Beyond Solar - Alternative Energy Sources
Currently, to generate clean and renewable energy most of the buildings are using solar panels. Indeed, to achieve carbon neutrality buildings tend to include solar roofs in their architecture. It allows homeowners to become less dependent on the grid and to save money on power bills every month, but mostly, it’s environmentally friendly. Solar energy does not contribute to carbon emissions and greenhouse gasses unlike others energy production. However, this has its limits.
Limitations of solar energy
The first limit of solar energy generation is the cost for solar panels installation on buildings or homes. In fact, it’s a little investment for homeowners and not everybody can afford it. Another limit is the space needed to install them, they require a large roof or a wide space which is quite hard for private homes.
Their main limitation is the reliability of their electricity production. Even if they can produce energy on cloudy days they are still limited during those days, combined with an early sunset location it means not every country can take advantage of it. In addition, solar panels, even the most advanced ones, only convert 25% of the sun’s energy into electricity.
We can now clearly see the need to find other solutions for energy production for homeowners and building contractors.
What next green energies are going to supply buildings?
By taking advantage of geothermal energy, homeowners and building contractors can heat homes or produce electricity. The first way to use earth's temperature is by transferring heat from the earth to the surface using pipes and a pump to heat water and homes.
The second way is to produce electricity from it. To achieve this process, water is pumped below the earth’s surface where the temperature and the pressure are high and then quickly pumped back to the surface where the pressure drops and turns the water into steam. The steam will spin a turbine and after going through a generator will produce electricity.
However for the moment the system installation requires a high investment and a piece of land next to the house, that makes geothermal systems hard to be implemented in big cities.
Biomass is considered as a low carbon energy source as it’s a natural resource. In fact, wood, garbage and plants can be used to provide heat and electricity to a home.
By burning biomass, you can heat buildings but also heat water and cook. Another way of using it is to generate electricity by using the steam of the combustion. The third one, is to convert it into biofuel: by burning biomass in an oxygen-free environment, it produces an oil liquid. This oil can be used as a green gasoline.
But biomass energy production is far from being green for the moment, the burning of biomass releases carbon dioxide into the atmosphere (even if it's less than traditional energy generation systems) and it’s not as efficient as fossil fuels.
Nevertheless, biomass will still be an infinite source of energy as it’s made from food waste, and forest management.
Hydrogen atoms are present all over the Earth in water, plants and even humans but are very scarce in gas form. Hydrogen gas can be produced by diverse processes for zero greenhouse gas emissions: the most common one being electrolysis. The process splits hydrogen from water using renewable electric current.
Once produced, hydrogen fuel gas is environmentally friendly, emitting only water vapor and warming the air. In fact, for many years natural gas was used to heat buildings and homes but burning them releases carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, while hydrogen only releases water vapor. We can then produce electricity from hydrogen fuel, by combining hydrogen and oxygen atoms. Hydrogen fuel can also be used as green gasoline for vehicles.
As disadvantages, hydrogen is highly inflammable and explosive and can not be transported easily. In addition, electrolysis is a very expensive process and takes a lot of energy.
Lastly, solar energy production by solar panels is the most developed solution at the moment, but the installation not being quite easy, other green energy to supply buildings were to be found. Geothermal, Biomass and Green Hydrogen energy generation systems are all near to the zero carbon emission which makes them good alternatives to solar. However, there remain certain constraints on their full exploitation: such as production cost and space required.
To learn more: Join Our Event "The Green Real Estate: Beyond Net Zero" on February 9th 2023!