred to a gearbox, which turns slow speed into high-speed rotary motion, finally powering the drive shaft fast enough to fuel the electric generator.

Wind farms are found both on and offshore, and location is not the only difference between the two. So how do offshore wind farms compare to onshore wind farms, and which of the two technologies makes the most sense economically to further develop?

Offshore Wind Farms

It may not shock you to learn that offshore wind technology is far less developed than onshore wind technology; it arrived around 100 years after its predecessor, going into effect in the 1990s close to Denmark.

Advantages of Offshore Wind Farms

Unsurprisingly, an offshore location provides an exceptional amount of freedom in the actual dimensions of the wind turbines — they can be built far larger and higher, therefore enabling more energy to be collected.

Being out at sea means that wind farms are far less imposing on otherwise scenic countryside. Larger wind farms can be constructed per square mile without bothering or affecting nearby locals or tourism income.

Being in the middle of the ocean does mean higher wind force. A nightmare for sailors, but a goldmine for wind farmers, high wind speed means more energy can be produced at any given moment. Furthermore, they tend to be more efficient because of better consistency and the fact that fewer turbines are needed to produce a similar amount of energy as onshore farms.

The impact on the environment of offshore wind farms could be positive. Firstly, manufacturers avoid shipping lanes, delicate ecosystems and fishing areas. More importantly, wind farms create safe zones around them — they restrict access to specific waters and increase artificial habitats.

Disadvantages of Offshore Wind Farms

The specific technology required for offshore use remains expensive. While it could change going forward, this is one of the main reasons it’s hard to justify offshore development over onshore. Offshore farms are about 90 percent more expensive than fossil fuel generators.

Offshore turbines suffer greater damage from wind and waves, thereby incurring greater maintenance and operational costs. Furthermore, it takes longer for engineers to reach repair sites to get them running again.

Onshore Wind Farms

Is the original form of something always the best? Onshore wind farms have certainly dominated the market for a long time — the first wind turbine was put together in the late 1800s.

Advantages of Onshore Wind Farms

Onshore wind farms cost very little in comparison to most other forms of energy harnessers for the infrastructure required to transmit electricity. They’re competitive among renewable energy solutions as well — onshore wind farms produce the cheapest available type of renewable energy.

Onshore wind farms can boost local economies — if manufacturing plants are nearby, it brings wealth to businesses in close proximity.

What’s more is that wind farms erected close to their manufacturing sites are more carbon neutral, given the reduction in emissions caused by transport. Finally, the shorter the distance between wind turbine and end user, the less need for voltage drop-off on the cabling.

Disadvantages of Onshore Wind Farms

The most significant disadvantage of onshore wind farms is the eyesore they create on otherwise beautiful landscapes. Some individuals argue that onshore farms endanger bird life and cause noise pollution. Public buy-in is key to the success of onshore wind farm development, and while it is strong now, it can always get stronger.

Onshore wind farms do not produce energy all year round, making them less efficient. Poor wind speed is often a problem as well as physical obstacles, including large buildings, mountains and hills.

As with every project, the individual toss-ups between developing onshore and offshore wind farms usually come down to political, financial and geographical variables. Therefore, they are assessed on a case-by-case basis.

Wind power is gaining popularity globally — at the start of 2016, the international capacity was 432,884 MW, 17 percent higher than what it was in 2014. The industry is extremely fast-paced, and we can expect the technology for both onshore and offshore wind farms to improve rapidly. At the moment, however, while it can be argued that offshore is a more efficient option, it remains quite undeveloped — the capital costs and maintenance are still too expensive for many.

Green Technology

Hydroelectricity 101: Should We Support this Form of Energy?

January 22, 2018

At first glance, hydroelectricity may seem like the ultimate renewable energy resource. It’s readily available, relatively inexpensive and uses natural resources to produce electricity. On the other hand, it can negatively impact marine life and their habitats, change the landscape and alter natural water flow patterns.

This Hydroelectricity 101 guide explains the basic process of how hydroelectricity works. Basically, hydroelectricity is the result of damming rivers. Water builds in a reservoir, creating a pressure differential. The pressure differential forces water through a penstock, which turns a turbine connected to an electric generator. Higher dams have more energy potential, since steeper penstocks create more energy.

The ocean also represents another potential form of hydroelectric power in the form of tide cycles and waves. In fact, coastal water resources have the potential to generate up to 1,000 terawatts of energy in the United States alone. Some offshore hydroelectric sources are in use, though at a much smaller scale compared to hydroelectric power.

Do the benefits of hydroelectric power outweigh the risks? Industry experts, state and federal governments haven’t yet reached a conclusion. While the EPA considers hydroelectric power a renewable resource, many states use differing criteria as to whether hydroelectric power counts toward their renewable energy goals. Here are the main factors in the Hydroelectricity 101 debate.

Resource Availability

Nearly 70 percent of Earth’s surface is covered by water. With the availability of both inland and offshore water resources, the possibilities for hydroelectric power are endless. Water is also technically a renewable resource. In the water cycle, water is constantly changing forms and is redeposited to the planet’s surface in the form of precipitation. For this reason, the EPA considers hydroelectric power, like wind and solar power, to be a renewable energy resource.

Wind and solar energy, however, have grown in popularity in recent years, with more companies committing to use these renewable energy resources to power their facilities. Hydroelectric power, however, has remained relatively stagnant, despite its enormous potential. Part of this lack of interest may be due to the fact that many states don’t consider all hydroelectric power resources to be renewable energy resources.

States such as California worry that by including hydroelectric power as a renewable energy resource, states will reduce their efforts to expand their use of renewable energy. Since many states already have hydroelectric facilities, changing this distinction would increase the amount of renewable energy the states were using, and perhaps decrease their incentive to invest in new technologies.

Reduced Cost and Carbon Footprint

Hydroelectric facilities have low operation and maintenance costs, since they don’t require fuel. Additionally, the infrastructure is built to last up to 100 years, if not longer. As a whole, hydroelectric power is more cost-effective when compared to other energy resources.

No fuel also means hydroelectric plants don’t release harmful greenhouse gas emissions. Energy production is responsible for nearly 25 percent of global carbon emissions. By using power generated from clean sources, it will be possible to reduce the global carbon footprint and potentially slow the rate of global climate change.

Another benefit of hydroelectric power is that it can vary to meet shifting changes in energy needs. Solar energy can only be collected when the sun is shining, and wind energy can only be collected when the wind is blowing. The ability to meet the varying energy demand means energy prices will be kept more stable.

Hydroelectric power is also abundantly available domestically, which can help maintain price stability. Instead of relying on foreign oil imports, it can be generated throughout the nation. Additionally, dams create reservoirs that can be used for recreational activities and boost local tourism and quality of life.

Environmental Impact

Dams change the environment downstream of a river considerably. Flowing rivers carry sediments that naturally settle along the river’s bottom and banks. Dams prevent these sediments from flowing downstream, which leads to incising, or the deepening of the river. While this may not seem like a problem initially, it can lead to changes in the groundwater table over time.

As the river cuts deeper into the ground, it will lower the surrounding water table, making it more difficult for vegetation to access surface water resources. Additionally, humans relying on private wells may need to drill deeper to access groundwater supplies. In some instances, extreme reservoirs actually cause downstream rivers to run seasonally dry, which lowers the groundwater table even more.

A seasonally dry water table means certain marine life downstream may die off. Many of the hydroelectric dams throughout the northwest interrupted salmon spawning patterns, which led to significant population decreases. Reduced water flows may also change the volume of dissolved oxygen in the water, which plants and fish need to breathe. Once the oxygen level drops too low, nothing in the water will be able to survive.

From a larger perspective, plants and trees that relied on the river will also be compromised. Farmers will need to invest in expensive irrigation systems or find alternative water sources to continue to water their crops. Animals will need to migrate to find new sources of water, since their current supply was diminished.

Hope for the Future

While conventional hydropower infrastructure may seem to be too risky or costly for the environment to implement, new research may yield strategies that preserve environmental conditions, while also maximizing electricity output. Additionally, smaller hydroelectric facilities may help reduce the environmental impact.

 

Hydroelectricity sits in a precarious position. While it produces no greenhouse gas emissions and offers a cost-effective, stable solution to electricity generation, it also comes with other environmental impacts that are difficult to ignore. However, continued research and new technological innovations may find solutions to preserving environmental conditions, while also allowing us to take advantage of this abundant resource.

Green Technology

10 Green Tech Blogs You Should Read this Year

January 1, 2018
green tech blogs

Getting advice about green technology is tricky in the age of information. Frankly, the sheer amount that’s available can be overwhelming, and it’s hard to know which sources to trust. Some sites do a better job of nailing down the facts than others. If you’re looking for green tech blogs you should read, then check these out. They’re well known for both accuracy and current developments

1. Mother Nature Network

Also known as MNN, this trusted and global source of information covers environmentalism from all angles. They discuss technology, but they also explain how people and families interact with and alter the environment, just by existing within it. They offer a wide variety of information, including lighter, conversational topics as well as the more in-depth articles about scientific advances. They write about everything from pets to political threats to protected areas.

2. Grist

Grist keeps the focus on environment and people. They’re a well-established blog and have been around since 1999. As a nonprofit, they accept donations in order to continue writing about clean energy, sustainable food sources, city-wide advances to improve quality of life, and environmental justice. Their ability to combine advances in technology with unbiased political reporting helps give readers a comprehensive image of the challenges the industry is facing.

3. Triple Pundit

The triple topic for this site revolves around people, planet, and profit. Unlike the previous sites, and many of the others on this list, they focus on business just as much as on the environment. One of the biggest boons in that intersection right now, of course, is environmental technology. If you’re looking for short, summary articles, this isn’t the place to go. TriplePundit specialized in longer, in-depth articles that give readers a solid understanding of the topic. Don’t expect a lot of fluff on this site.

4. Treehugger

Treehugger doesn’t focus exclusively on technology but instead aims to be a “one-stop shop” for sustainability. Advancing technology is a big part of that. The blog, which was started in 2004, has been part of making sustainability mainstream. But the team isn’t content to stop with talking points. They want to drive actual change, whether that means introducing new technologies or teaching individuals how to garden.

5. The Energy Collective

Another site where the primary focus is on technology, this site is one place where you can get the most accurate, up to date information possible. The focus for this site is on advances in sustainability, including new fuels, innovations, and the latest advances regarding climate change. Their writers come from all over the globe, giving you a truly international perspective. The most significant part of that is their focus on how different countries are competing with each other to get ahead in the green technology industry.

6. Alternative Energy News

If you’re looking specifically for tech news as it relates to energy, this blog is the perfect niche for you. It was created in 2006 by someone with a passion, but not a background, in green technology. Alex Ramon was a photographer and bicycle mechanic but switched to try and bring people around the world good news. It turns out, he was very successful with it! Choose from over 25 categories to peruse, and find whatever information you’re looking for with absolute ease.

7. Green Biz

The intersection of green technology and business meets in this online blog, which has become well-known in management sectors across many industries. They are primarily a blog, but they also host events for networking and promote research throughout the industry. That gives them some exclusive looks at new technology that could make a big difference for anyone who’s looking to get ahead. Even if you don’t check this blog out daily, it’s one you’ll want on your list of updates.

8. Clean Technica

Clean Technica has won monthly awards for their dedication to clean technology in the past. Their caliber of writing and consistent commitment to finding the best information has put them in the top spot and made them a trusted name. They’ve been focused on green technology including solar, wind, electric, and energy storage. They’re one part of a larger network of blogs, so they have sufficient resources to fact check all of their work and make sure they aren’t misleading anyone.

9. Huffington Post

Huffington Post covers a vast range of topics, including everything from women’s rights to celebrity gossip. They’re widely prominent, and they have an entire section dedicated to sustainability. While some of those aspects may hit on individual elements, many others focus on U.S. and worldwide green technology and sustainability initiatives. You’ll find everything here, from learning how to compost at home to international water safety and hope spots.

10. Alt Energy Magazine

Another all-star focused on green energy and fuel instead of all things sustainable, this site’s work is anything but outdated. Their site not only offers connections to other companies in the green tech industry. It also highlights multiple articles a day about relevant, breaking news. Plus, it’s surprisingly easy to navigate the site, with a focus on content over aesthetic. It’s a niche aspect of the internet, but one that’s sure to appeal to many people who value information and accuracy.

These are just a few of the many sustainability blogs available. There are sure to be some hidden gems that aren’t presented here, but these are some of the best known and best-written options out there. As far as blogs go, green tech blogs are something you should read and be aware of green tech options that are out there to help the climate and help you live a more sustainable lifestyle. Don’t let the new year slip by without adding at least one of these to your reading lists!