What is Renewable Energy? Definition, Types, Benefits and Challenges TWI

By converting agricultural, industrial and domestic waste into solid, liquid and gas fuel, biomass generates power at a much lower economic and environmental cost. A renewable energy source means energy that is sustainable – something that can’t run out, or is endless, like the sun. When you hear the term ‘alternative energy’ it’s usually referring to renewable energy sources too. It means sources of energy that are alternative to the most commonly used non-sustainable sources – like coal. Geothermal energy uses the heat trapped in the Earth’s core which is created by the slow decay of radioactive particles in rocks at the centre of the planet.

Non-renewable energy comes from sources that will either run out or not be replenished for thousands of years. These include fossil fuels, such as coal, and natural gases that are burned to generate electricity. Hydroelectric dams are a renewable energy source, but these are not necessarily green energy sources.

China, Italy, Japan, Norway and the United States are the top five small hydro countries by installed capacity. Many countries have renewable energy targets that include the development of small hydro projects. The number of renewable energy installations across states varies widely, reflecting individual state or regional priorities, and not always due to resource or technical potential. The transition to renewable energy depends on non-renewable resources, such as mined metals. Manufacturing of photovoltaic panels, wind turbines and batteries requires significant amounts of rare-earth elements which has significant social and environmental impact if mined in forests and protected areas.


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Many of the larger ‘mega-dams’ divert natural water sources, which creates a negative impact for animal and human populations due to restricted access to the water source. However, if carefully managed, smaller hydroelectric power plants do not have such a catastrophic effects on the local environment as the divert just a fraction of the water flow. Find about the different types of renewable energy sources that we currently use for electricity and how they’ll be used in the future to help further tackle climate change.

This method of generating electricity is still in its early stages but may be a major source of renewable energy in the years to come. The major disadvantage of hydroelectric energy is that, since it requires moving water to work, hydroelectric plants are restricted to rivers. This means that, like wind, power lines have to be built to transfer the electricity to populated areas. What’s more, the construction of dams can interfere with fish and other wildlife by changing the water level and blocking migration paths. Residents of Bonn have the opportunity to shape their own renewable energy landscape with membership in a citizen energy cooperative. Local businesses and associations can fundraise for renewable and energy efficiency projects in an innovative, yet familiar way.

Additionally, hydrogen can be stored in fuel cells that work like batteries to create electricity. In fact, there are already several types of cars that run off hydrogen fuel cells. Geothermal plants can be costly to construct, which is why geothermal energy is an underutilized form of renewable energy. What’s more, certain areas of the world would not be suitable for geothermal plants, as the could damage or destroy the underground components. Since ocean energy relies on the tides, it’s very consistent and predictable.

Depending on its size, an individual wind turbine can supplement a single home or business, while large-scale wind farms can power entire cities,and sometimes even entire countries. In Zhytomyr, Ukraine, the city government has made a commitment to reach 100% renewables by 2050. The University of Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, South Africa has helped the city make big strides in its transition to renewable energy. Their project installed a first-of-its-kind Southern African district heating project, which combined solar, co-generation, and gas heating technologies to serve more than 1,000 students living in 14 residence halls.

In March 2019, the five-kilometer Tokyu Setagaya rail line became the first urban rail service in Japan to be powered entirely by renewable energy. The light rail line, which transports 57,000 passengers each day, is powered by geothermal and hydro power. The switch to renewable power is projected to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by an estimated 1,263 metric tonnes per year. Cape Town includes citizens in renewable energy planning through discussion with community groups, civil society organisations and businesses to share solutions and discuss concerns and project updates.

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