Diverse Technologies with Amazing Potential

Renewable energy technologies (RETs) are a significant part of creating a sustainable electricity system and reducing the harmful effects of electricity generation on our natural environment and our climate.
Unlike conventional forms of generation such as nuclear, coal and gas-fired generators, RETs do not cause harmful emissions of greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide that contribute to climate change. Also, RETs do not rely on non-renewable carbon-based fuel sources, nor do they produce harmful radioactive waste the way nuclear power does.

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Did you know?

Although wind and biomass, and hydro are generally considered to be fuel sources on their own, like nearly all energy on the planet, their energy can be traced to the sun. Wind is created through differences in temperature created when the sun warms the earth’s surface together with the rotation of our planet. Biomass is actually a product of plants using solar energy to remove CO2 from the atmosphere and combining it with water, a process called photosynthesis. Hydro energy can be traced to the sun-powered cycle of water evaporation and rain.

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About RETs

Renewable energy technologies, as the name would suggest, rely on fuels that are renewable, not finite. The most common “fuels” that RETs harness for the generation of electricity include wind, the sun, water, and biogas/biomass such as wood chips, crop residues, manure, purposely grown energy crops like switchgrass and miscantus and various organic waste. These fuels are abundant, widely available, and capable of supplying all of humanity’s energy needs, given the right technology to harness them.

The other great thing about renewables is that they require only a relatively simple process and very few conversions to make the energy useful. For example, Hermann Scheer details in his book, The Solar Economy, how many steps and conversions it takes to change a lump of coal to electricity. You have to mine the coal, refine it, and transport it to the generation plant. From there, the coal is converted from chemical to heat energy by burning it, the heat is used to create steam, the steam drives the turbine, converting to mechanical energy, and finally, the mechanical energy is changed to electricity. The electricity is transported through high voltage lines over long distances, and has to be ‘stepped down’ to increasingly lower voltages to make it usable in the home.

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There are economic costs, environmental costs, and energy losses associated with all of these steps. In comparison, solar energy is very simple to harness. The fuel (the sun) is free and available at the generating site, and the electricity created is used at the site. The sunlight is converted into direct current by the photovoltaic cell, and then needs only be changed to alternating current to power your home. This represents a much simpler process.

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Types of RETs

The main RETs used to harness renewable energy today are wind turbines, solar heat and photovoltaic systems, small-scale hydro, tidal, and wave installations, and biomass and biogas installations.

OSEA believes that a 100% renewable energy grid in Ontario is fully achievable. OSEA’s activities are designed to support the goal of 100% renewables. Our mission is to facilitate the transition to a sustainable energy economy in Ontario through the development and support of community-based sustainable energy initiatives.

For more information on any of these technologies, and other energy technologies not discussed here such as geothermal, consider visiting Natural Resources Canada's CanmetENERGY webpage.

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The Renewable Energy Sector in Ontario

Until very recently, the growth of renewable energy in Ontario has been exceedingly slow. Although wind power and other renewable energy sectors grew significantly in Western Europe in the early 1990s, significant growth of the sector has only occurred in the last five or so years in Ontario.

Effective government support for small-scale renewables was virtually non-existent in Ontario until very recently. Ontario has fast become the North American leader in renewable energy. In 2009 the Green Energy and Green Economy Act was passed and incorporates generous prices for renewable energy based on the cost of production; long-term contracts that provide stability for investors; and access to the electricity grid.

The Green Energy Act also recognizes the essential role communities and ordinary residents play in the development of renewable energy. To encourage local participation, farmers, small busienss owners, community groups and First Nations are eligible for a higher tariff for the green energy they produce. Furthermore, the Aboriginal Energy Parnership Program and the Community Energy Parntership Program were established to provide start-up funding for communities.

The Green Energy Act has jump started Ontario’s green economy by attracting billions of dollars in investment in manufacturing and attracting thousands of new jobs to the province. The act has also contributed to a cleaner environment by eliminated smog produced by dirty coal. All across the province, windmills and solar panels are being installed in farmers’ fields, in First Nations and on the roofs of homes, schools, churches and factories.

Yet, despite this success, the legislation faces stiff opposition, there are threats to revoke the law and gut its feed-in tariff programs, which have been so effective in spurring the development of renewables. Grassroots public support is vital to the survival of the Green Energy Act. The Ontario Sustainable Energy Association was a key organization in campaigning for a Green Energy Act in Ontario, and has since been monitoring it’s successes and weaknesses. OSEA provides the government with advice for constant improvement and further development of the Act and Feed-In Tariff program so that it further benefits Ontario. The FEO is proud to be a member of OSEA as it gives a voice to local area farmers within the provincial government and the renewable energy sector.

Related Links:
The Green Energy and Green Economy Act

Ontario Supports Local Investments in Green Energy
Ontario will be providing assistance to community groups looking to build new green generation and to municipalities that might face extra infrastructure costs as green energy facilities are built.

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