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What Is a Renewable Energy Source? - Definition & Example

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  • 0:00 Renewable Energy Sources
  • 1:35 Types of Renewable Energy
  • 5:00 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Angela Lynn Swafford

Lynn has a BS and MS in biology and has taught many college biology courses.

Right now, you are using electricity to power your computer. Most of our power comes from nonrenewable sources that can run out. In this lesson, learn about the many types of renewable energy sources that will never run out and could be used instead.

Definition of Renewable Energy Source

Every day we rely on energy to provide us with electricity, hot water, and fuel for our cars. Most of this energy comes from fossil fuels, such as coal, oil, and natural gas. These are nonrenewable energy sources, which means that if we use them all up, we can never get more during our lifetime. Fossil fuels also contribute greatly to global climate change by releasing carbon dioxide into the air when they are burned.

Because fossil fuels can run out and are bad for the environment, it is important that we start switching to other energy sources, like renewable energy sources. These are energy sources that are constantly being replenished, such as sunlight, wind, and water. This means that we can use them as much as we want, and we do not have to worry about them running out. Additionally, renewable energy sources are usually much more environmentally friendly than fossil fuels. Overall, they release very few chemicals, like carbon dioxide, that can harm the environment.

Currently, less than ten percent of all the energy we use comes from renewable sources. So, you might be wondering, 'if renewable energy sources do not harm the environment and will not run out, then why are we not using them everywhere and all the time?' It is because many of them are currently expensive to harness, are inefficient, or have other disadvantages. For example, using energy from the wind might be great in an area that is really windy all year-round, but it wouldn't work so well in an area with very little wind.

Types of Renewable Energy

Let's look a little closer at five examples of renewable energy sources, including the pros and cons of each.

Solar energy, or energy from the sun, is harnessed using solar collectors. This collected energy can then be used to provide heat, light, or other forms of electricity.

  • Pros: Sunlight is free and readily available almost everywhere. Using it does not create any wastes or pollutants.
  • Cons: The technology needed to collect and use solar energy can be expensive. Sunlight can only be collected during the day when it is sunny.

Wind energy is just what it sounds like: energy that we get from the wind. Windmills have been used for hundreds of years to pump water from the ground. Today, we use large, tall wind turbines that use the wind to generate electricity. Many wind turbines are often placed together in wind farms in flat areas with strong winds.

  • Pros: Does not produce any waste or pollutants. It takes up little ground space.
  • Cons: Wind turbines can disturb or kill flying creatures, like birds and bats. Wind is not constant and reliable everywhere.

When water is used to generate electricity, it is called hydroelectric power, or hydropower. Most hydropower plants use a dam on a river to create a reservoir to store water. As water is released from the reservoir, it flows through a turbine and causes it to spin. This activates a generator that produces electricity.

  • Pros: Hydropower is relatively inexpensive, and it leaves no harmful chemicals.
  • Cons: Dams can change and destroy habitats near rivers. Dams can also prevent the migration of fish.

Geothermal energy comes from heat produced naturally inside the Earth. Geothermal reservoirs are underground areas of steam or hot water that can be used to produce electricity or heat for our needs. Geothermal pumps can be used to move heat from the Earth into homes during the winter and move heat from homes back to the Earth during the summer. This works because the temperature just beneath the Earth's surface remains fairly constant throughout the year, and it is hotter than the air in winter but cooler than the air in summer.

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