We need to talk about sustainable energy – especially about clean electricity

Sustainable energy is energy that is consumed at insignificant rates compared to its supply and with manageable collateral effects, especially environmental effects.

Another common definition of sustainable energy is an energy system that serves the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs. The organizing principle for sustainability is sustainable development, which includes the four interconnected domains: ecology, economics, politics and culture. Sustainability science is the study of sustainable development and environmental science.

Technologies promote sustainable energy including renewable energy sources, such as hydroelectricity, solar energy, wind energy, wave power, geothermal energy, bioenergy, tidal power and also technologies designed to improve energy efficiency. Costs have decreased imenselly through out the years, and continue to fall. Increasingly, effective government policies support investor confidence and these markets are expanding. Considerable progress is being made in the energy transition from fossil fuels to ecologically sustainable systems, to the point where many studies support 100% renewable energy.

Energy efficiency and renewable energy are said to be the twin pillars of sustainable energy. In the broader context of sustainable development, there are three pillars, ecology, economy and society. Some ways in which sustainable energy has been defined are:

  • “Effectively, the provision of energy such that it meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. …Sustainable Energy has two key components: renewable energy and energy efficiency.” – Renewable Energy and Efficiency Partnership (British)
  • “Dynamic harmony between equitable availability of energy-intensive goods and services to all people and the preservation of the earth for future generations.” And, “The solution will lie in finding sustainable energy sources and more efficient means of converting and utilizing energy.” – Sustainable Energy by J. W. Tester, et al., from MIT Press.
  • “Any energy generation, efficiency and conservation source where: Resources are available to enable massive scaling to become a significant portion of energy generation, long term, preferably 100 years..” – Invest, a green technology non-profit organization.
  • “Energy which is replenishable within a human lifetime and causes no long-term damage to the environment.” – Jamaica Sustainable Development Network

This sets sustainable energy apart from other renewable energy terminology such as alternative energy by focusing on the ability of an energy source to continue providing energy. Sustainable energy can produce some pollution of the environment, as long as it is not sufficient to prohibit heavy use of the source for an indefinite amount of time. Sustainable energy is also distinct from low-carbon energy, which is sustainable only in the sense that it does not add to the CO2 in the atmosphere.

Green Energy is energy that can be extracted, generated, and/or consumed without any significant negative impact to the environment. The planet has a natural capability to recover which means pollution that does not go beyond that capability can still be termed green.

Green power is a subset of renewable energy and represents those renewable energy resources and technologies that provide the highest environmental benefit. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency defines green power as electricity produced from solar, wind, geothermal, biogas, biomass and low-impact small hydroelectric sources. Customers often buy green power for avoided environmental impacts and its greenhouse gas reduction benefits.