What is sustainable energy? The common, yet rather simple definition is that an energy source is sustainable when it does not jeopardize the energy sources of future generations. Fossil fuels are an example of an energy source that will not be available for future generations.
Since March 2020 we have 8 solar panels on the south side of the roof of our house. The computer of the system informs us that we saved 3,4 tonnes of CO2. Moreover, we saved almost 800 euros on our energy bill. The excess energy we produce with our solar panels is transferred to the national electricity grid, for which we get a fee.
A friend of ours has built solar panels on the roof of his camper.
There are more alternative, sustainable energy sources, such as wind turbines and geothermal energy. The necessity of energy is reduced with the isolation of buildings, and the use of public transportation. Hybrid and electric cars also reduce the total demand for energy. These are all alternatives we can implement ourselves.
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Table of contents
What is energy?
When we lift a stone from the ground, the energy of the movement of our muscles transforms the gravitational energy of the earth to the stone. The power of our movement stored the gravitational power of the earth in the stone. When we release the stone, we also release the gravitational powers stored in the stone, which powers make the stone drop back to the ground.
This means that as long as energy is stored – we don’t move, the stone is not lifted, the gravitational powers of the earth are not challenged – nothing happens. No energy is released.
Another example is when the sun shines on our house all day the house gets really hot. The energy of the rays of the sun is transferred to and stored in the stones of our house. As long as the sun shines, we hardly notice this.
However, when the temperature goes down during the evening, the heat of the stones of the house is transferred to the outside air. When we sit close to the house we can feel the heat radiating from the stones of the house into the air.
What is sustainable energy?
Energy is all about the transfer of power from one object to another. No energy is ever lost. This is nice yet also causes many problems when the energy is stored in such a way that it disturbs the energy balance within a limited ecosystem such as the earth’s atmosphere.
The best known, and at the same time most dreaded, example is the warming of the earth’s atmosphere due to the overuse of fossil fuels. The overheating of the earth’s atmosphere causes the climate to change with catastrophic consequences.
Compare it with the example of the sun rays heating the stones of our house. When we burn fossil fuels to power combustible engines, such as the one in our car, the excess energy of the burning of these fuels is released as heat to the outside air. This heat warms up the earth’s atmosphere.
Moreover, during the burning of fossil fuels, CO2 is released which traps the energy of infrared light near the surface of the earth. As a consequence, the surface and the lower atmosphere are warmed up even more.
The lifetime of CO2 increases, the more CO2 enters the atmosphere. It takes many thousands of years for the effects of CO2 to decrease after human-made CO2 emissions stopped. Human-made CO2 emissions cover 70% of the world’s current CO2 emissions.
The rising CO2 levels also cause acidification of ocean waters. CO2 mixed with water produces carbonic acid, which disables sea life. Scientific estimates predict that by the year 2100 marine ecosystems will be seriously disrupted.
Alternative energy sources
We distinguish two types of alternative and sustainable energy sources, active and passive ones. The active ones are our solar panels. Other active ones mentioned are wind and geothermal energy.
The passive one discussed here is the use of a hybrid or electric car. Energy used by the car is passive because this energy is not produced by the car. The car only consumes energy.
The solar energy absorbed in one hour by the earth’s soil, waters, clouds, and atmosphere, is more than the amount of energy humans produce worldwide in one year. This enormous amount of energy can be, and is, used in many different ways.
The most simple way is to use the sun to heat water in panels. This heated water is used for all types of personal and domestic activities. In contrast, solar panels produce electricity. The advantage of water and solar panels is that they fit on every possible roof. The investment will also always pay off. Certainly against the ever-rising fossil fuel prices.
In Spain, there are a lot of solar panel parks. Usually on deserted stretches of barren land. This is rather strange because there are many open-air car parks next to malls and supermarkets and close to city centers which could use some shade. Why not make it a win-win situation?
Where we live is a lot of sun. So water and solar panels can be found on rooftops. And although there is also almost always a lot of wind, there are not many wind turbines. Not on residential rooftops, nor near agricultural or industrial areas.
The region where we live is windy because it is close to the sea. When the land and water temperatures are somewhat in balance in the mornings, there is not much wind. But from 12:00 pm onward, the wind increases.
It’s a pity that no proper and affordable home wind turbines exist yet. They could be a very profitable and sustainable supplement to our solar panels. During the nights, the weather is usually windy enough to produce the energy we miss, due to a lack of sunshine. With foul weather, during the daytime, the wind also is strong enough to produce the energy we need.
This we have only seen in The Netherlands. Probably because it is seen as an expensive and complicated system.
Applied to one residential property, the price of a geothermal installation is probably indeed too high at the moment.
However, geothermal energy production on a large scale is already competitive with the electric prices of nuclear and other fossil fuel sources.
Since geothermal electricity is best produced on the borders of tectonic plates, it’s rather surprising this type of energy production is not used in Spain on a large scale.
Hybrid and electric cars
The best way to go from A to B is on foot or by bicycle. This keeps you fit and healthy. In modern society, where the car and the energy industry have determined city planning, walking and cycling are a risky, if not totally impossible, effort.
So, the second-best way is by public transport. I very much enjoy public transport. But shopping for our daily groceries is impossible with public transport, or on foot or by bike. This is why I only shop once a week, in the car.
We don’t have a hybrid or electric car, yet. This requires a substantial investment. There has been a time when governments subsidized the purchase of a hybrid or electric car. This is no longer the case. Probably because the demand quickly depleted the available funds.
For us, an electric car would be ideal, because we could charge the car’s batteries with the energy of our solar panels. Thus adding a storage facility to the panels, when excess energy is produced by the panels.
We can all convert to sustainable energy
It’s obvious, from the previous explanations, that conversion to sustainable energy is possible for everyone. Those who live in apartment buildings should collectively put solar panels on their roof. If only because this is an excellent way to cut back on the energy bill.
Tenants should pressure their landlords to invest in alternative and sustainable energy. Governments can encourage such investments with subsidies. The possibilities at the moment are infinite. Which is for the best, because fossil fuels are not infinite.
Moreover, these fuels cause too much damage. Every year almost 9 million people worldwide die prematurely of the consequences of air pollution. This pollution is predominantly caused by the burning of fossil fuels. Let’s change this, and change it for the better.
Do you have any sustainable energy suggestions? Please write them down in the comment box.