The only clean energy explanation you’ll need
We all experience the subtle effects of climate change every day, most often with changes in weather and weather patterns. Rising temperatures produce hotter summers – and summer nights – which can cause sleep issues, for example. And for those of us who suffer from seasonal allergies, flare ups may seem more intense or arriving at odd times.
These reasons, among many more, are why sustainability – reducing waste, recycling, cutting greenhouse gases – is top of mind for so many people. We all want to reduce our carbon footprint any way we can. In fact, when we shop for products and services, nearly 88% of us consider a company’s sustainability efforts as a factor for doing business.
That includes the energy that fuels our homes and business.
Table of Contents:
What is clean energy?
Clean energy refers to energy produced with little to no greenhouse gas emissions (GHG). This includes low-carbon and carbon-free energy sources such as nuclear. It is a growing, popular consumer option.
You’ll often hear people talk about clean energy and renewable energy interchangeably, but there is a difference between the two. Clean energy is divided into two types: renewable and sustainable.
- Renewable energy, also called green energy or green power, refers to energy that comes from natural resources, such as wind, solar, and water. All renewable resources are considered “clean,” though there is some debate over the impact of large-scale hydroelectric dams and wind farms on local wildlife. In 2022, renewable energy sources accounted for about 12.4% of total U.S. primary energy consumption, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.
- Sustainable energy refers to energy sources that will not be depleted for the foreseeable future. All sources of renewable energy are considered sustainable. While nuclear energy is not always considered renewable, it is widely considered sustainable due to its lack of pollution and abundant supply.
When we talk about clean, carbon-free energy, we often refer to an energy source’s reliability and capacity.
- Reliability refers to the ability to provide a steady supply of power, like fossil fuels, nuclear and hydroelectric. Sources like solar and wind offer an intermittent supply that can fluctuate by time of day or changes in weather.
- Capacity is the ability to generate a significant share of the energy supply and meet additional demand as demand fluctuates. Fossil fuels and nuclear supply 86.6% of U.S. energy needs. Significant investment in infrastructure, energy storage and other clean energy technologies is needed before renewables can replace the supply provided by fossil fuels.
Why is nuclear power considered clean energy?
When it comes to climate change, carbon emissions from fossil fuels are “by far the largest contributor to global climate change, accounting for 75% of global greenhouse gas emissions and nearly 90% of all carbon dioxide emissions,” according to the United Nation’s Climate Action task force.
Because generating electricity via nuclear power is a carbon-free, zero-emission product, it is defined as a clean energy resource. One that is as clean as renewable energy, according to the International Panel on Climate Change. Nuclear power avoids more than 471 million metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions annually, nearly equivalent to removing 100 million passenger cars from the road.
It’s more than that, of course. Nuclear energy produces more electricity on less land than any other clean-air source. To produce the same amount of electricity as a 1,000-megawatt nuclear facility, you would need more than 3 million solar
panels or more than 430 wind turbines, says the U.S. Office of Nuclear Energy.
Nuclear power also produces a fraction of the waste other energy resources do. Nuclear fuel produced in the U.S. over the last 60 years would fit on about 10 yards of a standard football field. And in the future, much of this waste will be reprocessed and recycled.
What are the top 4 benefits of clean energy?
Beyond its positive impact on climate change, there are several environmental benefits and economic benefits to choosing clean energy.
1. Increased health
Fossil fuels do more than damage our climate. They create more water and air pollution. Waste emitted into the air and the water table by traditional energy plants is linked to lung disease, heart disease, cancer and more. Coal pollution alone costs public health efforts nearly $75 billion a year, according to one Harvard University study.
Since nuclear, solar power, wind power and other clean energy resources do not emit the same damaging waste as fossil
fuel plants, those negative effects are virtually nullified.
2. Economic growth
As more consumers search for clean and renewable energy companies that offer a choice, industry infrastructure grows and the need for skilled workers increases. The demand for nuclear power is on an upswing globally, with capacity additions to double in the next 25 years, reports S&P Global.
Innovation will positively impact the U.S. and global economy, too. Dozens of small modular reactors (SMRs) and advanced designs of new reactors are in motion, reports S&P Global, fueled by public and private investment.
Even though a global pandemic, inflation, and the war in Ukraine caused a spike in energy prices in the early 2020s, clean energy companies were able to keep production stable and reliable. That stability helps mitigate fluctuating energy prices.
Nuclear power is considered the most reliable energy source because of its capacity factor, producing the most power it possibly can 92% of the time. That’s double coal’s capacity and, in many cases, four times the capacity of most renewable energy resources. For that reason, nuclear has supplied one-fifth of the U.S.’s power over the last 30-plus years.
Have you heard this nuclear waste myth?
People are often surprised to learn nuclear power is a zero-emission, clean energy resource. Many believe waste material generated by power plants is a dangerous pollutant and would negate nuclear’s clean energy designation. That belief is often based on misinformation and the way nuclear power is depicted in pop culture.
The process for handling spent fuel assemblies, however, is remarkably safe. When ready for long-term storage, used fuel is sealed in dry casks – large steel-reinforced concrete containers – which are safe enough to touch.
In terms of emitting radioactivity, nuclear power plants and nuclear waste are pretty low on the list of perpetrators. Only 0.005% of an average American’s annual radiation dose, measured as 620 millirems from natural and man-made sources, comes from nuclear power. That’s 100 times less than from coal and 200 times less than a cross-country flight.
It is, however, equal to the radiation emitted by eating one banana.
What are some popular clean energy sources?
There are many ways to purchase clean energy. Below are a few of the most popular and available clean energy options and their comparative strengths:
What are my clean electricity options?
Energy Harbor offers customers a wide selection of affordable carbon-free, clean energy plans that help protect the environment and slow global warming.
Energy Harbor also provides customers with simple and affordable access to clean energy by offering Emission Free Energy Certificates (EFECs). EFECs help consumers make more sustainable choices without significant expense and effort. Energy Harbor is one of the few retailers able to do this because our three carbon-free nuclear power generation units can generate more than 30 million EFECs annually.
Ready to help save the planet? Compare clean energy plans in your area today.