Environment

Green Energy: Why Switch and How to Do It

By Kelly Green
14.06.19

Louis Dunbar-Johnson and Kelly Green take a deep dive into the realm of ‘green energy’ - What is it? Why is it important? And how to make the switch.

 

In the past, President Donald Trump has called climate change a hoax, and last year cut funding for renewable energy by 72%, instead focusing his efforts on reviving what he calls ‘clean coal’. So today, on President Trump’s birthday, campaigner, author and founder of BuyMeOnce Tara Button is urging people all over the world to join her in protesting the US president by switching to clean energy for #TrumpsEarthDay.   “This is happening because Trump is putting our planet at risk right now through his policies. The situation is urgent and it needs action on a mass scale,” says Tara. “What better day to protest what Trump is doing than his very own birthday. The focus won’t be on him in his ivory Trump Tower, but on the positive things we are doing all around the world.”

 

But what exactly is clean or green energy? 

Green energy is renewable energy that is generated from natural resources such as wind, sunlight and water, causing less pollution than traditional fuel sources - which are some of the biggest causes of climate change.

Why go green?

1) FOR THE PLANET

The main reason to switch to green energy is to play your part in limiting the climate emergency our planet is currently faced with.

In 2016, parties to the UNFCCC pledged to limit the rise in temperature to 1.5 degrees through the groundbreaking Paris Agreement. However, an independent investigation by the New York Times found that few countries are even close to meeting the objectives they set under the agreement, and in June 2017 the planet was dealt a further blow when Donald Trump announced the US would withdraw from the deal, slashing funding into renewable energy by 72%.

This is especially worrying after a report from the European Geoscience Union found that an increase of temperatures of 2° could have devastating consequences:

o   37% of the world population would be subjected to extreme heat waves
o   98% of coral reefs will disappear
o   Up to 80 million people will be displaced

Image: How do the impacts of 1.5C of warming compare to 2C of warming? By Rosamund Pearce for Carbon Brief.

But what has all this got to do with energy? Quite a lot actually. Traditional fossil fuels, such as coal, gas and petroleum, are major contributors to climate change and environmental degradation, with CO2 - the gas most responsible for global warming - released when fossil fuels are burned. In fact, 29% of US greenhouse gas emissions are from fossil fuels. This doesn’t just affect climate change - 7 million yearly premature deaths linked to air pollution. Furthermore, fossil fuels, natural gas and oil are finite resources - they will run out.  

 

2)  FOR YOUR WALLET

Greener can actually be cheaper. Not only do some countries and states offer financial incentives for switching to green energy, a typical UK home could save £270 by choosing the cheapest renewable option. Win for you, win for the planet.

How Green Energy Works

When you switch to a green energy supply, fossil fuels are replaced by renewable energy sources.  Below we have listed the most common types of green energy, their benefits and disadvantages:

SOLAR POWER

Solar power is obtained by harnessing the energy of the sun's rays.

Advantages: No atmospheric pollution; can generate energy and heat; can be applied on a small scale (e.g. on your house or in your garden); the amount of energy received by earth in 30 minutes equals the amount humans use in a single year; the International Energy Agency projected in 2014 that by 2050 that concentrated solar power would be the world's largest source of electricity; and the cost of electricity from large-scale solar projects has dropped by 72% since 2009.

Disadvantages: Solar power can be unpredictable as it is affected by clouds, seasons, nighttime; initial set-up costs can be high, although maintenance is infrequently required and is cheap; requires a large surface area/space.

 

WIND POWER

Wind power comes from harnessing the energy of the wind.

Advantages: No pollution of air, ground or water; operating wind energy avoided the emission of over 250,000 metric tonnes of air pollutants in the US in 2013; infinite source; suitable for small scale production; can be built offshore; creates jobs: according to the Wind Revision Report, wind has the potential to support more than 600,000 US jobs in manufacturing, installation, maintenance, and supporting services by 2050.

Disadvantages: Noise and visual pollution; winds can be unreliable; there can be an impact on wildlife, with migrating birds potentially affected; high cost for wind pumps and transmission grids.

TIDAL POWER

Similar to wind turbines but operating below the surface of the water, tidal power is generated by converting the movement of water coming from change in tides into electricity.

Advantages:  Renewable energy supply; clean source - no climate gases emitted; water has 1,000 times higher density than air, which makes it possible to generate electricity at low speeds. 

Disadvantages: High cost of development and time taken to build; limited number of sites; potential impact on marine life.

HYDROPOWER

Hydropower uses the water stored in dams, as well as flowing in rivers, to create electricity in hydropower plants.

Advantages: clean and renewable; can be used 24/7; no waste byproducts; in 2015, hydropower generated 16.6% of the world's total electricity and 70% of all renewable electricity.

Disadvantages: costly to build; only a few places have big enough waterways; plants need to run at full capacity to be economical; can cause landslides and floods; occasionally interferes with aquatic life e.g. Yangtze dolphins in China.

How can you go green?

SWITCH TO A GREEN ENERGY SUPPLIER:

When you switch to clean energy, your supplier guarantees that however much electricity you take out of the grid, the same amount of clean energy will be put in.  There are an increasing number of clean energy suppliers in the UK, including Bulb, Good Energy, Ecotricity, and Octopus Energy. Big clean switch has a great platform where multiple green energy suppliers are listed, however it does charge a £30 commission so you might prefer to contact the suppliers directly. 

If you’re based in the US, check out the TrumpsEarthDay website for state by state providers.

INSTALL YOUR OWN GREEN ENERGY SOURCE:

Installing your own solar panels is another possibility, though it does require a large initial investment and a substantial amount of free space.  Solar guide UK and Greenmatch provide quotes for installation from various companies, and more useful information is available at energysavingtrust.org.uk

Pledge to switch to renewable energy by signing ‘Trump’s Earthday’ e-card

Want to get involved with the climate revolution? Read how to become a climate activist.

Switch to ethical banking and discover how to use your money for good through responsible investments.

Green Energy: Why Switch and How to Do It