Renewable Energy: A Response to Climate Change
You’ve probably heard a lot recently about renewable energy: it frequently hits the headlines around the world, for a variety of reasons. Often, it’s a positive news story – about the record amount of renewable energy that’s been generated, for example – but sometimes it’s more controversial, such as the withdrawal of government support for renewable energy projects, or protests over plans for a new wind farm.
So why is renewable energy such a hot topic? And why should we care about it?
A Brief History of Climate Change
Put in simple terms, the temperature or climate of the Earth is determined by the balance between the energy that is received from the Sun and the rate at which energy is lost into space. This balance is affected by ‘forcing mechanisms’, including natural variations in the Earth’s orbit, solar radiation, reflectivity (albedo) of the Earth’s surface, tectonic plate activity, and greenhouse gas concentrations.
We use the term ‘climate change’ to refer to long-term changes in weather patterns across the globe. These changes, happening over decades or millions of years, can be caused by the natural effects mentioned above, but more recently scientists have identified significant changes to the planet’s climate due to human activities. This is known as anthropogenic climate change or global warming.
The most significant anthropogenic factor is the increase in emissions of greenhouses gases such as carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide into the atmosphere. Since the Industrial Revolution in the late 18th century, humans have been burning ever-increasing quantities of fossil fuels such as coal, oil and gas to power industrial processes, generate heat and electricity for factories, homes, offices and schools, and run our cars, buses, trains and planes. This has led to a 44% increase in the atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide, from 280ppm (parts per million) in 1750 to 404ppm in 2017.
The impacts of these changes in the atmosphere include increased global surface temperatures (global warming), changes in rainfall patterns, an increase in extreme weather events such as droughts, floods and storms, melting ice sheets and glaciers, ocean acidification and a rise in global sea level. Each of these has the potential to limit our ability to live safely on our planet, and threatens wildlife and ecosystems around the world.
So what can we do to combat the threat of climate change?
The Role of Renewable Energy in Climate Change Mitigation
Because the main cause of climate change is the emission of carbon dioxide from burning fossil fuels, the best way to reduce it would be to simply stop doing so. Unfortunately, because the global population continues to grow, and the demand for consumer goods is rising rapidly, it’s not that simple; so we need to find a replacement for fossil fuels to allow society to continue to grow and prosper without contributing further to global warming.
Luckily, we already have the technology to enable us to do this! Renewable energy comes from sources that are naturally replenished, such as sunlight, wind, rain, tides and waves, biomass and geothermal heat. Using these clean, renewable energy sources, we can generate electricity and heat, produce fuel for transport, and power industrial processes.
You’re probably already familiar with some of the most commonly used renewable energy technologies: solar panels have been used to heat water (solar thermal) or generate electricity (solar photovoltaic or PV) on domestic and commercial properties for decades. Large installations known as solar farms have started to become popular, especially in the sunniest parts of the world, to generate electricity on a bigger scale for distribution across the power grid – so much so that, for the first time, solar power was the fastest-growing source of new energy in 2016, according to the International Energy Agency.
Wind turbines are also a common sight in many countries and, whether you consider them beautiful or a blight on the landscape, they generate a significant portion of our electricity supply. In a number of European countries, more than a quarter of the total electricity generated will come from wind and solar by 2022 and in Denmark – expected to be the world leader – that figure will be around 70%!
Wind and solar – together with hydropower and other renewable energy projects – are gradually replacing some of the older and more polluting power stations, but there’s still a long way to go if we are to limit the effects of global warming to manageable levels.
Take Action to Support Renewable Energy
It may seem that one individual can have little impact on global energy production. In fact, everyone can do something to support the shift to renewable energy. Here are a few ways you can help:
- Invest in clean energy – If you have a suitable roof and can afford to install your own solar panels, do it! The advantages that solar can bring in our life are many and worth considering. A solar system can cut your electricity bill in half or even more, depending on your location, size of your solar array, and the efficiency of the panels. But if you cannot afford a solar system yet, you can still invest in solar, wind or other renewables through crowdfunding, non-profit community schemes or local green energy projects.
- Buy renewable energy – Whether you buy energy for your home or business, choose a green energy supplier or pick a green tariff from a mainstream supplier.
- Donate to an energy charity – There are plenty of charities that need your support to bring affordable clean energy to local and global communities.
- Vote for a green political party – Wherever you live, consider the energy policies of your local political parties, and support those that back renewable energy over fossil fuels. If you can, get more involved by joining demonstrations, lobbying your local representatives, and campaigning in elections.
- Use less energy! – No matter how your energy is generated, it’s better to use less of it. The lower the demand, the easier it is to supply all our energy needs from renewable sources, so switch off, turn down, insulate and be as energy efficient as you can.
By helping to support and accelerate the switch to renewable energy, we can all contribute to avoiding catastrophic climate change, and make our planet a cleaner, healthier, more sustainable place to live.
Author bio: Ovidiu is an environmental enthusiast and a passionate blogger. His main interests are climate change, renewable energy, and environmental issues. You can follow his blog by visiting Greentumble.