The term alternative energy generally describes renewable sources such as solar, wind, and hydroelectric power. Hydroelectric energy accounts for the majority of U.S. renewable energy, at 70 percent, though the use of solar, wind and other renewable energy is continuing to grow. Methods of alternative energy distribution vary, and here I’ll provide a brief description of the three most prevalent methods. It’s important to keep in mind that digitally controlled power systems will help prevent wasted energy, no matter which distribution system is used.
Large, Centralized Facilities
Currently, most of the alternative energy generated in industrial countries comes from large, centralized facilities. These plants can produce high volumes of electricity and transmit it long distances. “Over the last 20 years, the cost of electricity from utility-scale wind systems has dropped by more than 80%,” according to the American Wind Energy Association. Large-scale solar power plants, such as the Long Island Solar Farm currently under construction, will be able to produce 32 megawatts of power when complete—enough to power 4,500 homes. And leading the way is hydroelectric power, a non-polluting energy source that makes up about 19% the world’s energy production with the largest plants in China, Brazil, Canada and the United States.
Localized Alternative Energy
Keeping alternative energy distribution local is another option that’s had successful results. In Germany, 80% of their solar energy comes from rooftop solar panels. Advances in available technology have made DIY solar setups more accessible to the general public, as have tax incentives for businesses and individuals. Small wind turbines also provide a more localized distribution and have low maintenance and pollution. Some organizations, such as Slippery Rock University in Pennsylvania, utilize a combination of alternative energy distribution systems that include wind and solar power.
A microgrid normally connects to a centralized grid (macrogrid), but is a smaller, localized grouping of electricity generation. It is able to disconnect from the macrogrid and function autonomously, and usually is interconnected at low voltage. Fuel cells, wind, and solar energy can all be run off of a microgrid. Because it can isolate from the larger network, microgrids offer reliable power.