Robert J. Kobet, LEED Faculty
Like many people in the green building movement, I believe renewable energy sources are the best option we have to fulfill our needs with minimal ecological disruption. Many different natural forces can be harnessed to collectively produce renewable energy while reducing impacts on the environment. This has the attendant benefit of creating a number of different jobs using a variety of skill sets. Energy technologies have advanced greatly over the past couple of years. The following are some of the advances in renewable energy today, as described in a recent article by Tech.co.
Solar Photovoltaic systems that convert the sun’s energy to electricity are the most popular type of renewable energy available today. In some places, individuals who generate energy from this renewable resource are paid for the electricity they produce. In the past couple of years, the cost of PV panels has reduced due to increased popularity. The application of solar panels has also changed over the years. Instead of mounting the panels on rooftops or mounting for industrial scale use, there are new unconventional ground and water based panel applications that are expected to transform the industry.
Today, there are several electricity providers that use wind farms to supply power to customers. Wind energy can be used for stand-alone applications as well as utility power grids or combined with solar applications. The American Midwest has been called the “Saudi Arabia of wind”. Some farmers in windy areas lease their land for large-scale wind farms or use small wind systems to generate their own electricity.
There are various research programs today to improve efficiency in wind energy systems. Researchers conduct aerodynamic field experiments using sonic anemometers, conventional anemometers and wind vanes to measure system characteristics like inflow, wind wake and the turbine response. Researchers have used the data obtained from these experiments to tweak wind turbine features such as structural loading, fatigue life, turbine aerodynamic response and power production in order to increase the performance of wind energy systems. The wind energy sector is looking towards reduced cost of wind energy in the future to make the resource more suitable for a greater variety of applications.
Wind energy is now being developed in cold climates, the greatest challenge being the icing of wind turbine rotor blades. Icing reduces the energy yield and shortens the service life of the turbines. Manufacturers have met the demand for cold climate installations by developing de-icing technology for the wind turbine blades.
Most power plants need steam to generate electricity. Geothermal power systems utilize the steam under the earth’s surface instead of fossil fuels to heat water for the steam that rotates the turbine to generate steam. Geothermal systems are much cleaner than their fossil fuel based counterparts. Geothermal power systems have been built in various parts of the world to access the constant heat from the earth’s interior where the geology is favorable. Here underground thermal aquifers fed by rainwater and snowmelt combine with the hot rock strata to produce steam. Where a natural water source does not exist, a working fluid is injected into the hot rock under controlled conditions. This advancement has made it possible to install geothermal power systems in areas that would otherwise be considered unsuitable for geothermal power production.
Geothermal energy power plant
Lastly, tidal power is a form of hydropower that harnesses energy from tides, a technology that is clean and sustainable with minimal impact on the environment. Tidal power is a great area of interest for a number of reasons. First, the majority of the earth’s surface is water and second, water is denser than air. Therefore, tidal turbines can be smaller and cover much less space while generating the same amount of energy as wind turbines. Also, 75% of the world’s population lives within 100 miles of the oceans, an important concern when considering the distribution of electricity generated. The current challenges faced in tidal power are design, installation and maintenance. Engineers are working on designing turbines that capture the maximum amount of tidal energy with low maintenance and connectivity costs.
84 Lumber and GreenEdge Supply share your interest in renewable energy systems. Visit us online at www.greenedgesupply.com and ask us about the various solar-based products we sell.