Green Energy: Why is it so trendy – and important?

What is green energy? Why is it such a popular topic of conversation – and such a divisive one? And, perhaps most importantly, what is the role of green energy for us in the future, as a technology that we cannot afford to ignore?

The first thing to appreciate about this incredibly broad topic of debate is that green energy is not simply a political issue. That has not prevented interested groups – be they political parties or established businesses – from attempting to politicise the issue to influence minds or gain support. But the need to find new and renewable sources of energy for future generations is perhaps better thought of as a matter of common sense and consensus than as a political football. The importance of achieving sustainable energy is a necessity, which all sides of the debate are increasingly willing to acknowledge.

Green energy is a catch-all term which is used to describe the many and varied methods of energy capture which are seen as renewable, and less intrusive or damaging to the environment. From hydroelectric energy obtained from conventional dams and state-of-the-art tidal capture, to wind farms and photovoltaic solar cells, the green energy market is one of diverse technologies and constant innovation.

But why is green energy such a hot-button topic? Apart from the sustainability question, which preserves a stable environment and ecosystem for future generations, more and more individuals are learning about the significant financial benefits which the average household can achieve with green power. A home equipped with an array of photovoltaic solar cells, for example, can generate sufficient energy to sustain itself throughout the year, whilst surpluses are sold back to the national grid. This has left many a delighted home owner astounded, as they watch the numbers on their energy meters actually count down before their very eyes!

The widespread uptake of solar PV cells for the home has shone a light on one of the primary alternative energy trends. That is: on a very basic and fundamental level, most people desire a decentralised approach to energy capture and consumption. Because, as big energy conglomerates struggle to extract increasingly-expensive reserves of fossil fuels, they are passing their own industrial costs on to the consumer. Green energy such as solar cells bypasses this centrally-planned system, and it allows individuals to reclaim control and autonomy over their own power supply.

The acres of difference between the progress made in green energy and the stagnation of the fossil fuel markets is illustrated best by the matter of peak oil, and the energy industry’s attempts to promote fracking and shale gas extraction for commercial use.

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Peak oil describes the point in industrial society where the extraction rates of fuel start to decline irreversibly. The decline is due to the absence of new oil fields, and the difficulties posed by draining existing wells. Eventually, the amount of energy consumed in the extraction process is equal to the amount extracted. At that point, the oil well becomes financially unviable. Peak oil is striking the heart of the modern energy industry. Rather than attempting to address this unavoidable natural phenomenon, many businesses attempt, instead, to pass the costs of their loss-making operations on to their customers.

The contrast is becoming increasingly clear, as green energies become more productive and efficient at a rate that is virtually parallel to the decline in the fossil fuel market. The beginning of the twenty-first century may mark a significant turning point, where individuals become the masters of their own energy capture and consumption. It is little surprise, then, that green energy is such a popular and important topic.

From wide-reaching ideas of globalisation and the environment, to peak oil and the demand for clean energy in an industrialised world, it is clear that the next century will be shaped profoundly by our ability to understand green energy trends in technology and consumer behaviour.

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