With a number of similar terms in the world of renewables, many are wondering what is clean energy and what are the sources associated with it? Understanding the line between dirty energy and clean energy can be more complicated than one might think and our research shows that one of the roadblocks that discourages people from purchasing clean energy systems is the combination of too many options and too little information. To help clear the way forward for everyone, we’ve created the following simple, top-line primer to lay the foundation for learning more about clean energy options that are available to you.
What is Clean Energy?
Clean energy refers to any source of power that does not pollute or harm the environment. Clean energy can be distinguished from renewable power in that clean power is focused on carbon emission reduction as a method of counteracting “dirty” energy as a primary goal whereas renewables would be, by definition, focused on the ability to reuse a resource as an ultimate goal.
The two terms will generally have consistent crossover (such as solar power which is certainly a renewable AND clean energy source) but it is still important to understand the difference.From a higher level perspective, these are the primary examples of clean energy or non polluting sources of power (all are considered renewable energy resources as well):
The 6 Types of Clean Energy
- Solar Power
- Wind energy
- Ocean energy (tidal power)
Most people are familiar with solar applications. These systems capture the sun’s energy and turn it into energy that you can use to heat or cool your home, heat water, or make electricity.
- Solar Photovoltaic (PV) Systems: use the sun’s energy to generate electricity.
- Solar Thermal – Hot Water Systems: harvest the sun’s heat to produce hot water—even in winter!
- Solar Thermal – Space Heating Systems: harvest the sun’s heat and use it to keep you comfortably warm inside your home or business. They can also be used to produce hot water.
- Solar Thermal – Air-Conditioning Systems: use the sun’s energy to heat water or antifreeze. This captured heat is then used to power an absorption chiller to provide air-conditioning.
Small Wind Systems are used to harness the power of wind to produce electricity. Wind energy has been around for a really long time (think Dutch windmills, for example), but ironically, small wind systems receive less “air time” today than solar applications. That’s unfortunate, because in areas where there are 7-12 mph winds – places like coastal locations, hilly areas and open plains — small wind systems are extremely efficient at producing electricity.
Earth and Geothermal
Geothermal Systems use the constant temperature of the ground just below the Earth’s surface to heat and cool homes and businesses, and produce hot water. Geothermal systems are less well-known than solar and wind, but they are equally effective and are growing in popularity. Geothermal systems use a pump to transfer warmer ground temperatures indoors during the colder months, and cooler ground temperatures indoors the warmer months. In addition to heating and cooling homes and businesses, geothermal systems can also produce hot water.
Things from the earth can also be used to generate energy. Biomass & Biofuel Heating Systems use biomass materials such as wood chips, logs, etc. or biofuels (sourced from used cooking oils or processed wood / farm waste, algae, etc.) to provide space and water heating. These systems can range from basic wood burning stoves to more modern, automated systems. There are also Combined Heat & Power (microCHP) Systems, which are highly efficient and use natural gas or hydrogen to simultaneously generate electricity and provide space heating and hot water.
There is a wide array of clean energy technologies to choose from, and most homes and businesses are suited to use more than one of them. Now all you need to do is determine which system is the right choice for your home or business. For those considering solar, our Solar Calculator offers free personalized estimates for your home based on real offers in your area. If you’re already ready to start comparing quotes from vetted solar installers in your area, register your property on the EnergySage Solar Marketplace.