Save the Earth III: Switch to Renewable Energy

In our previous article we discussed how fossil fuels contribute to the climate crisis and the numerous ways they are utilized in various industrial process, transportation and burned for energy. This article introduces various ways we can generate energy and why renewable energy is the right way ahead.

Energy sources: renewable vs. non-renewable

Energy comes from a variety of sources which can be categorized as renewable and non-renewable. Non-renewable energy sources are mined or extracted from Earth and have a limited supply, so they cannot be replenished for millions of years once they run out. These mainly include petroleum, natural gas, coal (the so-called fossil fuels) and nuclear energy. Nuclear energy is created using uranium (a heavy metal found in rocks) which is why it is also considered non-renewable.

Renewable energy sources (also called clean energy sources) are naturally replenished, and in general, their supply is unlimited. Significant of renewable energy sources include wind, solar, hydro, geothermal and biomass.

How non-renewable energy sources contribute to the climate crisis

Fossil fuels are considered traditional energy sources and are burned to generate energy, emitting significant amount of greenhouse gases. The combustion of fossil fuels also releases air pollutants that harm the environment and human health. Harnessing renewable energy is not 100% carbon-dioxide free, mainly due to the manufacturing and construction of the infrastructure. However its carbon footprint is minimal and, in general, much better for the environment.

Unfortunately, 88% of the total US energy consumption is currently fueled by fossil fuels and only 12% is from renewable energy sources. Therefore, infrastructure developments will be integral to our transition to renewable energy sources.

Energy sources
Energy sources US 2020

Renewable energy

A renewable energy source is a sustainable energy that has an unlimited supply. The term “alternative energy” can also refer to renewable energy sources. It means sources of energy that are alternative to the most used non-sustainable sources like coal. 

Wind

Wind energy is harnessed by wind turbines. The wind turns the blades of a turbine around a rotor, which spins a generator, which creates electricity. Wind turbines can be built on lands (onshore) or in bodies of water like oceans and lakes (offshore). Wind farms are a group of wind turbines positioned together. The energy they produce passes through a transformer and eventually passes on to be used in homes and businesses.

Solar

Solar radiation is emitted by the sun, and solar technologies capture this radiation and turn it into energy. There are two main types of technologies: photovoltaics and concentrating solar-thermal power. Photovoltaics use solar panels; when the sun shines onto a panel, energy from the sunlight is absorbed by the photovoltaic cells in the panel. This energy creates electrical charges that move in response to an internal electric field in the cell, causing electricity to flow. Concentrating solar-thermal power systems use mirrors to reflect and concentrate the sunlight onto receivers that collect solar energy and convert it to heat. The heat is then used to produce electricity or stored for later use. Solar farms are large areas of land with interconnected solar panels positioned together over many acres to harvest large amounts of solar energy at the same time.

Hydro

Hydroelectric power is generated using flowing water to spin a turbine that turns a shaft connected to an electric generator. In many cases, hydroelectric dams are used to direct the water downward through the turbine in a way that can be controlled to maximize energy production. The four main ways to harness hydropower are 

  • dams (uses dams to channel the water and drive the turbines)
  • pumped storage (moves water between reservoirs at different elevations and provides on-demand electricity)
  • run of the river (uses water flowing downstream) and
  • tidal (uses the predictable movement of tides)

Geothermal

Geothermal power plants use steam to produce electricity, which comes from reservoirs of hot water found below the earth’s surface. The steam rotates a turbine that activates a generator, which produces electricity.

Biomass

Biomass is renewable organic material from plants and animals, mainly wood, crops and waste materials, animal manure and human sewage. Biomass can be burned directly for heat or converted to gaseous and liquid fuels through various processes.

Green New Deal

The Green New Deal is a proposal to fight inequity and tackle climate change created by Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Senator Ed Markey, along with dozens of co-sponsors.

The proposal acknowledges the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) findings that human activity is the dominant cause of climate change. Over the past century it has caused sea levels to rise and an increase in wildfires, severe storms, droughts, and other extreme weather events threatening human life.  It also highlights that the US has historically been responsible for a disproportionate amount of greenhouse gas emissions, having emitted 20% of global greenhouse gas emissions since 2014. It argues that due to its high technological capacity, the United States must take a leading role in reducing emissions through economic transformation. The goals set in the Green New Deal are clear, the US must aim to achieve net-zero greenhouse gas emissions, invest in infrastructure and industry to meet the sustainability goals and create millions of high-wage jobs in the process in the next ten years. 

Under the specific goals, the proposal also outlines that the US should meet 100% of its power demand through clean, renewable and zero-emission energy sources, which should be achieved by 

  • expanding renewable power sources
  • deploying new capacity
  • upgrading buildings to achieve maximum energy efficiency

4 easy steps to contribute to the energy transition 

1. Switch to a renewable electricity provider

Switching to a renewable electricity provider is the easiest and most important step to support the energy transition personally. As of 2021, 26 states in the US have deregulated their energy markets, meaning consumers can choose their electricity provider, natural gas supplier or both. If you live in one of the states where electricity is deregulated, changing your supplier is quick and easy.

All you need to do is see which companies provide service in your area and compare their offers on one of the many comparison sites, (for example ElectricChoice) and check if they offer renewable energy. Of course, you also need to pay attention to the prices, but in general renewable options should not cost you more than non-renewable ones. When you have researched your options, it is worth checking the reviews of your selected provider to see if people are satisfied with the service. Once you have chosen your preferred provider who offers renewable options, often all you need to do is to fill out a form online or make a phone call. 

The change will happen in the background and will likely to be completed very quickly, though this can vary with the companies involved. There should be no interruption in your electricity supply, and the new provider will inform your utility company of the change of supplier.

2. Vote for politicians who support the green agenda

Make sure to do your research on whether the politicians you vote for support the green agenda. Given that the energy transition to renewable sources requires heavy investments and significant political tailwind, your vote will shape the future. 

3. Be conscious about your energy consumption

Households collectively have a big impact on the energy transition. However, there are several ways to reduce energy consumption by implementing minor adjustments into your everyday lives. Think about the several ways you use energy from the moment you wake up until you go to bed again. Is there anything you can do to reduce your energy consumption?

  1. The easiest step is to not to use energy when you don’t need it. Switch off your computer when you are done using it, turn off the lights when you leave a room, turn the tv off when you are not paying attention. You will need to make an active effort in the beginning, but after a few days, you will find yourself automatically adjusting to this energy-conscious lifestyle.
  2. A more expensive way is to replace your electric gadgets with smart solutions (controlling temperature, lights etc) which will automatically optimize your energy consumption. 
  3. A more budget friendly solutions is to make small changes in your home, for example buy LED bulbs instead of incandescent bulbs. You can already save a lot of energy with this simple change. 
  4. Heating and cooling use a considerable amount of energy. In fact, more than half of energy use in homes is for heating and air conditioning. You can make a big impact just by adjusting your thermostat by a few degrees. 

Pro tip: Closing your curtains in the summer can help keep your home cooler, allowing you to limit your AC use and save money on your energy bills  

4. Divest fossil fuels and invest in clean energy companies

An important step is to vote with your dollars to drive the energy transition. It is essential to review both your individual investment portfolio and your company’s retirement plan (401k, 403b) as you could be unintentionally invested in fossil fuel companies. To learn how to divest your fossil fuel investments in 4 easy steps click here.

In addition to divesting from fossil fuels, you can also invest in clean energy companies. To drive real change, we suggest pursuing a thematic impact investing strategy to generate measurable impact to contribute to the energy transition. You could follow a sustainability-themed investing strategy as an everyday investor. However, this requires a lot of research, such as selecting the right investment strategy and the right fund or stocks. If you are not a financial expert with a strong understanding of sustainability, this may be difficult and time-consuming. At FLIT Invest, we aim to offer impact investing strategies that are accessible to everyday investors. We believe sustainable investing should be easy and your impact measurable. Sign up today for our waitlist to learn more.

These four steps require minor changes in your lifestyle, and in general shouldn’t disrupt your routine but can make a big impact in the long run. All it takes is being conscious about the energy we use in our everyday lives. 

  1. In our next article, we will explore how we can fight against climate change with our diet.
  2. Articles in the Save the Earth series:
    1. What contributes to climate change and how to Save the Earth
    2. Save the Earth II: Divest Fossil Fuels
    3. Save the Earth III: Switch to Renewable Energy
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