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green@work : Magazine : Back Issues : Sept/Oct 2002 : Special Section

Special Section

Renewable Energy

The United States currently relies heavily on coal, oil and natural gas for its energy. Fossil fuels are nonrenewable, that is, they draw on finite resources that will eventually dwindle, becoming too expensive or too environmentally damaging to retrieve. In contrast, renewable energy resources—such as wind and solar energy—are constantly replenished and will never run out. Most renewable energy comes either directly or indirectly from the sun.

Sunlight, or solar energy, can be used directly for heating and lighting homes and other buildings, for generating electricity and for hot water heating, solar cooling and a variety of commercial and industrial uses. The sun’s heat drives the winds, whose energy is captured with wind turbines, which are used to generate electricity.

Sunlight also causes plants to grow, and the organic matter that makes up those plants is known as biomass. Biomass can be used to produce electricity, transportation fuels or chemicals. The use of biomass for any of these purposes is called bioenergy.

But not all renewable energy resources come from the sun. Geothermal energy taps the earth’s internal heat for a variety of uses, including electric power production, and the heating and cooling of buildings.

Another form of renewable energy comes from the energy created by flowing water, which can be captured and turned into electricity. This is called hydropower.

Finally, there’s also ocean energy—energy that comes from a number of sources. One source is tidal energy, including the energy of the ocean’s waves, which are driven by both the tides and the winds. The sun also warms the surface of the ocean more than the ocean depths, creating a temperature difference that can be used as an energy source. Both these forms of ocean energy can be used to produce electricity.

Why It’s Important
Renewable energy is important because of the key benefits it provides:
* Environmental benefits—renewable energy technologies are clean sources of energy that have a much lower environmental impact than conventional energy technologies.
* Energy for our children’s children’s children—renewable energy will not run out. Ever. Other sources of energy are finite and will some day be depleted.
* Jobs and the economy—most renewable energy investments are spent on materials and workmanship to build and maintain the facilities, rather than on costly energy imports. Renewable energy investments are usually spent within the United States, frequently in the same state, and often in the same town. This means a consumer’s energy dollars stay home to create jobs and fuel local economies, rather than going overseas. Meanwhile, renewable energy technologies developed and built in the United States are being sold overseas, providing a boost to the U.S. trade deficit.
* Energy security—after the oil supply disruptions of the early 1970s, the U.S. has increased its dependence on foreign oil supplies instead of decreasing it. This increased dependence impacts more than just our national energy policy.


Source: National Renewable Energy Laboratory (

Next: - A Wise Energy Strategy

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