As we become more and more aware of our impact on the environment, the importance of transitioning from conventional energy resources to renewable sources is becoming clearer to consumers. Green energy is a solution to greater sustainability in our power grid, but the term is met with confusion by some, and commonly used to refer to renewables by others.
What Is Green Energy?
The U.S. energy market provides a range of services and products with green energy, also called green power, being a small category within these options. For many, this is synonymous with renewable energy, but there is a clear distinction.
Difference Between Renewable and Green Energy
According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), green energy provides the highest environmental benefit and includes power produced by solar, wind, geothermal, biogas, low-impact hydroelectric, and certain eligible biomass sources.
These renewable energy sources enter the power grid and are indistinguishable from conventional energy sources when you flip a light switch or charge your phone. Although renewable energy encompasses the same sources as green energy, this energy more broadly includes technologies and products which can have a considerable impact on both the local and global environment. Essentially, when you buy green power, you’re also supporting various renewable energy projects and the investment in technologies that help them grow.
How Do Green Energy Products Work?
It’s important to understand that the energy you consume will be a mix of green, renewable, and conventional energy regardless of which product you purchase. This is because all energy sources in the electric grid are mixed together when they enter the power transmission grid. From here, electricity travels to homes and businesses via the handful of regional grids that stretch across Canda and the United States.
So by buying green energy you are not directly purchasing green power for your home, but are instead paying for a small premium that covers the costs of putting more renewable energy into the grid. For those keen to go green at home who don’t have space or funds for a solar panels array, this is the best way to measurably reduce the carbon footprint associated with your energy consumption. It’s also the most affordable way to increase large-scale renewable energy investment and it gives more households and businesses access to green energy.
What is the Green Energy Premium For, Then?
If you’re with a green energy supplier like Just Energy, you will pay a very small premium to buy green energy products—this is often akin to the price of a coffee a week or a movie ticket in most markets. This cost contributes to green energy projects, such as the development and maintenance of solar fields—so that we can move towards a cleaner, greener future together. As this movement gains more traction and funding, less of the energy that we consume will be produced by conventional methods which are unsustainable, contribute to air pollution, worsen global warming, and harm the environment.
Types of Green Energy
There are many types of green energy coming from a wide variety of sources. Some of these types are better suited to specific environments or regions, which is why there are so many renewable energy that filter into the energy grid.
Solar is a clean source of energy which comes directly from the sun. Stars, in general, produce an unimaginable amount of energy via nuclear fusion— the process by which smaller atoms are fused together by heat and pressure to create heavier atoms—with a whole lot of energy emitted in the process. This energy then reaches us via solar radiation, which we can collect and convert it into usable electricity.
Solar panels are perhaps the most common form of solar energy harvesting. These are panels full of things called photovoltaic cells. When the light from the sun hits these cells they create an electrical current through the photoelectric effect.  The current is then passed through an inverter to turn it into an alternating current. From here it can be used to power your home or added to the national grid mix. Read our guide to solar energy.
Wind energy is actually another energy source powered by the sun. That’s because winds are caused by the uneven heating of the atmosphere. This unevenness is affected by the topology of our planet, its spin, and how we orbit around the sun. Winds are further modulated by the surface they are passing over—either land or water.
Three blade wind turbines are most commonly associated with wind power. Unlike solar energy, these work on a rather simple principle. Wind turns the blades of the turbine, which turns an internal rotor. This rotor then moves the main shaft, which spins a generator and creates electricity.
Although wind may seem powerful, expansive wind farms are required in order to generate enough electricity to make an impact.
Hydroelectric energy is produced by capturing the energy contained within flowing water. This is best achieved by forcing water to flow through a narrow path, thereby increasing its energy per square meter. This is commonly achieved by storing water in a reservoir or dam and selectively purging the water by opening an intake.
The gravitational potential energy stored by holding water higher up in the dam forces the water through the intake at incredible speed. When released, the flow spins a turbine which once again activates a generator, creating electricity.
Due to its efficacy, hydroelectricity is one of the most popular forms of green energy. In 2017 alone it is estimated that 4 billion tonnes of greenhouse gases were not released into our atmosphere by generating electricity from hydropower.
The beauty of biogas, if it can be described as such, is that it is not only a green energy source but that it makes use of our waste products. Produced as a byproduct when organic matter decomposes, biogas comes from materials such as sewage, food, agricultural waste, and manure.
These materials are stored in containers without oxygen, causing them to ferment and produce methane and carbon dioxide as well as other gases. The methane produced can then be sold on and used to heat homes, produce electricity and fuel vehicles. At the same time, the waste placed in a biogas digester becomes nutrient-rich fertilizer, perfect for farms and even home use.
Just like biogas, biomass is a source of green energy that comes from plants and animals—both of which contain energy stored from the sun, often in the form of sugar or cellulose. In fact, when it comes to converting biomass into usable energy, much of this material is made into biogas as well as liquid biofuels including ethanol and biodiesel. Other solid materials such as wood can be burned by themselves in order to heat buildings as well as to produce electricity. According to the EPA, around 5% of the total energy consumed in the US in 2017 came from biomass fuels.
The Main Benefits Green Energy
Reducing carbon emissions, preventing further environmental harm, and creating jobs are just some of the opportunities provided by investing in green energy. And by buying green energy, you are helping bring that future closer.
Every day the sun provides the earth with more than enough energy to power the entire planet, but there’s a problem. The current technologies we have in place are not efficient enough to convert enough of it into electricity, and for many, it’s more cost-effective to use other traditional sources. Going green means greater funding to solar, wind, and other renewable energy projects, creating technologies to better harness the renewable sources around us and make them more affordable and accessible to everyone.
Why Is Green Energy Important?
Traditionally we have relied on materials such as coal, oil, and even kerosene to provide us with the energy we need. However, these fuels are non-renewable and expel pollution into our environment and atmosphere. As such, these sources will eventually run out, causing fears about shortages and access to them. But what’s worse, is the environmental harm they inflict.
Burning these conventional sources of energy fuels global warming. Coal and oil pour toxic gases into the environment, impacting general health, and causing respiratory issues, and reducing live expectancies. Simply extracting oil and coal can destroy areas environments, economies, and livelihoods in the form of devastating oil spills.
Green energy will help us mitigate and sidestep at least some of these issues, and the quicker we move to renewable energy sources the better.
1 The Photoelectric Effect https://physics.info/photoelectric/
2 Hydropower 2018 Report https://www.hydropower.org/publications/2018-hydropower-status-report
3 Energy Information Administration https://www.eia.gov/energyexplained/?page=biomass_home
4 The National Center for Biotechnology https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4740163/
6 National Resources Defense Council – The Gulf Spill https://www.nrdc.org/sites/default/files/gulfspill-impacts-summary-IP.pdf