What are the main types of renewable energy?

Renewable energy or renewables are energy sources that are continuously replenished. Whereas non-renewable energy which is finite. 

The main types of non-renewable energy are coal, natural gas, oil and nuclear energy. All these energy sources depend on limited natural resources and most of which are not clean.

The use of fossil fuels (coal, natural gas and oil) contributes to carbon emissions and climate change. The move to more sustainable and low carbon energy sources is essential to reversing our impact on the environment. 

Types of renewable energy

The main types of renewable energy are: 

  • Solar
  • Wind
  • Hydro
  • Geothermal
  • Biomass
  • Tidal 

Solar energy uses sunlight collected by solar panels. The sunlight hits the silicone on the panel and creates an electric charge. Solar panels can be installed in domestic (on the roof of a home) or commercial (solar farms) situations.

Generations of people have used windmills for wind power. It is actually a form of solar energy, as it is the sun heating up the air, that causes wind to circulate. Wind turbines and wind farms have the potential for low cost, efficient electricity production. 

Renewable energy - Rampion offshore wind farm UK
Renewable energy – Rampion offshore wind farm UK

When water flows through dams and irrigation facilities, it generates hydropower. The turbine converts the kinetic energy of the flowing water into mechanical energy and creates electricity. Hydropower or hydroelectric schemes are one of the oldest renewal energy types there is. 

Solar, wind, hydro and nuclear power are zero or low carbon energy sources. The most efficient sources of renewable energy are wind, geothermal, hydro, nuclear and solar energy, in that order. 

Importantly, zero carbon or low carbon energy sources like nuclear power are not necessarily renewable. Nuclear energy relies on radioactive fuels, which are finite natural resources. 

Despite being promoted as the solution to zero carbon energy for the UK, nuclear energy has major disadvantages. Most notable is the problem of what to do with all the radioactive waste that will need to be safely stored for millennia.

Geothermal energy uses steam to rotate turbines that generate electricity. It is a form of hydroelectric energy. The steam is in reservoirs of hot water stored miles under the earth’s surface. For electricity production, the steam needs to be moderate to high temperature. This means we need to base geothermal power plants near tectonically active areas (New Zealand, Iceland, Kenya, etc).

Biomass energy is energy created by burning or processing living or once living organisms. Examples of ‘biomass feedstocks’ are plants, wood or municipal solid waste. There are two methods. Burning feedstocks to produce electricity (thermal conversion). Or processing them into biofuels (ethanol or biodiesel).

Tidal energy uses the energy of tides, waves and the ocean’s movement to generate electricity using specialist generators. Few places have a large enough tidal range to make tidal energy viable. There are also concerns about the effect on natural ecosystems around an installation site.

How to start using or promoting the development of renewables

To meet our goals for reducing carbon emissions, we need to decrease use of non renewables. To reverse climate change, we need alternative clean energy sources.

There are many ways that you can get started with using or involved in promoting renewable energy:

  • Use Bio Collectors for waste collection (which they then turn into biogas and electricity).

For more information on becoming a member of Blue Patch, apply here. Remember that we invest 100% of our surplus income, plus a percentage of your membership fee in sustainable projects.

Annette Clubley

Annette is a keen wildlife conservationist, mindful of sustainability and our impact on the environment. Outside of work, family is her focus and she loves teaching the next generation to enjoy the outdoors.