This is a practical guide to renewable energy as it applies to everyday life, namely your home and your lifestyle choices. My motivation for writing and maintaining this guide is my growing awareness that the life we know and enjoy now is not sustainable and that a big change is coming. How we deal with those changes will be some of the defining moments of this century. As one of the people who made me aware of the impending changes we all face, Matt Saviner said, “Deal with reality, or it will deal with you.” His web site, Life After the Oil Crash is one of the web sites that woke me up and if you haven’t visited it yet, I would highly recommend it. There are many other sites I would recommend you look up if you are interested in the big picture and you can find them all on the Sites of Interest on the right sidebar.

Renewable energy is produced cleanly from natural sources. It is not finite like fossil fuels (oil, coal, natural gas) and is less polluting.

There are negative qualities to many of these technologies. As we see it, the desirable aspects far overcome the negative qualities.

Wind Power
The latest turbine technologies have resulted in wind-produced energy becoming more cost efficient, and more widespread. New wind energy development is often cost-competitive with conventional energy technologies. The old smaller wind turbines did kill some birds. The new larger turbines turn more slowly and are more likely to be placed out of the birds’ migration paths, alleviating this problem.

Solar Power
Solar cells produce electricity from the sun. You see them in pocket calculators, garden lights and Coast Guard buoys. They are on roofs of housing and commercial establishments. Cost is falling. Efficiency is increasing. Conversion efficiency of silicon cells has increased from 4% in 1982 (the starting date of the Fund) to over 20% for the latest technologies. The cells create no pollution when they generate electricity.

They are presently not as cost effective as utility produced electricity. They are not suitable to produce industrial amounts of electricity where they would require huge amounts of space. The areas in which they are practical are growing. Cost keeps declining and efficiency is increasing.

Ocean Energy
Our advisors expect that wave action, current, tidal movement and temperature differential will become a new and outstanding form of clean energy. A unit in a French River has turbine apparatus which has been productive for several years. Many new trials are being made in Scotland and now in the US. In the past there have been problems with the deterioration of metals in salt water, marine growth such as barnacles and storms. For the most part these problems appear to be solved with the use of different materials. Ocean energy has a big advantage because the timing of currents and waves are understood and reliable.

Hydro Power
This technology is clean but limited by geography. This is already an important source of renewable electricity. The large older dams have had problems with marine life. Much improvement has been made on those dams to provide for marine life.

More attention is going to low-impact and “run-of-the-river” hydropower, which does not have these ecological problems.

Geothermal Energy
Geothermal Energy is produced by heat from sources below the Earth’s surface. For electricity generation, steam created by these underground heat sources is used to spin turbines. However in some cases sulfur is released, which has an unpleasant odor.

Biomass Energy
This is a broad category encompassing a variety of fuels produced from biological sources.

Waste gas (methane), emitted from landfills, breweries, waste water, animal sewage and coal mines, provides almost free fuel for stationary fuel cells and conventional gas generators. It is more environmentally beneficial to collect and burn this gas than to let it release into the atmosphere.
Ethanol is produced from agricultural products, such as corn, wheat, fruit, wine, and various kinds of cellulose including stalks and wood chips. The techniques are steadily improving.
Bio-diesel can be created from used or virgin plant oil. Commercial tests and production have been with rapeseed oil, soybeans, sunflower oil. It is mostly produced by individual experimenters. There is current interest in commercializing this product. Bio-diesel works well and is cleaner than petroleum-based diesel fuel. It is not yet certain that it will become a mainstream technology.