Not all energy is created equally.
Green energy – a common buzzword nowadays, but what does it actually mean? We see a global increase in green energy discussions, regulations, companies and offers. This shift is crucial in order to make the sustainable transition possible, but it is also important to remain critical and knowledgeable on the trends and realities. That is why in this article, we will take a deeper look at the topic of green energy, and hopefully spark an important conversation.
Types of green energy
Energy is certainly among the main drivers of the sustainability challenge; it is a key area to tackle. Current methods of energy production, including burning fossil fuels, largely contribute to the large issue of greenhouse gas emissions. So, an alternative is needed. It should be sustainable, reliable, and affordable.
Green energy usually means any energy that is generated through natural resources. In most cases, it can be equated with renewable energy, which is naturally replenished and emits far less emissions, but not always.
The main renewable energy sources include solar energy, geothermal energy, wind power, biomass, and hydroelectric power.
If you’re unfamiliar with these terms, you can find some short and helpful explanations here.
One distinction between green and renewable energy is that renewable energy may also mean burning organic material from a forest, whereas this would not be considered green energy because of the carbon emissions of the burning process. As with most things, there are nuances to green and renewable energy, depending on how they are created. Speaking of nuances, our next article on Komoneed will open the discussion on how clean nuclear energy is.
Added green energy benefits
Among the various additional upsides of renewable energy sources is the potential for countries or even households and communities to become more self-sufficient. Where it was previously necessary to import and buy fossil fuels, there is now the opportunity to generate energy autonomously, with the right technology and natural resources available. This in turn leads to increased resilience, as communities or countries are hit less harshly by economic or political crises, spiking oil and gas prices. That enables more stable prices and improved accessibility.
Another benefit can be job creation through the renewable energy sector. Moreover, as we see the prices of green energy technology and the energy itself fall, this provides increased opportunities for consumers and countries to tap into this resource. Ultimately, the right renewable energy mix has to be devised and created, based on geographic locations, among other factors.
Green energy usage
Source: Umwelt Bundesamt
According to the United Nations, around 29% of global electricity is currently generated from renewable methods. Taking Germany as a more concrete example, let’s have a quick look at the use of renewable energy as displayed in the graph above.
One can easily identify that the share of renewable energy among the three purposes have all increased compared to 1990. However, as of 2021, the shares are still remarkably low, especially in heating and cooling (16.2%), and transport (6.8%). Electricity, with a share of 41%, has the highest relative use of renewable energy, but there was a noticeable downward trend in recent years.
To sum it up, renewable energy is still not the major source of energy in Germany, despite sustainability commitments of governments and companies, but it is increasingly used.
In fact, the German Environmental Agency states that around 217 million tons of carbon dioxide equivalents were prevented due to the use of renewable energy in 2021.
This may come as a surprise, but in many countries, the fossil fuel industry is actually subsidized by governments. These subsidies may be explicit or created through tax breaks. To put a number to it: the UN found that about $5.9 trillion was used for subsidizing this polluting industry. Included in this figure are the environmental and health damages that were excluded from the initial fossil fuel cost.
It makes more sense, then, that renewable energy production and adoption has not yet reached its potential.
Renewable energy criticism
As mentioned earlier, there are various types of renewable energy sources – some of which may not qualify as green energy.
For instance, geothermal energy requires drilling in order to access it, which may have a negative environmental impact. Thus, the sustainability of this method is highly dependent on the manner in which it is accessed. It is important to pay close attention to the drilling process and procedures to guarantee a net positive impact. Once accessed, geothermal energy has a huge potential in generating electricity.
Secondly, biomass is another at times questionable energy source. These power plants use organic material such as wood waste and sawdust to generate energy by burning them. Naturally, burning releases emissions – however, these emissions are usually lower than traditional energy sources like fossil fuels.
As a last note on this, it is always necessary to evaluate the sustainability of energy methods looking at the complete lifecycle.
Only when that is done correctly, can the true impact of these technologies be judged and compared. Moreover, the efficiency of renewable energy depends on numerous factors like the location, manner of usage and maintenance, and the specific technology used. As Greentech continues to evolve, the technology becomes more efficient and effective. If you’re curious about big players in the industry, have a read here.
To end this article, let’s remember that not all renewable energy is necessarily green energy. Many factors need to be considered over the complete lifecycle of the technology, which is continuously evolving itself. Overall, green energy is a pillar in the transition towards a sustainable world, and many great advancements have been made. However, governments need to support this shift by rethinking their subsidy policies and environmental regulations. Renewable energy ultimately offers great potential, not just in terms of reduced greenhouse gas emissions, but also in social benefits like resilience, accessibility, and the empowerment of communities.
With that said, here are some tips for your personal energy use:
- No surprise here – adapt your daily habits to reduce your overall energy consumption: change your laundry settings, unplug devices, clear your vents, turn it off!
- Assess your own energy mix at home: what are the energy sources used? Talk to suppliers about the options available, and see if there is a greener alternative within your budget.
- Get active! You could look into the option of installing solar panels on your roof, if you live in a house. Additionally, discover smart home technology to increase your energy efficiency.
important discussion to be had, thank you for the insights
Just to clarify something that sounded obvious and of common sense… But it wasn’t 🙂
It is so shocking to see the numbers for polluting government subsidies. Truly disappointing, this has to be one of the first changes!
We should (must) pay more attention to what’s going on and improve our critical thinking!