What is clean electricity?
Clean electricity, or carbon-free electricity, is electricity without high voltage spikes and drops, meaning it is low on emitting electrical pollution.
Electrical pollution, or dirty electricity, is a notable concern for data center operators, as it can cause poor performance in many electronics -- microelectronics in particular. High voltage spikes are a leading cause of computer memory loss, corruption of programs and files, operating errors and electronic component damage.
The quality of electricity can be influenced by the electricity provider, the electronic equipment and everything in between. When electricity is found to be dirty, it can mitigated by an uninterruptible power supply.
Commonly referred to as green electricity or green energy, clean electricity also refers to electrical power generated by renewable energy sources, such as geothermal, rain, solar, tidal, waste and wind. These methods have become popular in recent years due to their lack of causational pollution.
The terms clean, green and renewable energy are sometimes used interchangeably but mean different things. Clean energy refers to how high an energy source's voltage spikes are, an indication of their pollution level. Green energy refers to energy sources with the least environmental impact. And renewable energy pertains to sources that replenish themselves naturally.
How does clean electricity work?
Clean energy is generated through processes that do not pollute the environment and, therefore, do not contribute to climate change. Clean energy also tends to be renewable, meaning it is more resourceful and abundant than more common energy sources, such as coal. While this is true with energy sources such as solar, wind and hydropower -- which are virtually limitless in their supply -- it is not the case with biomass or natural gas energy.
Why is clean electricity important?
Coal was responsible for 19% of total carbon dioxide emissions and 10% of total energy use in the U.S. in 2020. Reducing these emissions helps combat climate change and preserve Earth for future generations. Clean electricity production means providing energy with a lowered risk of fossil fuel and greenhouse gas emissions. Many of these new methods are highly energy-efficient, meaning they require less energy for the same results. And, because they're renewable, they are more reliable than other finite sources of energy.
Examples of clean electricity
Despite being the go-to examples for clean electricity, solar panels and wind turbines are not the only clean sources of power currently available. Other types of clean electricity are gaining prominence, offering equally environmentally friendly alternatives to greenhouse gas-emitting electrical suppliers.
Solar energy is clean energy converted from the sun for electricity generation. Solar power is characterized by its reduced costs, low carbon footprint and general versatility. Its accessibility has made it the most popular of all the clean energy sources. However, it can be expensive to store, and installing solar panels can be costly -- minimizing savings or overall profit. Solar energy is also weather-dependent and has been connected to new environmental hazards, such as lead waste and toxic landfills.
Wind energy uses wind turbines to generate electricity. Turbines are widely used due to their low impact on the environment. Wind turbines are the most efficient form of renewable energy. While wind energy has been known for its cleanliness and proven reduction of fossil fuel dependence, common complaints are its loud, disruptive sounds; steep construction costs; and the fact that it poses a danger to wildlife habitats located near construction sites.
Bioenergy (release carbon dioxide)
Bioenergy is a type of renewable energy that comes from the burning of biomass fuels, such as wood and agricultural waste. Biomass is highly abundant, is less wasteful than other energy resources and has a low carbon footprint. Despite its reliability and limited direct pollution, biomass releases the same amount of carbon dioxide as the burning of fossil fuels, requires a lot of space and is expensive in regard to the construction of biomass plants.
Geothermal power plants generate electricity through steam found from hot water in reservoirs beneath the Earth's surface. Geothermal plants are highly reliable and have power outputs that are easy to predict with great accuracy. These plants also take up less space than other energy plants. Although geothermal energy requires minimal maintenance, the costs of construction tend to run high, and sustainability is not guaranteed without proper management. In extreme cases, geothermal plants have also been known to cause earthquakes.
Hydropower -- or waterpower -- is the generation of electricity via fast-running or falling water. Hydropower is the cheapest option as a clean energy source, as it requires smaller plants, provides high energy output and has low indirect greenhouse gas emissions. But hydropower is the least reliable source of electricity since it is highly subject to weather conditions. Hydropower is also responsible for environmental damage, as dams are known to disrupt natural habitats and flood large areas with stagnant water that can kill entire ecosystems.
Nuclear energy is renewable energy released during nuclear fission or fusion, which results in the release of radioactive waste. However, recent scientific breakthroughs with nuclear fusion not only produce more heat but eliminate the production of long-term waste. Nuclear energy has long been a favorite for its high power output, small carbon footprint and reliability. However, it is a highly controversial means of clean power, as it is highly expensive, leaves behind toxic nuclear waste and has the potential for catastrophic consequences if not handled appropriately -- as occurred with the Chernobyl disaster of 1986. Nuclear energy is also not renewable, so long-term sustainability is questionable.
Natural gas occurs beneath the planet's surface. It consists of high levels of methane and other alkanes. Natural gas is considered one of the cheapest options for clean energy and burns cleaner than fossil fuels. While it is a clean and cheap option, natural gas is nonrenewable and poses a threat of polluting the earth and water, making it hard to invest in it long term.
Benefits of clean electricity
Clean electricity has been proven to emit less greenhouse gases, making it the best answer for slowing climate change. Many of these energy sources are high on energy output and low on pollution, which leads to improved public health. Despite issues with costs, low pollution output and effects on wildlife, the gradual shift to clean electricity leads to the following:
- the creation of new jobs;
- stable energy prices;
- more options for infinite energy;
- less dependence on the main power grid;
- lower electricity costs;
- energy independence; and
- reliable and resilient energy options.
While there are still many concerns about the effect of clean energy on the environment, it is optimal for fighting climate change and emitting less pollution than other energy sources.