The Renewable Energy Revolution

ms in renewable energy

Renewable energy, once dormant, gained popularity among activists and environmentalists in recent decades. Energy sources, historically valued strategically, needed to meet cost criteria during the Industrial age to be viable. The industrial revolution and technological advancements increased energy needs, leading to the discovery of more practical fossil fuels, such as petroleum. This resulted in the replacement of inventions like the steam engine, particularly in mobility applications, by internal combustion engines.

Global recognition of energy’s strategic value prompted widespread engagement. Fossil fuel abundance led to monopolies, evident in past oil crises. Leaders recognized the depletable nature of stored energy, sparking a global quest for an endless energy source.

Exploring energy prompted reflections. Unbeknownst to mankind, evolution was fueled by renewable sources—wind, water, and sunlight. Oceans were navigated and civilizations employed water wheels, predating the conceptualization of renewable energy.

Initially overlooked, these sources were utilised minimally in the past. With exponential growth in energy needs, extracting the full potential of renewable energy became a challenge for mankind.

Renewable to Clean

In the late 20th century, a revolutionary revelation emerged. Scientific research demonstrated the environmental impact of indiscriminate use of hydrocarbon-based fuels, causing extensive pollution. Calls for cleaner energy solutions ensued, sparked by the catastrophic consequences of tapping into nature’s stored hydrocarbon reserves. The ongoing debate reflects differing perspectives on this complex issue.

All Renewables are not Clean

By 2010, solar panels powered small to medium enterprises and homes with improved efficiency. Global governments subsidised solar transition for clean energy, revealing the complexity of determining renewable energy cleanliness. Despite sounding paradoxical, achieving carbon-neutrality requires rigorous checks. Previously deemed clean, nuclear fission proved more hazardous. Mass-producing solar panels consumed more energy than their output. These revelations triggered internal conflicts among environmentalists, prompting scientists to scrutinise renewable energy scientifically.

Reasonable Goals and Global Initiative

After extensive research, a decision emerged to categorise renewable energy sources, acknowledging their varied cleanliness. This classification aimed at several long-term goals, highlighting the global nature of renewable resources. Concerns arose about the potential catastrophic impact of localised renewable energy extraction, surpassing the long-term harm of mined hydrocarbons. In 2009, the foundation ‘Desertec’ proposed harnessing Africa’s Sahara desert for massive renewable energy extraction, primarily solar and wind power. While initially promising, opposition arose due to the ecological interdependence between the Sahara and the Amazon rainforest, revealing potential irreversible environmental consequences if the Sahara undergoes significant change.

Categorization Parameters

Post Desertec’s rejection, a broad categorization ensued, classifying sources by core functions and replenishment capacities. Seven distinct energy reserves emerged from this comprehensive classification.

  1. Solar
  2. Wind
  3. Hydroelectric
  4. Geothermal
  5. Oceanic/Tidal
  6. Hydrogen
  7. Biomass

The Top 7

Solar Energy Reserve:

A prevalent renewable source, falls into the “Radiant Energy” category. It extends beyond photovoltaic panels, encompassing any utilisation of the sun’s radiant energy for practical purposes.

Wind Energy:

Ancient windmills served varied purposes, driven by specific needs. Modern wind turbines harness “Kinetic Energy” from moving air columns. Electricity generation from wind energy involves mechanical transformation of kinetic to rotational energy. Despite origins in the 19th century, the inconsistency in possible energy generation hindered its popularity.

Hydro Energy:

This renewable energy, commonly recognized as hydro energy or dams, stores energy through “Gravitational Potential.” Strict geographical conditions, like high altitudes, are essential. Despite the threat to ecosystems, hydro energy’s potential lies in its usable volume.

Tidal Energy:

This renewable energy utilises the ‘Gravitational Potential’ stored in tidal water, a result of gravitational interactions between Earth and the Moon. While akin to Hydro energy, Tidal energy is less dense, with geographical constraints making Hydro energy more cost-effective practically.

Hydrogen Energy:

The inception of hydrogen energy marked the world’s initial push for collective storage of diverse renewable sources. Hydrogen, a chemical form of energy, undergoes combustion to produce work. To be truly renewable, hydrogen should be produced through electrolysis from seawater(labelled as ‘Green Hydrogen’) using renewable sources like solar panels and hydroelectric dams. While costlier than ‘Gray Hydrogen’ obtained from fossil fuels, ‘Green Hydrogen’ serves as a cleaner renewable fuel. It becomes a renewable energy storage medium when combined with other renewable sources, maximising the productive potential of renewables by storing surplus electrical energy.

Geothermal Energy:

Earth’s interior heat, released through geothermal sources, offers controlled and eco-friendly thermal energy. Unlike volatile volcanoes, these sources, categorised under ‘Thermal Energy,’ convert their heat into steam for electricity. Although free from atmospheric pollution, corrosive trace chemicals pose turbine maintenance challenges. Limited capacity and geo-localization further question their energy supply reliability.

Biomass Energy:

Early mankind harnessed fire using dry trees, laying the foundation for biomass. Recognizing its renewable potential, the concept of ‘cultivating’ energy emerged. Converting biomass, like grains, into hydrocarbons through fermentation poses challenges. Shifting food crops for fuel-friendly ones raises food security concerns. Current biomass energy usage focuses on repurposing biological waste as feedstock without altering traditional farming methods.

Future of Solar:

With fossil fuel extraction costs rising, major establishments shift to solar power. Anticipated 35% cost reduction in solar panels by 2024 could fuel scientific advancements, making solar energy more accessible.

Future of Wind:

Anticipated advancements aim to boost onshore wind turbine capacity to 850 GW, a 57% increase. Research in material science and engineering suggests retrofitting mills with stronger equipment is feasible. Global investments from China, the USA, and Europe signal a promising campaign.

Future of Hydro-Energy Projects:

Aging hydroelectric projects highlight limits in innovation, compounded by environmental impact studies and the inferiority of geopotential hydro-electric projects. A modest 9% growth is projected for hydro-energy in 2024.

Future of Tidal Energy

Understanding that strong winds on Earth are lost as sea waves drove advancements in tidal energy research. Its potential spans across commercial, industrial, and residential sectors. Recent material science developments address past prototype limitations, creating resilient technologies. High-capacity tidal projects in South Korea and France use Tidal Barrage technology, with a projected global capacity increase of 30 to 40 percent. Yet, ecological impacts, akin to hydro-electric projects, raise concerns for coastal communities.

Future of Hydrogen Energy

Hydrogen is hailed as Earth’s future fuel, offering non-polluting energy. Limited natural hydrogen poses challenges, but seawater electrolysis can produce it, albeit energy-intensively.

Growing renewable projects create surplus energy, potentially used for hydrogen production, addressing storage issues. Industries focusing on personalized mobility favor hydrogen combustion or fuel-cell innovations. Research concentrates on hydrogen storage challenges. The hydrogen industry is expected to power global mobility by 2030, presenting opportunities, particularly in the Middle East where the UAE is actively participating, including offering renewable energy courses.

Future of Geothermal Energy

The geothermal projects are also picking momentum. Even though they have limited geographical access and require equipment made of much advanced materials and high chemical tolerances they are expected to grow by 28% from their existing deployed capacity.

Future of Biomass Energy

Middle Eastern countries, along with India, actively pursue biomass for their fossil fuel needs. Asian countries project production over 130 Mtoe of biomass-derived fuels regularly. Researchers collaborate with biotechnology experts to expand biomass-based renewable energy projects, focusing on maximizing existing food sources for sustainability.

The Common Stakeholders

Virtual power plants, an innovative technology, could reshape the world. Success hinges on educating and involving people in low-cost, deployable projects, like solar energy, enabling cost diversions and fair revenue sharing.

Resistance to change in technological practices is a common hurdle for renewable energy projects. Initial challenges can be addressed through cooperation, emphasizing the importance of instilling technological knowledge and appreciation in people.

Facilitate Change

Implementing technological changes requires caution, avoiding unilateral decisions. Thorough study of a people-friendly renewable energy project and specialized higher education courses are essential for smooth, transparent implementation.

Courses on offer like MS in renewable energy, mostly linger on the scientific and engineering domain. Adding essential concerns as part of it can improve them in developmental stages.

Renewable energy is poised to dominate global energy in the next 30 to 50 years, offering a conflict-free alternative. Through a cooperative, technology-driven approach, countries can operate renewable power plants worldwide. This paves the way for borderless utilization, fostering global cooperation in research and development.

As renewable sources become sufficient, carbon-intensive energy sources can be phased out. Educating the younger generation with a targeted curriculum is crucial for informed decision-making in future renewable energy projects.

Post the basic technological background studies, students today can choose courses like MS in renewable energy, as they offer a career in the booming renewable energy industry.

Embracing the renewable energy revolution with diligence is inevitable. Laying foundations for projects eradicates existential uncertainties, paving the way for diverse scientific advancements and enriching future generations.

Author Bio:

Betsy Thomas, a freelancer by profession but an educator at heart, has always been fascinated by the confluence of teaching and leadership.With a deep passion for education and technology, her writings offer insights drawn from rigorous research and a wealth of industry experience.

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