Energy Management

Power Words: Defining Conventional, Renewable, and Green Energy Generation

040915_EnMgmt_DiGiacomo_ConvRenewGreenEng_PhotoWhen we think of green power, solar energy probably is one of the first sources that come to mind. It is important to distinguish among conventional power, renewable energy, and green power. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), there are distinct differences.

Conventional Power includes the combustion of fossil fuels (coal, natural gas, and oil) and the nuclear fission of uranium. Fossil fuels have environmental costs from mining, drilling, or extraction and emit greenhouse gases and air pollution during combustion. Although nuclear power generation emits no greenhouse gases during power generation, it does require mining, extraction, and long-term radioactive waste storage.

Renewable Energy includes resources that rely on fuel sources that restore themselves over short periods of time and do not diminish. Such fuel sources include the sun, wind, moving water, organic plant and waste material (eligible biomass), and the earth’s heat (geothermal). Although the impacts are small, some renewable energy technologies have an impact on the environment. For example, large hydroelectric resources can have environmental trade-offs associated with issues such as fisheries and land use.

Green Power is a subset of renewable energy and represents those renewable energy resources and technologies that provide the highest environmental benefit. The EPA defines green power as electricity produced from solar, wind, geothermal, biogas, eligible biomass, and low-impact, small hydroelectric sources. Customers often buy green power for avoided environmental impacts and its greenhouse gas-reduction benefits. Green power sources produce electricity with an environmental profile superior to conventional power technologies and produce no fossil fuel-based greenhouse gas emissions. The EPA requires that green power sources must also have been built within the last 15 years in order to support “new” renewable energy development.

We as power consumers (including cable operators) often have a choice to purchase power generated from the more earth-friendly sources. For a list of utility providers offering green power sources, visit the U.S. Department of Energy’s Energy Efficiency & Renewable Energy webpage. This resource is particularly useful in open-market states, such as Pennsylvania, that allow for selection of power providers.

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