Climate change, driven by human activities such as burning fossil fuels, threatens the natural balance of our home on Earth. Already affecting the vast majority of regions around the globe, we have observed long-term shifts in weather and temperatures outside the range of natural variations of the solar cycle. From rising sea levels to intense droughts, we must adequately and urgently address this crisis – and one quick and effective way we can reduce greenhouse gas emissions is through clean energy.
Clean energy and renewable energy are often used interchangeably, however, they have distinct meanings.
Importantly, this wording has huge implications in developing and following government policies.
Clean energy is the generation of power without negatively impacting the environment (i.e. zero-carbon energy sources) and encompasses renewable energy, nuclear power, and carbon-neutralizing technologies. The definition of renewable energy is more specific; it is power production through natural sources that are continually replenished at a faster or equal rate to its consumption. Sources of renewable energy include solar, water, wind, biomass, and geothermal power.
Yet, some forms of clean energy pose some issues. For example, abundantly used in Toronto, Ontario, nuclear power requires additional safety measures and special infrastructure for storage of spent fuel. Furthermore, many skeptics argue that many forms of renewable energy (ie. nuclear, wind, and solar) are intermittent. However, this can be mitigated through diversifying the sources of energy, using gas turbines or batteries to store energy, and expanding across geographies to capture varying weather conditions. Although the infrastructure of renewables requires financial support, raw materials, and land space, the indirect emissions are still much less carbon intensive than using fossil fuels.
Some countries are already paving the way in reducing emissions, using renewable energy and effective policies. For example, 50% of Sweden’s energy needs are fueled by renewable resources such as hydropower and bioenergy. For the last 7 years, Costa Rica has generated 98% of their electricity through hydro, wind, geothermal, solar, and biomass energy. Norway has been using hydropower since the 1800s and currently provide 98% of their electricity through a combination of hydro, thermal, and wind energy. Compared to these inspirational climate leaders, where does Canada fall on the list?
Canada currently utilizes renewables to produce 18.9% of our power. Hydroelectricity is the most important form of renewable energy in Canada, generating 59.3% of our electricity, followed by wind (3.5%) and biomass (1.4%). Quebec currently produces the highest amount of hydroelectricity out of all the provinces, with the second being British Columbia. Given Canada’s vast land space and varying geographies, there is huge opportunity to harness many sources of renewable energy with proper investment and establishment of infrastructures. Canada has implemented a new federal policy to prioritize the purchase of lower-carbon materials for construction projects, which aims to reduce half of the emissions from public and private infrastructure construction in the next decade. If provincial and municipal policies can follow, this will build a solid national foundation for continuing and enhancing these policies in the future. Moreover, the latest statement from the Canadian federal government has introduced clean energy tax credits, encouraging sustainable practices and infrastructure for clean energy sources.
Not only are our ecosystems, water supply, and food availability impacted, climate change also impacts human health. According to the World Health Organization, climate change is predicted to cause increases in deaths due to zoonoses (eg. malaria), malnutrition, heat stress, and natural disasters. Importantly, these crises will disproportionally affect low income and disadvantaged countries with less healthcare resources. Even worse, these communities are the ones that contribute the least to the driving forces of climate change, thus further widening the gap in long-standing socioeconomic and health inequalities. However, the current trajectory of climate change can still be diverted with targeted efforts to reduce the impact of human activities. Despite the concerns regarding certain clean energy technologies, research continues to advance and innovate new solutions. Coal, oil, and gas still account for over 80% of electricity around the world. Given that climate change poses a huge threat to humanity, we must continue to advocate for meaningful policies and infrastructure that can reduce harmful emissions to zero as soon as possible.
Renewable Energy Sources
Hydroelectricity harnesses the power of flowing water to spin turbines and drive an electrical generator.
Biomass refers to the generation of energy from a solid, liquid, or gaseous state of a plant or other biological materials, such as solid landfill waste, sewage, and wood waste from industrial activities.
To produce energy from the wind, the power of wind speed is used to spin turbines.
The energy from the sun can be converted to electricity as well as provide light and heat.
The heat beneath the earth’s surface can also be captured to produce geothermal energy. Research has also begun on developing technologies to utilize ocean waves to produce power.
Ling Ling Tai
Latest posts by Ling Ling Tai (see all)
- Diverting the Course for the End of the World as we Know it - January 30, 2023
- Sleep and Immunity - September 16, 2022
- Mergers and acquisitions in research: who wins? - April 17, 2022