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An Overview of Renewable Energy

Renewable energy is the term used to describe energy that comes from sources whose supplies are regenerative and virtually inexhaustible. Among these sources are Solar (sunshine), Wind, hydro (water), Biomass (vegetation) and Geothermal (heat of the earth).

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Solar Energy is making an ever increasing impact. Solar power is renewable as long as the sun keeps burning the massive amount of hydrogen it has in its core. Even with the sun expending 700 billion tons of hydrogen every second, it is expected to keep burning for another 4.5 billion years. It can be used by anyone such as Passive Solar Homes (homes that are designed for natural heating and cooling) are popular in both mountain and desert areas, Solar Cooking is used to teach solar science principles in schools, Photovoltaics are used to provide power in places where constructing new power lines is too expensive or impractical.

 

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Wind Energy may have been one of the first energy sources harnessed by man. For centuries, windmills have been used to pump water and operate grinding-mills. Less than 100 years ago, windmills provided a significant amount of energy consumed in rural areas. Wind is often considered an indirect form of solar energy because wind currents are created when the sun unequally heats different areas of the Earth's atmosphere. It is renewable because the wind blows.

 

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Hydropower has been used for millennia in most countries of the world. Its longest application has been for use in mechanical tasks, such as grinding grain. With such simple mechanical devices as a "noria", it has also long been used to lift water. Within the last 100 years, hydropower was applied to the conversion of its kinetic energy to electrical energy. Today, hydropower produces 24 percent of the world's electricity and supplies more than 1 billion people with power.

 

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Biomass can be a significant energy resource when used as fuel. Biomass is plant materials or animal waste used as a source of fuel. In a sense, biomass is really another form of solar energy. Plants store energy derived from the sun and convert it into chemical energy through photosynthesis. Waste plant and animal materials still contain energy, which can be captured through "bioconversions”.

 

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Geothermal energy is nearly as old as the Earth itself. It comes from heat being trapped in hot melted rock, called magma or lava, below the Earth's surface. When this heat energy is tapped, it is a tremendous source of power. Geothermal energy is a renewable resource; about 95 percent of the hot water in geothermal reservoirs began as cool rainwater. When rainwater seeps through cracks in the Earth's crust, it is heated by magma and turns to steam. The steam rises to the atmosphere, cools, turns back to liquid, falls back to earth as rain and eventually seeps back through cracks to be turned back into steam.

 

Throughout history, these sources have been successfully harnessed and used to provide energy. Almost 2,500 years ago, the Greeks designed their homes to use winter sunlight for heating. Large, south-facing windows were used to collect solar heat, which was stored in massive walls and floors for gradual release throughout the night. The wind has also been used as an energy source for centuries. Some of its early uses include propelling ships and pumping water.

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Today's technological advancements have developed more efficient means of harnessing and using renewable energy sources, and these sources are gaining increasing popularity. They offer us alternatives to nonrenewable energy sources such as oil, coal and natural gas which, when burned can cause acid rain and contribute to the overall warming of the Earth known as the "Greenhouse Effect”. Existing renewable energy installations are making significant contributions to the US energy supply, and research activities are demonstrating the far-reaching impact that a greater reliance on renewable energy sources could have on our country's energy security. In addition, on-going and planned research offers still more possibilities.

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