What are the pros and cons of renewable energy sources?

Advancements in semiconductor technology are helping support a new era of renewable energy — but these sources are not without their benefits and shortcomings.

In light of recent global events and nearly unprecedented increases in energy costs, consumers and corporations alike are turning their eyes toward renewable energy sources as a means of powering their homes and business. With climate change accelerating, the impetus to expand the usage of clean energy sources has never been more of a focus.

While advancements in renewable energy and renewable energy sources have been significant over recent years, there still remain both pros and cons of using various renewable energy sources. In this article we will discuss renewable energy, common sources of renewable energy (and their pros and cons) and highlight the ways semiconductor manufacturers are supporting this growing industry.

What is renewable energy?

Before we dive into the discussion of its pros and cons, let’s start with a baseline definition of what we mean by renewable energy. Quite simply, renewable energy is energy that is harvested from a source that is not depleted as it is used. For example, wind or solar energy — harnessing either would not deplete the source. On the opposite end of the spectrum are finite energy sources, such as fossil fuels. As long as the energy source is renewed faster than it is depleted, then it can be considered renewable — in essence, it never runs out.

Renewable energy is expanding faster than ever before. In fact, a report from the IEA states that by 2026 the global renewable energy capacity will have risen by more than 60% from its 2020 levels. Furthermore, renewable energy sources will account for almost 95% of the increase in global power capacity through the same time period. These changes are exponential, with the amount of renewable capacity added from 2021-2026 more than 50% higher than during the prior five years.

Pros and cons of renewable energy sources

As renewable energy grows in popularity and focus, there are a number of renewable energy sources in the landscape getting increased attention. While some of these sources hold significant potential in both the private and public sectors as viable sources of renewable energy, there are pros and cons for each.

Biomass

First, let us consider biomass. Biomass are materials that come from plants, trees, or other organic materials, and can be burned to produce energy. The pros are clear: As fast as we can grow it, we can use it. These materials can be produced so quickly and are in such abundance that, with property strategies, it can be used without interruption. However, any time you are burning a biomass you are also creating pollution that is going into the air. Even with advanced filtration and exhaust systems, there will be air pollution from biomass usage and widescale adoption would mean this pollution is significant.

Solar Power

Solar power is in the midst of a massive surge in popularity, particularly amongst home consumers who are faced with rising energy costs. Solar power simply uses cells to harness the sun’s energy and converts it into AC current for usage. With advancements in battery and power technology, solar costs have dropped dramatically. The pros and cons of this renewable energy source are clear; on the bright side (pun intended), sunlight is unlimited and there is no pollution generated from this renewable energy source. However, energy production drops to zero at night and near zero during overcast or dimly lit time periods. Solar energy also requires large installations to generate significant amounts of power, and this can lead to increased expense.

Learn more about methods of harvesting solar energy.

Hydroelectric Power

Hydroelectric power harnesses the energy created by flowing water — whether that is via a hydroelectric dam at a reservoir, a flowing river, or the rising and falling of the tides. The pros of hydroelectric power are that it is a very powerful source of energy and is a very clean renewable energy source. However, the cons of hydroelectric power are that it is restricted to areas where there is water and building dams or hydroelectric installations can impact the environment. Further, as we are seeing in places like the southwest U.S., droughts and falling water levels in reservoirs and rivers can create significant issues with hydroelectric power.

Wind Energy

Finally, let us consider wind as a renewable energy source. Wind is an excellent energy source for its lack of pollution, its relatively low cost, and low level of maintenance. However, wind turbines are not without their cons. Many people find the towers to be obtrusive and disruptive to the natural landscape, and they can harm wildlife. More importantly, when there is no wind there is no power.

Renewable energy and the role of the semiconductor industry

As renewable energy sources grow in popularity and investment, the semiconductor industry is rising to meet the demands of this growing industry. One of the primary change drivers enabling a new generation of power technology is the proliferation of wide band-gap materials like silicon carbide (SiC) and gallium nitride (GaN) and their use in power products for renewable energy sources. With extremely high efficiency levels, these semiconductor materials offer low losses that help increase the efficiency of renewable energy systems.

Some manufacturers, such as Omron, are creating products specifically aimed at enabling next-gen renewable energy systems. The G9KB from Omron, for example, is a PCB power relay that provides bi-directional DC switching and is designed with domestic-scale renewable energy systems in mind. Other advancements in a variety of power components, including resistors, capacitors, transistors, and transformers, are changing the game for how power engineers can develop the systems that support renewable energy sources.


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