Over the years we’ve heard the phrase ‘eco-friendly’ used to describe almost everything in our lives. From our food to our shoes, those words have become part of the popular lexicon for millions of people around the world. When it comes to energy, however, things get a little more complicated. Most of us have a vague understanding of what eco-friendly energy actually is, with the idea of renewable energy sources reigning supreme, but precisely how this energy is harvested remains a mystery to most. As such, we thought it prudent to offer a brief overview of three of the different ways eco-friendly energy is produced in order to educate and inform those who might not otherwise know.
Wind power is one of the most popular ways of eco-friendly energy production in the world, but it’s not without its detractors. Wind turbines are seen by many as a blight on the landscape and as a waste of energy, given their construction requires the use of non-eco-friendly energy. That said, a typical wind turbine in the UK pays pay its energy used in its construction within three to five months, and pays back over 20 times its energy within its lifetime. Wind turbines are one of the easiest forms of energy generation to explain, too. Put in its most simple form, wind turns the blades on a wind turbine, which then spins a shaft which is connected to a generator which turns the kinetic energy of that movement into useable electricity. Of course, if there’s no wind, then no energy is produced, meaning these turbines can be quite temperamental if placed in the wrong location.
Solar power is another increasingly common form of green energy production, with many homes across the UK and abroad having them installed on their roofs, as well as solar power farms popping up around the world. Solar panels work by harvesting the sunlight which hits them. They’re much more complicated than wind turbines, but they don’t require a scientist to understand them. Put simply, sunlight (photons) hit the panel and is absorbed by semiconductors which then knocks electrons loose. The flow of these electrons is known as a current, and by placing metal contracts on the top or bottom of the cell, this electrical current can be harvested in order to power your home. Solar cells are promising because sunlight is so pervasive on the planet, but solar panel technology is still very inefficient, typically only converting around 15% of the energy they could do. In the near future, these cells will be much more efficient and therefore capable of powering entire houses on their own.
If you’ve ever spent any time in the ocean, you’ll know just how much energy are in those waves. They have the power to knock us over, drag us down and change entire landscapes. They also have the power to generate electricity for us, if we do it right. Wave power has been around for over 1000 years in the form of ocean powered mills but in the modern age we’re working on ways to use it to power our entire country. One such way is to build a barrage across a body of water like an estuary. This system would hold water behind the barrage until the tide rises and then letting water out through pipes, which would be hooked up to turbines and therefore generate electricity. Another way are so called ‘marine current turbines’, which would use the power of currents to spin turbines and generate electricity. The problem with that latter one is managing the potential danger to life in the ocean, with special care having to be observed when looking to implement these forms of power generation. For a country like the UK, however, which is surrounded by oceans, this form of power generation could one day be a fantastic and endless source of electricity for the nation.