Renewable Energy Technology

Renewable energy is becoming increasingly popular worldwide as a replacement for fossil fuel. In this growing industry, innovation is the name of the game. Everywhere renewable energy technology is creating more efficient and reliable forms of power; solar and wind generation are being integrated into national electricity grids without compromising consistency.

A great value of renewables is that they are available to all countries, unlike fossil fuels which are only found in certain countries and not others. Prioritising renewable energy is a way of improving national security by reducing a country’s reliance on imports from fossil fuel nations. But possibly, the most obvious reason to focus on developing renewable energy is the fact that it does not cause harm to the environment.

Sources of alternative energy

The solar panel: Solar panels (photovoltaic cells) are made from silicon or other materials that transform sunlight directly into electricity. Solar panels situated on rooftops can generate electricity for homes and businesses. Solar farms in fact, can generate enough power for thousands of homes, using mirrors to concentrate sunlight across acres of solar cells.

Wind Energy: Today, tall turbines with massive blades stand to attention around the world. Wind energy turns a turbine’s blades, which feeds an electric generator and produces electricity.

Hydro-electric power: Hydro-power relies on water – typically fast-moving water in a large river or rapidly descending water from a high point – and converts the force of that water into electricity by spinning a generator’s turbine blades.

Biomass energy: Biomass is an organic material that comes from plants and animals, and includes crops, waste wood, and trees. When biomass is burned, the chemical energy is released as heat and can generate electricity with a steam turbine. Biomass is often mistakenly described as a clean, renewable fuel and a greener alternative to coal and other fossil fuels for producing electricity. However, there is some controversy because recent science shows that many forms of biomass – especially from forests – produce higher carbon emission than fossil fuels.

Geothermal energy: The Earth’s core is about as hot as the sun’s surface due to the slow decay of radioactive particles in rocks at the centre of the planet. Drilling deep wells brings very hot underground water to the surface as a hydrothermal resource, which is then pumped through a turbine to create electricity.

Oceans: Tidal and wave energy is still in the developmental phase, but the ocean will always be ruled by the moon’s gravity, which makes harnessing its power an attractive option. Wave power relies on dam-like structures or ocean floor anchored devices on or just below the water’s surface.

The role of Mechanical Engineering in renewable energy

As the renewable energy market matures, this is likely to become a key area of opportunity for mechanical engineers. A notable skills gap has already become evident, and engineers are also taking on supplementary roles in areas such as: evaluating mechanical systems for optimisation in renewable energy; determining the feasibility of sites to be developed for new energy infrastructure; and testing proposed changes to energy systems.

Mechanical engineers are playing a key role in enabling the world to transition to clean energy and more sustainable practices by:

  • improving the design of wind turbines, as well as the harnessing of solar and geothermal power
  • developing methods that lower the cost of manufacturing silicon for solar panels
  • designing more optimal ways to construct wind farms
  • improving technology required to procure, store and distribute renewable energy
  • researching ways to build renewable energy infrastructure at reduced costs
  • addressing problems with regard to storing energy for long periods of time.

Renewable energy storage

Energy storage is one of the key areas that presents both challenges and opportunities for renewable energy engineering. Although it is possible to store large amounts of energy, it is often cost-prohibitive to build the technology required to do so at scale.

  • One method currently under investigation is the development of cost-efficient technology that can draw power from the various different sources and – making use of magnesium and manganese oxide – transform it into stored chemical energy for later use.
  • Energy storage is essential for handling the energy demand during peak usage periods, as well as for responding to sudden and unexpected spikes in power usage.
  • As the renewable energy market continues to develop, advancements in renewable energy storage will encourage new energy investments in this field.
  • Considering these numerous, vital factors, there is little doubt that mechanical engineers will continue to play an essential role in making the technology more reliable, cost effective, and efficient.

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