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Green energy includes natural energetic processes that can be harnessed with little pollution. Anaerobic digestion, geothermal power, wind power, small-scale hydropower, solar energy, biomass power, tidal power, and wave power fall under such a category. Some definitions may also include power derived from the incineration of waste.Some people, including George Monbiot and James Lovelock have specifically classified nuclear power as green energy. Others, including Greenpeace disagree, claiming that the problems associated with radioactive waste and the risk of nuclear accidents (such as the Chernobyl disaster) pose an unacceptable risk to the environment and to humanity.

No power source is entirely impact-free. All energy sources require energy and give rise to some degree of pollution from manufacture of the technology.In several countries with common carrier arrangements, electricity retailing arrangements make it possible for consumers to purchase green electricity (renewable electricity) from either their utility or a green power provider.

When energy is purchased from the electricity network, the power reaching the consumer will not necessarily be generated from green energy sources. The local utility company, electric company, or state power pool buys their electricity from electricity producers who may be generating from fossil fuel, nuclear or renewable energy sources. In many countries green energy currently provides a very small amount of electricity, generally contributing less than 2 to 5% to the overall pool. In some U.S. states, local governments have formed regional power purchasing pools using Community Choice Aggregation and Solar Bonds to achieve a 51% renewable mix or higher, such as in the City of San Francisco.

A Solar Trough System
By participating in a green energy program a consumer may be having an effect on the energy sources used and ultimately might be helping to promote and expand the use of green energy. They are also making a statement to policy makers that they are willing to pay a price premium to support renewable energy. Green energy consumers either obligate the utility companies to increase the amount of green energy that they purchase from the pool (so decreasing the amount of non-green energy they purchase), or directly fund the green energy through a green power provider. If insufficient green energy sources are available, the utility must develop new ones or contract with a third party energy supplier to provide green energy, causing more to be built. However, there is no way the consumer can check whether or not the electricity bought is "green" or otherwise.

In some countries such as the Netherlands, electricity companies guarantee to buy an equal amount of 'green power' as is being used by their green power customers. The Dutch government exempts green power from pollution taxes, which means green power is hardly any more expensive than other power.

In the United States, one of the main problems with purchasing green energy through the electrical grid is the current centralized infrastructure that supplies the consumer’s electricity. This infrastructure has led to increasingly frequent brown outs and black outs, high CO2 emissions, higher energy costs, and power quality issues. An additional $450 billion will be invested to expand this fledgling system over the next 20 years to meet increasing demand. In addition, this centralized system is now being further overtaxed with the incorporation of renewable energies such as wind, solar, and geothermal energies. Renewable resources, due to the amount of space they require, are often located in remote areas where there is a lower energy demand. The current infrastructure would make transporting this energy to high demand areas, such as urban centers, highly inefficient and in some cases impossible. In addition, despite the amount of renewable energy produced or the economic viability of such technologies only about 20 percent will be able to be incorporated into the grid. To have a more sustainable energy profile, the United States must move towards implementing changes to the electrical grid that will accommodate a mixed-fuel economy.

Turbine at a Micro Hydro Power Plant
Types of Green Energy Systems
However, several initiatives are being proposed to mitigate these distribution problems. First and foremost, the most effective way to reduce USA’s CO2 emissions and slow global warming is through conservation efforts. Opponents of the current US electrical grid have also advocated for decentralizing the grid. This system would increase efficiency by reducing the amount of energy lost in transmission. It would also be economically viable as it would reduce the amount of power lines that will need to be constructed in the future to keep up with demand. Merging heat and power in this system would create added benefits and help to increase its efficiency by up to 80-90%. This is a significant increase from the current fossil fuel plants which only have an efficiency of 34%.

A more recent concept for improving our electrical grid is to beam microwaves from Earth-orbiting satellites or the moon to directly when and where there is demand. The power would be generated from solar energy captured on the lunar surface In this system, the receivers would be “broad, translucent tent-like structures that would receive microwaves and convert them to electricity”. NASA said in 2000 that the technology was worth pursuing but it is still too soon to say if the technology will be cost-effective.

The World Wide Fund for Nature and several green electricity labelling organizations have created the Eugene Green Energy Standard under which the national green electricity certification schemes can be accredited to ensure that the purchase of green energy leads to the provision of additional new green energy resources.

Local green energy systems
Harnessing Wind Energy
Those not satisfied with the third-party grid approach to green energy via the power grid can install their own locally based renewable energy system. Renewable energy electrical systems from solar to wind to even local hydro-power in some cases, are some of the many types of renewable energy systems available locally. Additionally, for those interested in heating and cooling their dwelling via renewable energy, geothermal heat pump systems that tap the constant temperature of the earth, which is around 7 to 15 degrees Celsius a few feet underground, are an option and save money over conventional natural gas and petroleum-fueled heat approaches.

The advantage of this approach in the United States is that many states offer incentives to offset the cost of installation of a renewable energy system. In California, Massachusetts and several other U.S. states, a new approach to community energy supply called Community Choice Aggregation has provided communities with the means to solicit a competitive electricity supplier and use municipal revenue bonds to finance development of local green energy resources. Individuals are usually assured that the electricity they are using is actually produced from a green energy source that they control. Once the system is paid for, the owner of a renewable energy system will be producing their own renewable electricity for essentially no cost and can sell the excess to the local utility at a profit.

Using green energy

Renewable energy, after its generation, needs to be stored in a medium for use with autonomous devices as well as vehicles. Also, to provide household electricity in remote areas (that is areas which are not connected to the mains electricity grid), energy storage is required for use with renewable energy. Energy generation and consumption systems used in the latter case are usually stand-alone power systems.

Some examples are:
  • Energy carriers as hydrogen, liquid nitrogen, compressed air, oxyhydrogen, batteries, to power vehicles. 
  • Flywheel energy storage, pumped-storage hydroelectricity is more usable in stationary applications (eg to power homes and offices. In household power systems, conversion of energy can also be done to reduce smell. For example organic matter such as cow dung and spoilable organic matter can be converted to biochar. To eliminate emissions, carbon capture and storage is then used.
Tides-A form of Renewable Energy
Usually however, renewable energy is derived from the mains electricity grid. This means that energy storage is mostly not used, as the mains electricity grid is organised to produce the exact amount of energy being consumed at that particular moment. Energy production on the mains electricity grid is always set up as a combination of (large-scale) renewable energy plants, as well as other power plants as fossil-fuel power plants and nuclear power. This combination however, which is essential for this type of energy supply (as eg wind turbines, solar power plants etc.) can only produce when the wind blows and the sun shines. This is also one of the main drawbacks of the system as fossil fuel powerplants are polluting and are a main cause of global warming (nuclear power being an exception). Although fossil fuel power plants too can made emissionless (through carbon capture and storage), as well as renewable (if the plants are converted to e.g. biomass) the best solution is still to phase out the latter power plants over time. Nuclear power plants too can be more or less eliminated from their problem of nuclear waste through the use of nuclear reprocessing and newer plants as fast breeder and nuclear fusion plants.

Renewable energy power plants do provide a steady flow of energy. For example hydropower plants, ocean thermal plants, osmotic power plants all provide power at a regulated pace, and are thus available power sources at any given moment (even at night, windstill moments etc.). At present however, the number of steady-flow renewable energy plants alone is still too small to meet energy demands at the times of the day when the irregular producing renewable energy plants cannot produce power.

Besides the greening of fossil fuel and nuclear power plants, another option is the distribution and immediate use of power from solely renewable sources. In this set-up energy storage is again not necessary. For example, TREC has proposed to distribute solar power from the Sahara to Europe. Europe can distribute wind and ocean power to the Sahara and other countries. In this way, power is produced at any given time as at any point of the planet as the sun or the wind is up or ocean waves and currents are stirring. This option however is probably not possible in the short-term, as fossil fuel and nuclear power are still the main sources of energy on the mains electricity net and replacing them will not be possible overnight.

Several large-scale energy storage suggestions for the grid have been done. This improves efficiency and decreases energy losses but a conversion to a energy storing mains electricity grid is a very costly solution. Some costs could potentially be reduced by making use of energy storage equipment the consumer buys and not the state. An example is car batteries in personal vehicles that would double as an energy buffer for the electricity grid. However besides the cost, setting-up such a system would still be a very complicated and difficult procedure. Also, energy storage apparatus' as car batteries are also built with materials that pose a threat to the environment (eg sulphuric acid). The combined production of batteries for such a large part of the population would thus still not quite environmental. Besides car batteries however, other large-scale energy storage suggestions for the grid have been done which make use of less polluting energy carriers (eg compressed air tanks and flywheel energy storage).

Green Energy in United States

The United States Department of Energy (DOE), the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and the Center for Resource Solutions (CRS) recognizes the voluntary purchase of electricity from renewable energy sources (also called renewable electricity or green electricity) as green power.

The most popular way to purchase renewable energy as revealed by NREL data is through purchasing Renewable Energy Certificates (RECs). According to a Natural Marketing Institute (NMI) survey 55 percent of American consumers want companies to increase their use of renewable energy.

DOE selected six companies for its 2007 Green Power Supplier Awards, including Constellation NewEnergy; 3Degrees; Sterling Planet; SunEdison; Pacific Power and Rocky Mountain Power; and Silicon Valley Power. The combined green power provided by those six winners equals more than 5 billion kilowatt-hours per year, which is enough to power nearly 465,000 average U.S. households.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency‎ (USEPA) Green Power Partnership is a voluntary program that supports the organizational procurement of renewable electricity by offering expert advice, technical support, tools and resources. This can help organizations lower the transaction costs of buying renewable power, reduce carbon footprint, and communicate its leadership to key stakeholders.

Throughout the country, more than half of all U.S. electricity customers now have an option to purchase some type of green power product from a retail electricity provider. Roughly one-quarter of the nation's utilities offer green power programs to customers, and voluntary retail sales of renewable energy in the United States totaled more than 12 billion kilowatt-hours in 2006, a 40% increase over the previous year.

About the Author

Sardar Kashif ur Rehman He is B.Sc in Civil Engineering from "National University of Sciences and Technology Pakistan"


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