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The challenges on the way of a renewable energy future

In recent years, the consequences of global warming have been more and more visible on the entire planet, from melting glaciers in the Arctic region to rising ocean levels to high temperatures in parts of the globe, from Australia to Greece.

One of the leading causes of this situation is the large-scale usage of fossil fuels such as natural gas, petrol, diesel, and kerosene. They release massive quantities of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, affecting the entire ecosystem, including the human one.

As a result of climate change, crops are being adversely affected, leading to rising prices for staple foods, in certain parts of the world even to famine. Moreover, the risk of heart attacks also increases, especially for the elderly and farmers, but for the construction workers too.

In addition, the combination of high temperatures, abundant rain, and high humidity favours a conducive environment for an easier spread of infectious diseases such as Lyme. And the transition to renewable energy is not required just because of pollution, but also because the fossil fuels resources are finite, many scientists believing that these will be over in approximately 2060.

The only country with 100% green energy

The European Union has committed itself to the Green Deal plan to change this unfortunate situation. It aims to make all Member States operational by 2050 on renewable energy from inexhaustible or rapidly regenerating natural sources, which provides power through environmental processes with low carbon dioxide emissions.

Not only would switching to green energy lead to a significant reduction in pollution, but it would also mean reducing the dependence on fossil fuel markets, as well as the emergence of new jobs. Moreover, in the long run, the costs of obtaining this type of energy would be lower. However, the transition is difficult, as the initial outlay of building green power plants is very high, unlike those using fossil fuels.

But there is a country that has already taken the big step, running 100% green energy. In Iceland, 75% of electricity comes from hydropower and 25% from geothermal energy. The Nordic country also takes full advantage of the volcanoes present on its territory, 87% of the hot water and heating coming from this source.

The Romanian city that is 99% green

As far as our country is concerned, the news is good. According to the European Commission, in 2018, it ranked 10th in the EU in green energy consumption, 23.8% of the total energy came from such sources. Alba Iulia is the only Romanian city that uses an overwhelming proportion of renewable resources, as shown by a study by the international NGO Carbon Disclosure Project from 3 years ago. 99% of the energy in Alba Iulia is green, most of it coming from hydropower plants (96%), and the rest from solar (2%) and wind energy (1%).

Solar energy, poor efficiency

To comprehend the challenges of the transition to a green future, it is mandatory to grasp the process of obtaining energy from each renewable resource, but also the associated disadvantages.

One of the easiest energy sources to use is the solar one, which can be captured using photovoltaic panels. The sun's rays hit the surface of the panel, and then they are turned into electricity via a built-in semiconductor. Energy can be obtained from the heat of the sun too, captured by the panels, which reaches a special liquid, forming steam that ends up spinning a turbine connected to a generator. Subsequently, through the condensation process, the steam becomes water again which can be recycled, reheated, and then transformed back into steam.

However, the conversion of solar energy also comes with several disadvantages. First of all, the initial cost associated with purchasing a solar system is very high. Secondly, it is weather-dependent because, although photovoltaic panels can capture light even when it is cloudy outside, the efficiency is low. But perhaps the biggest disadvantage is that building a solar system means a high degree of pollution in the production stage. The earth is suffering from the mining activities required for the materials used in manufacturing photovoltaic panels, such as cadmium and lead, two extremely toxic metals.

Wind energy, less polluting, but noisier

As with solar power, wind power requires a high initial cost to build wind farms, as well as pollution associated with the turbine production stage. They are also noisy, unable to be located near densely populated areas, and could be damaged by strong winds or lightning.

On the other hand, wind turbines are more energy-efficient than solar panels. A single turbine can generate the same amount of electricity as thousands of solar panels. And in terms of pollution caused during operation, the wind has an advantage, as it releases less CO2 into the atmosphere. A wind turbine emits 4.64 grams of CO2 / kilowatt, while a solar panel emits about 70 grams. This green energy resource has gained ground in recent years in the UK for example, where, in 2020, 24.2% of energy came from onshore and offshore turbine generators, according to British government statistics released this spring.

Hydropower, zero surface pollution, massive deep pollution

Perhaps one of the most efficient sources of renewable energy is hydroelectric power, generated by a dam that alters the natural flow of a river or other aquatic unit. Hydropower is based on the water cycle, therefore, on its kinetic energy. According to BBC, in 2019, the world's hydropower capacity reached a record 1,308 gigawatts. To give you an idea of what this figure means, a single gigawatt is equivalent to the energy produced by 3,125 million photovoltaic panels and 346 industrial wind turbines, respectively, according to data provided by the US Department of Energy's website.

Not only is hydropower easy to store, but unlike solar systems and wind turbines, it does not release any pollutants into the air. However, there is also an environmental cost for this type of energy: in the depths. The aquatic ecosystem is deeply affected, water basins are degrading, and some reservoirs produce an environment conducive to the development and multiplication of algae that are toxic to both fish and birds, and humans. Dams are also real death traps for fish. If they manage to get through the turbine blades well, they can be killed by the sudden changes in water pressure.

Hydrogen has the potential for a zero pollution future

Although much smaller than in the case of fossil fuels, each type of renewable energy still involves a certain degree of pollution. In this sense, one of the ideals in the field is the use of the so-called green hydrogen, which is not found in the free state in nature but only in the composition of other elements. For now, hydrogen production is generated by fossil fuels. To be a green process, however, it should be based on renewable energy. Recently, researchers have managed to overcome a major impediment: they have found a cheap way to solve half of the water-splitting equation to produce hydrogen - with the help of sunlight they have separated oxygen molecules from water.

Another suitable method for obtaining hydrogen is the gasification of municipal waste or agro biomass (agro-industrial and agricultural residues, products from forestry operations). The process is carbon neutral, as the carbon dioxide obtained from combustion is taken from nature and returned to the ecosystem.

Therefore, the solutions for a healthier future are varied, and the challenges associated with them can be overcome if the parties involved actively work together. To make the transition to renewable energy, the European Union has decided to allocate 30% of the total budget of 1.8 trillion euros for the period 2021-2027.

Not only the governments of the Member States but also private entities are encouraged to take action, and for us at June Communications, methods of ensuring sustainability are always a major focus.

If your company has a renewable energy project underway, we can get the message across.

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