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What is renewable energy?

 We use energy every day for lighting and warming our homes, powering our trains, charging our phones and to make things like the internet possible. Most of this energy comes from burning fuel such as coal and oil which aren’t ‘renewable’ as, once we’ve burnt them, they’re gone.

Renewable energy is generated from sources that can’t be ‘used up’ such as sunlight, wind, water or even from heat under the ground. They usually produce much less pollution so they’re much better for the environment.

How do we get renewable energy…

…from the Sun? 

Solar panels convert energy from sunlight. By absorbing large amounts of light into a small area, an electrical charge is generated. Solar panels are made using rare metals that can be difficult to find, but they last for ages and are cheap to run. They can be put in lots of places such as on the roof of your house, on top of bus stops, or in a big field to capture lots of energy at once.

… from wind? 

Wind turbines transfer kinetic (moving) energy from wind into electrical energy. If the wind isn’t blowing, or if it’s not strong enough, the turbines can’t spin and extract energy. For this reason, they’re often built in hilly areas or even out at sea where the wind blows more regularly than in our cities and towns.

… from water? 

‘Hydroelectric’ energy is generated from water. This usually happens at a ‘dam’ where lots of water is collected and then let through a small tunnel. The amount and power of the water is so strong that it turns metal turbines and the kinetic energy of this movement can be turned into electric energy. We also build generators under the ocean, where the power of the tide can be transferred into useful energy.

What’s the problem with non-renewable energy?

When we burn fossil fuels (oil, gas and coal) carbon dioxide is released into the atmosphere. Too much carbon dioxide can trap the Sun’s heat and cause our whole planet to get warmer (this is what’s called ‘global warming’!). Renewable energy is good because it can generate the energy we need for our daily lives and emits *way* less carbon dioxide in the process.

If we use more renewable energy there’ll also be loads more ‘green jobs’ and lots of people in the UK would know how to create things like solar panels, how to fix them and how to make the most out of renewable energy. We could also help other countries move to renewables in the future.

Why haven’t we switched to renewables everywhere?

Ok, so we know renewables are great, but in 2020 only 40% of the UK’s energy came from renewable energy. Why is it not 100%?

It can be expensive. Although renewables can be cheaper once they’re up and running, we’ve been using fossil fuels for a long time and it would cost a lot of money to switch everything over and buy all the metal and materials needed to build solar panels and turbines. 

They might not work all the time. Solar panels only work during the day and wind turbines only work when the wind is blowing. What happens when you need energy during a calm night? 

At the moment, we get most of our energy from burning fossil fuels as we can use them to generate energy whenever it’s needed, and it’s cheaper (at least in the short term). However, if we got our renewable energy from different places (solar, wind and water) – this would make our energy supply more reliable and cheaper in the future.

So, how can I make a difference?

It’s hard to know where to start with something like renewable energy as it’s not something we have a lot of control over. But one of the best things we can do is to encourage people to choose renewable energy where possible. 

Do you know what kind of energy is powering your home, or your school? Could you have a conversation about switching to renewables? 

If your energy is already coming from renewables, that’s amazing! It’s still important to save electricity and heat where possible. Check out our ideas here for good vibes and saving energy.

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