What is Clean Energy?

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

Clean energy may also be called renewable energy or green energy, and it specifically refers to energy produced from renewable resources without creating environmental debt. There are several other ways that this term can be defined, however. It may refer to energy processes that pollute less or, alternately, to energy that doesn’t pollute at all and doesn’t use resources that can’t be easily renewed.

The Hoover Dam is used to generate hydroelectric power.
The Hoover Dam is used to generate hydroelectric power.

The basic forms of clean energy are often cited as those that come from water, wind, or sun (solar). In some cases, some manufacturing and use of coal is considered clean and called clean coal. This last is a matter of dispute among environmentalists.

A wind farm, which is used to make clean energy.
A wind farm, which is used to make clean energy.

It’s hoped that by using this type of energy, especially as a total substitute for use of things like oil, might help to reduce global warming and greenhouse gas emission, creating a safer planet for all inhabitants. In reality, clean energy has its problems too, which have not been fully realized because it is not a complete replacement for energy created by non-renewable resources. For instance, wind farms that can provide power can have significant effect on local bird populations, and birds of some types can face grave depletion of numbers when they live near wind farms.

Solar panels can generate clean, renewable energy.
Solar panels can generate clean, renewable energy.

Nevertheless, these negative consequences these tend to be relatively small in comparison to the use of petroleum or non-clean coal. Many environmentalists reason that, though no power source is completely without risk, green energy could have a wide reaching effect on healing the planet and perhaps stemming the tide of global warming. An additional reason why it can be so desirable is because it tends to come from sources that are free. While harnessing this energy costs money, wind and sun aren’t owned by anybody in particular.

Clean coal is a form of clean energy.
Clean coal is a form of clean energy.

This is not the case with energy sources like oil. Most of the oil deposits in the world are gathered in a few places, and the majority is located in the Middle East. Many who are proponents of creating clean energy sources say that dependence on oil in foreign countries creates a host of diplomatic problems. Countries may need to sacrifice in order to get the resources they need, or wars may be fought for this resource. There are many people who believe that wind or solar energy could lead not only to a cleaner planet, but also a more peaceful world.

One downside of wind energy is certain types of birds face population depletion when they live near wind farms.
One downside of wind energy is certain types of birds face population depletion when they live near wind farms.

Much remains to be done to figure out how to best harness renewable energy sources and how to use them to their best advantage. One issue is how to transport collected energy from one place to another, since many places that produce this energy are located in remote locations. Changing the power grid to accommodate different sources of energy can help this problem, but this has yet to occur on a wide scale.

Clean energy refers to energy that pollutes minimally or not at all.
Clean energy refers to energy that pollutes minimally or not at all.
Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

Tricia has a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and has been a frequent wiseGEEK contributor for many years. She is especially passionate about reading and writing, although her other interests include medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion. Tricia lives in Northern California and is currently working on her first novel.

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Discussion Comments

whiteplane

I think that ultimately, solar is probably the wave of the future. Once they find a way to make it effective, affordable and ubiquitous, we can harness the largest energy source in our solar system. It only makes sense that this would be our enduring source of energy.

What do you guys think? In the future will we use solar exclusively, or will there still be a need for wind and hydroelectric power?

Belted

@clippers - I have heard of something like that. Aren't there gyms where the bikes and treadmills actually power the lights and speaker systems? It seems like there is a lot of motion and energy that just gets completely wasted.

clippers

Just this morning I went to an art exhibit that spotlighted some of the ways that sustainable energy and agricultural practices are being used in the developing world. They had a display that featured a bicycle powered generator that allowed users to charge up their cellphones or tablets while they peddled in the gallery.

I hooked mine up and it really worked. In just about a minute I had put a noticeable amount of juice back into the phone. And it was completely clean. Plus, I got a little exercise.

lighth0se33

Using corn to make gasoline has helped start the progression toward clean energy fuel. I hope that sometime in the next decade, our country can declare independence from foreign countries as far as oil is concerned. I believe that we would be so much better off.

OeKc05

@giddion – There are little ways in which you can use the sun as a clean energy resource without installing solar panels. Of course, these will not amount to the kind of savings you would see if you were set up for solar power.

I always open the curtains on the south side of the house where the sun shines the brightest during the winter. This heats up my home considerably, keeping the heater from working so hard and saving on electricity.

I make sure to shut the curtains when the sun moves out of range, because the sudden heat loss could make the heater come on. I open them as soon as the sun hits the windows the next day.

giddion

I would love to have my home set up to use clean solar energy. I don't know if I'll ever be able to afford this, though!

I have heard that it can cost tens of thousands of dollars to have solar panels installed. I would love to save money on my electric bill over time by using solar energy, but I just don't have the kind of money it takes to get started using it.

feasting

I guess it would be hard for people living on the other side of the country to use clean renewable energy made at wind farms. The wind doesn't blow hard enough or steadily enough in many locations, so having this type of energy produced everywhere isn't feasible.

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