Scientists have developed several clean energy technologies that can help the world reduce its dependence on fossil fuels. Making these technologies successful, however, will require investments from entrepreneurs willing to look toward the future of energy production.
Understanding what each type of clean energy technology offers could help you find opportunities to support companies exploring this exciting new area of the energy industry.
Organic materials produce a wide variety of gases as they break down. Landfills can harvest gases like methane and burn it to create electricity. Burning these gases may raise some concerns among environmentalists, but it is certainly a safer approach than burning fossil fuels taken from the ground.
Farmers can also harness biogas energy by collecting methane and carbon dioxide from manure and compost.
Biogas is a renewable resource that makes up a small percentage of the world’s energy production. It may develop into a useful way for communities to produce more of their electricity locally, which would help reduce the need for large infrastructure that can cost a lot of money and use significant resources.
Biomass energy, also called biofuel, is a renewable type of energy generated from living organisms instead of fossil fuels. This has become an increasingly popular option in the United States, where farmers now raise soybeans, corn, sugarcane, and other crops specifically for energy purposes.
Bioethanol is probably the most widely used type of biofuel. Bioethanol is most commonly used as a fuel additive. In its pure form, however, it can power combustion engine vehicles on its own.
Biomass energy is a renewable energy, but it raises some concerns among critics who want to use farmland for raising food.
Geothermal energy uses heat from the earth to generate electricity. There are currently about 24 countries using geothermal energy. The United States produces nearly 30% of the world’s geothermal power.
The availability of geothermal energy depends greatly on location. Harnessing the power requires access to the earth’s heat and protection from seismic activity that can damage equipment. Many geothermal plants are located along fault lines. The world’s largest geothermal energy producer sits about 72 miles north of San Francisco, where a system of natural geysers makes it relatively easy to access heat.
Hydropower can include any technology that uses water movement to generate electricity. In most cases, the term refers to hydroelectric dams. Hydropower is also generated by using the kinetic energy of rivers and ocean waves. Other hydropower technologies include:
- Pumped Storage – An approach that involves using electricity to pump water to higher elevations. When power demands increase, the water is allowed to flow downhill. This moves turbines to generate more electricity. Some researchers describe this as a natural battery that stores electricity for future use.
- Conduit – Conduit hydropower relies on turbines placed within irrigation canals and other existing water infrastructures. There are already numerous natural and manmade canals in the world that offer opportunities for generating electricity without damaging the environment.
- Small Hydro – Instead of relying on large dams that can pose some environmental hazards, small hydro technology relies on minimal infrastructure and redesigning existing dams so that they work in coordination with local ecosystems. Many experts expect small hydro to become one of the fastest growing sectors within the energy industry.
Environmentalists often support hydropower because it uses naturally occurring kinetic energy to generate electricity. The energy is already there in the flow of rivers, streams, and ocean waves. Engineers just have to build efficient turbines to capture that energy and turn it into electricity.
Solar energy will almost certainly become a significant source of municipal and privately generated energy over the next few decades. The technology has evolved quickly, making it an affordable energy source for people living in places that receive abundant sunlight throughout the year. Improved battery technology could also make solar energy a useful option for communities in a wider variety of climates.
Innovative companies have developed numerous ways to harness the sun’s power. Some of the most promising types of solar panels include single silicon, multi-silicon, building integrated photovoltaic, and solar thermal.
- Single Silicon – Single silicon panels are extremely efficient, but fairly expensive because they contain such high amounts of silicon. Many of the solar panels installed on building roofs are single silicon designs.
- Multi-silicon – Multi-silicon panels are slightly less efficient than single silicon panels, but they are less expensive. This makes them a good option for homeowners who value energy independence but do not want to spend too much money on equipment and installation.
- Building Integrated Photovoltaic – One of the most exciting developments in clean energy technology. Building integrated photovoltaic panels look like regular roof tiles or shingles. This makes them an attractive option. They currently cost more and are less efficient than other solar panels, but that could change soon as more companies invest in research and development.
- Thin Film – Another exciting option that could benefit from more research. Thin film solar panels are extremely affordable. They are not very efficient, though. Solar farms often use thin film. Some companies have also used this technology to create portable solar devices for powering smartphones and laptops.
The world will almost certainly depend on more solar energy in the upcoming decade. As fossil fuels become more problematic, solar looks like an impressive option that could meet the world’s energy needs without causing much pollution.
Wind energy converts the kinetic energy of flowing air into electricity. Wind farms have become a popular way to generate low-cost electricity, especially in open spaces where wind can blow freely. The most efficient wind farms are actually located off shore, where the wind can reach high speeds without interference from buildings, forests, or mountains.
Denmark currently leads the world in wind energy production. The country relies on wind turbines to generate about a third of its electricity.
No one knows what types of clean energy technologies scientists will develop in the near future, but they will add to the current arsenal that helps people wean themselves off fossil fuels.