What Is Sustainable Energy?
The concept of sustainable energy has expanded greatly in the past few decades, growing to encompass many new and growing fields, as well as taking into account significant factors such as environmental impact. To determine what sustainable energy is, one must consider the definition.
Definition of Sustainable Energy
‘Sustainable energy is the sustainable provision of sustainable energy development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs.’
This is a traditional example of a dictionary definition, which is very roundabout and does little to enlighten the reader to the scope of the subject itself. The important basic premise of sustainable energy is that for an energy source to be considered sustainable energy, it must provide enough energy to meet current demands, but also be able to reasonably meet the needs of the foreseeable future.
The important considerations in answering the question ‘What is sustainable energy?’ are:
- The longevity of the energy source
- The renewability of the energy source
- The output of the energy source
- The environmental impact of the energy source
Sustainable Energy VS Renewable Energy
In order to understand this better, we tackle ‘What is sustainability and renewability?’. Renewable energy and sustainable energy are often used interchangeably, though there is a fundamental distinction. Renewable energy plays an important part in sustainable energy, but they are not the same. Sustainable energy does not require a source which can be used indefinitely, it simply requires a source which can be used efficiently to meet the energy needs for the reasonable future.
Thus, judicious use of fossil fuels can play a part in sustainable energy. The longevity, or the length of time for which the source can meet energy demands is an important factor in determining sustainability. Renewable sources such as solar or wind also factor into the question ‘What is sustainable energy?’, and even more so as technology advances and costs decrease. Ideally, renewable sources will be increasingly implemented and become a main source of energy as their longevity is not in question.
Renewability of a Source
As mentioned earlier, renewable energy plays an important part in sustainable energy. In order to qualify as ‘renewable’, an energy source must be inexhaustible, thus, it is able to replenish itself within a reasonable human timescale.
Renewable energy sources include:
- Geothermal Heat
Fossil fuels are not considered renewable because of the amount of time it requires to form more fuel.
The development of renewable energy, such as solar, is critical to the development of sustainable energy sources. In order to provide for future energy needs it is important to have sources that will be reliable indefinitely.
The Output of the Energy Source
Simple renewability is not enough to qualify a source as sustainable. It must also be able to meet the energy requirements of the current usage, as well as the projected energy needs of the future. In the past, energy sources such as solar or wind were not efficient enough to play a significant factor in sustainable energy because they were unable to supply significant energy, but as technology has progressed and these natural sources gain wider use the possibility of utilizing them as major sources of energy has skyrocketed. It is now becoming much more plausible to rely on solar, or wind and is a matter of fact the things that come to mind when answering the question ‘What is sustainable energy?’
The Environmental Impact
In the past few decades, awareness of the environmental consequences of our energy production has increased dramatically. Concerns about Carbon emissions from fossil fuels and their possible contribution to global warming have become a major concern nowadays. Sustainable energy, on the other hand, meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs. Before, this simply meant ensuring there would be enough energy. Now the concept of sustainable energy also takes into account the question: “Will future generations have a healthy environment in which to live as they consume energy?” For this reason, energy sources such as Nuclear are questionable as sustainable energy, because of the potential dangers of massive environmental pollution.
Solar, wind, and other natural sources have very low emissions, if any, which gives them an immediate advantage over some more traditional forms. There is some question as to the impact of the production methods involved in making the collecting devices, but these potential problems will more than likely be overcome in the next few years. No matter what, solar and wind have much less impact than fossil fuels.
Determining what sustainable energy is has become a topic of much discussion and has expanded in the past few decades to include a much wider range of considerations, most notably environmental impact. The important thing to remember is that sustainable energy meets the current energy needs while taking into account the energy needs of future generations.