Renewable energy 101

26 January 2015

Renewable energy, also know as ‘green energy’, is electricity that’s powered by natural sources such as the wind, water and sun.

Renewable energy offers a carbon-free alternative to traditional fossil fuels, and its use is growing here in Australia and overseas.

The development of technologies in the renewables space is allowing us to push the boundaries of where we can incorporate renewables into our every day lives. And while some of these technologies are yet to prove commercially viable, it's an exciting time. While we may not be ready to rely 100% on renewables, we are moving towards a more balanced future where solar, wind and hydro play a more central role. 

Research and development in renewable energy is an exciting space, with new ideas being explored all the time. Below are some of the renewable energy sources that are currently used in Australia (to different degrees).


Renewable energy sources currently in use in Australia

sun solar illustration

Solar
Energy from the sun is used in two ways: solar photovoltaic technology, which converts sunlight directly to electricity and solar thermal which converts sunlight to heat.

 

wind power illustration

Wind
Uses energy from air flowing over the earth’s surface. The energy of the wind turns the blades of a turbine to generate electricity.

hydropower wheel illustration

Hydropower
Uses energy from falling or flowing water to create electricity. Hydroelectric plants use the water to turn turbines and generate electricity.

 

geothermal illustration

Geothermal
Uses hot fluids extracted from underground to power steam turbines and generate electricity.

bioenergy illustration

Bioenergy
Uses gases from decaying plant or animal matter to power turbines to generate electricity. Common types of biomass include: wood waste, manure, landfill wastes and crop by-products such as sugarcane (bagasse).

hydropower illustration

Marine Energy
Uses the power of waves and tides to turn turbines and generate electricity.


How do renewable energies differ from non-renewables?

Fossil fuels, such as coal, oil and natural gas, come from carbon-based organic materials and take many millions of years to form. Using them to generate electricity produces greenhouse gases, and they aren’t considered sustainable.

Renewables are not based on carbon materials; instead they are from sources that are constantly replenished by nature. They do not produce greenhouse gases when used to produce electricity.

The future of renewable energy

The new Renewable Energy Target (RET) was passed by parliament in June 2015 and provides for 33,000 gigawatt hours of large scale generation to be sourced from renewables by 2020.

The RET offers an incentive to deploy wind and other low carbon forms of electricity as part of the response to climate change. The RET is incorporated into the costs you pay on your standard electricity bill.

There are other government policies supporting less mature renewable technologies, such as geothermal, large scale solar and marine energy. The Australian Renewable Energy Agency and Clean Energy Finance Corporation are two government entities supporting these types of emerging technologies.

A challenge facing the future of renewable energy is the intermittency of the fuel sources. When the wind isn’t blowing and sun isn’t shining, energy can’t be generated. We are trialing batteries for home use and hope to have a produce on the market later this year.

If you are interested in doing your bit for the environment to help reduce Australia’s carbon emissions, you can join around 285,000 of our customers who have already chosen to buy green energy and 360,000 of our customers that have installed solar panels. 

Read more about Origin's committment to renewables 

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