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10 cool facts about renewable energy

By Rachel England Monday 15 April 2013

Sun, wind, sea, earth... no, it’s not the opening credits to 80s TV show Captain Planet (although the message is similar), it’s the four sources of renewable energy that are helping pave the way to a more sustainable way of living.

Solar power from the sun, energy from the wind, hydropower from waves and geothermal heat from the ground are all playing an increasingly important role in our energy mix, helping to negate the need for fossil fuels and reducing emissions pumped into the atmosphere by traditional sources of power.

Plus, as more and more people start harnessing their own renewable power through domestic solar panels, wind turbines and geothermal heat installations, they’re feeling the benefits through reduced energy bills and self-sufficiency, too.

The EU has set a target of 20% of all energy in Europe coming from renewable sources by 2020, and while some countries are doing better than others in meeting this goal, renewable energy is certainly on the agenda for all governments and will become progressively more prominent as energy concerns increase.

Here are ten cool facts you need to know.

  1. Despite all the technology surrounding renewable energy, it’s not a new invention. In 200 BC, people in China would use windmills to pump water and grind grain, and Romans were the first to use geothermal energy to heat houses.
  2. But we’re not quite there yet when it comes to making full use of renewable resources. Scientists reckon that if it were harnessed properly, all the sunlight that falls on the planet in just one hour could power the world’s energy demands for an entire year!
  3. One of the biggest complaints about solar power is that it only provides energy when the sun’s shining, but new developments mean that power from the sun’s rays can now be stored in a special salt and used at night. A power plant in Spain soaks up the sun during the day and by night pumps out seven hours of power to the surrounding area.
  4. The first ever commercial offshore wind turbine (located out to sea) was made by Siemens 30 years ago. Its blades were five metres long and it produced just 30 kilowatts of power. The company’s latest model has blades 75 metres long and produces six megawatts (25,000 times as much) – enough to power 6,000 homes.
  5. As technology evolves and the internet takes centre stage in all aspects of life, more and more energy is required to power data centres to feed our online habit. Companies such as Google, Apple and Facebook are helping to meet this demand by funding and developing massive solar farms, producing millions of clean kilowatts every year.
  6. A world record was set in 1990 when a solar-powered airplane flew across the United States in stages, using no fuel at all.
  7. Albert Einstein is well known for his work on relativity and gravity, but in 1921 he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics for his discovery of the photoelectric effect – which we have to thank for solar panels nowadays.
  8. The renewable energy industry was worth $257 billion in global investments in 2011 – 17% more than it was just one year before in 2010.
  9. While the United States is responsible for using the most renewable energy (24.7% of the world total), it’s actually smaller countries that top the charts for clean living. The Itaipu Dam in Paraguay, for example, provides 90% of the country’s electricity (and displaces 67.5 million tonnes of CO2 every year), while 100% of Iceland’s energy is supplied by geothermal and hydropower sources. The country has so much geothermal capacity that there are discussions about the feasibility of building an interconnector into the UK grid!
  10. According to the WWF, the whole world could get all the power it needs from renewable resources by 2050, ending our reliance on fossil fuels and other depleting resources, but only if the right political, financial and societal decisions are made, and quickly.
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