The world is at a critical juncture in its battle against climate change. As the consequences of carbon emissions become increasingly apparent, the urgency to transition toward sustainable energy sources has never been more pronounced.
The green energy transition is boosting investments in renewables worldwide. For instance, a Norwegian company invests in green steel based on green hydrogen in Finland, which was partly driven by negative perception of wind power among Norwegians. This example sheds light on the intricate relationship between public opinion, geographical factors and the urgency to adopt renewable energy sources.
To navigate toward a greener and more sustainable future, let’s explore six emerging green energy sources, their advantages, disadvantages, carbon footprint and why they matter right now.
1. Wind Energy:
Wind energy is a remarkable source of renewable power. In Finland alone, wind power capacity increased by 75% and brought over 2.9 billion investments in 2022. Furthermore, Finland’s wide open spaces and vast amounts of land enabled wind power to generate over 14% of the country’s electricity consumption in 2022, with no end to growth in site.
On a life-cycle basis, onshore wind emits 11 gCO2 equivalent per kWh of electricity produced, while offshore wind emits 12g. The footprint includes emissions from the construction, operation and decommissioning, where construction emissions are highly dependent on chosen materials.
Pros: Lowest carbon footprint among all energy types. Reduces the need for energy imports, promoting energy independence and bolstering the security of energy supply. Abundant energy and technology advances are improving efficiency.
Cons: Noise and visual appearance of the natural landscape. Turbines require large, open areas often in remote locations making large component deliveries challenging. Also, when there is no wind, no power is produced, so reliance on a single source may not be sufficient. Additionally, windmills should be analyzed for their impact on bird and bat populations and locations should be chosen carefully to avoid disturbing wildlife.
2. Hydroelectric Energy:
Hydroelectric energy, also known as hydropower, generates electricity by harnessing the energy of flowing or falling water while leveraging generators and turbines to harness the pressurized water energy. Hydropower is a low-carbon source, emitting 24 gCO2 per kWh on a life-cycle basis. The emissions consist mostly of the construction of reservoirs, hydroelectric dams, tunnels, and other necessary infrastructure.
Pros: Hydro energy is usually stable, cost effective and can be adjusted to meet demand and has low indirect emissions.
Cons: High upfront capital costs and resource-intensive construction are required. The built dams can disturb fish and other wildlife. What’s more, to construct the dams, water may overtake large land masses that may have been previously used for other purposes. In addition, efficient hydroelectric energy utilization can be challenging in warmer climates with droughts. Nonetheless, hydropower holds the potential to contribute to the development of remote communities, particularly in areas with abundant water resources.
3. Solar Energy:
Solar energy is rising in rankings and is expected to overtake oil production investment for the first time in 2023. Solar energy is not dependent on other energy sources because the energy is converted directly into electricity using solar cells or photovoltaic (PV) panels.
The upfront costs of a commercial solar system is between $1.54 and $1.56 per watt, with a system in the U.S. costing approximately $325,000 USD. Other costs to consider include the storage space required to host the energy system and the solar panels, in addition to the land needed for the storage buildings.
Solar energy emits between 38 and 48 gCO2 per kWh on a life-cycle basis. The carbon footprint varies depending on the specific study, but the median value for rooftop solar is 41 gCO2 equivalent per kilowatt-hour of electricity produced.
Pros: Readily available source, with costs historically going down.
Cons: Contingent on sunny weather and has seasonal variations in solar radiation, particularly in northern countries. Large installations require lots of land. Dependent on rare minerals. Carbon footprint significantly larger than wind or hydropower.
4. Green Hydrogen:
Green hydrogen is an emerging green energy source that has gained attention due to its ability to only emit water vapor. The energy source is a form of hydrogen gas produced through a process called electrolysis, which uses renewable energy sources to power the reaction. It’s labeled “green” because it offers zero carbon dioxide emissions and increases efficiency. There are no carbon emissions produced during H2 production, with one gallon of H2 emitting zero pounds of CO2 when combusted. To put things into perspective, green hydrogen-powered vehicles achieve double the fuel economy of gasoline-powered vehicles. Due to its many advantages, Finland is expected to produce 10% of the European Union’s green hydrogen in 2030.The U.S. is also investing, with a $52.5 million clean hydrogen initiative already underway.
Pros: Enables the exploitation of intermittent green energy sources.
Cons: Production comes with high upfront costs, requiring storage and involving high cost of raw materials. Green hydrogen is highly flammable, creating additional safety precaution costs. The ecosystem is still evolving.
5. Fusion Energy:
Fusion energy is a promising clean energy source with zero carbon emissions and energy security. Based on nuclear fusion, where light atomic nuclei combine to form a heavier nucleus, the process releases an enormous amount of energy that mimics the same reaction that powers the sun and stars in our solar system.
While not strictly a renewable energy source, nuclear energy is often considered a low-carbon energy option. However, there are challenges to overcome, including the technical complexity that comes along with fusion reactors requiring high temperatures and pressures to sustain the process.
Pros: It offers an abundant fuel supply without greenhouse gas emissions, reducing reliance on fossil fuel imports. No radioactive waste.
Cons: Technical complexity and cost.
6. Thermal Heat:
Thermal heat is rapidly emerging as a groundbreaking green energy source for data centers, presenting an environmentally sustainable alternative to traditional power solutions. Iceland, in particular, has become a frontrunner in harnessing the power of thermal heat for data center operations. Located in an active geothermal zone, Iceland boasts an abundance of geothermal resources, allowing data centers to tap into the Earth’s natural heat. By strategically integrating geothermal energy into their operations, data centers can achieve efficient and renewable power sources, significantly reducing their reliance on traditional energy grids. This approach not only aligns with global efforts to transition to greener practices but also positions Iceland as a pioneering hub for sustainable data center solutions.
Pros: Thermal heat is a renewable and sustainable energy source offering consistent energy while producing low carbon emissions and offering a reduced reliance on external power grids. These systems also come with an extended equipment lifespan and have lower long-term operational costs.
Cons: High initial set-up costs, energy transmission losses and highly location dependent to tap into geothermal reserves.
The Importance of Developing a Green Energy Source Strategy
Green energy sources are crucial in addressing climate change and reducing reliance on fossil fuels. While each source has its own benefits and drawbacks, they collectively offer the potential to significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions and mitigate the impacts of climate change. It is crucial to consider the comprehensive life-cycle emissions of these sources as organizations define their journey to climate neutral — or even carbon negative.
Accelerating the adoption of green energy sources propels the global energy transition forward across every industry while reducing fossil fuel emissions. As tech leaders, we can be the drivers of real sustainable change in our industry and beyond. Contact us today to learn more about the green energy solutions we leverage.