The Differences Between Alternative Energy, Renewable Energy, & Clean Energy

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To most people, the differences between “alternative energy,” “renewable energy,” and “clean energy,” might not be obvious.  But each term is unique and has its own individual definition.

Alternative Energy

When we speak of alternative energy, we refer to sources of usable energy that can replace conventional energy sources (usually, without undesirable side effects).  The term “alternative energy” is typically used to refer to sources of energy other than nuclear energy or fossil fuels.

Throughout the course of history, “alternative energy” has referred to different things.  There was a time when nuclear energy was considered an alternative to conventional energy, and was thus called “alternative energy.”  But times have changed.

These days, a form of “alternative energy” might  also be renewable energy, or clean energy, or both.  The terms are often interchangeable, but definitely not the same.

Renewable Energy

Renewable energy is any  type of energy which comes from renewable natural resources, such as wind, rain, sunlight, geothermal heat, and tides.  It is referred to as “renewable” because it doesn’t run out.  You can always get more of it.

People have begun to turn to this type of energy due to the rising oil prices, and the prospect that we might one day deplete available sources of fossil fuels, as well as due to concerns about the adverse effects that our conventional energy sources have on the environment.

Among the different types of renewable energy, wind power is one which is growing in its use.  The number of users who have some form of wind power installed has increased, with the current worldwide capacity being about 100 GW.

Clean Energy

“Clean energy” is simply any form of energy which is created with clean, harmless, and non-polluting methods.

Most renewable energy sources are also clean energy sources.  But not all.

One such example is geothermal power.  It may be a renewable energy source, but some geothermal energy processes can be harmful to the environment.  Therefore, this is not always a clean energy.  However there are also other forms of geothermal energy which are harmless and clean.

Clean energy makes the less impact on the environment than our current conventional energy sources do.  It creates an insignificant amount of carbon dioxide, and its use can reduce the speed of global warming – or global pollution.

As you can see, these three terms: alternative energy, renewable energy, and clean energy, are very similar. But it’s important to know that there are differences.

There are many steps which can be taken to help reduce greenhouse gases in our atmosphere. Some of these steps can be taken in your own home. Many clean energy solutions can can be easily installed, and some kits or DIY systems are quite affordable.

It is important to start making changes now; if we want to save our planet for our children, for the flora and fauna of the Earth, and for the future of mankind.

Carbon emissions, and other forms of pollution are not only created by heavy industrial factories. They are created by the common household as well. Energy efficiency has become an important aspect of our lives. If we start to change our habits on an individual level, others will begin to follow our example, and a real change can occur world-wide.

Clean alternative energy systems for the home can also save one a lot of money on electricity in the long-run, but it can be expensive to have the systems installed by a commercial company. It’s quite possible to build your own wind or solar power system at home, however, for a fraction of the cost. And advanced technical knowledge or skills are not a requirement. There are several good, popular guides available which will teach you exactly how to do this, and give you step-by-step instructions.

For more information, on some of the best-selling guides available, please see this post on Best Selling DIY Wind & Solar Power Guides.

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24 Responses to “The Differences Between Alternative Energy, Renewable Energy, & Clean Energy”

  1. RecycleBill March 14, 2009 at 7:12 pm #

    Correct, but please note that renewable isn’t always clean. As a matter of fact: the plan being promoted by the Department of the Interior is anything but clean.

    • Anna March 14, 2009 at 8:48 pm #

      Yes … but isn’t that what I just said in my article?

  2. Girish October 23, 2009 at 12:18 pm #

    @Anna,
    doesn’t it seem to be clear case of ignoring the post and hitting the comment section directly? Otherwise there is no point in repeating what you have already talked about in the post. 😀

    • Anna October 23, 2009 at 1:16 pm #

      @Girish – Yep, I thought of spamming that comment at the time (it was months ago) but decided to see if I’d get a response. And obviously I didn’t.

  3. Michael@Christchurch Motels November 8, 2009 at 2:28 pm #

    Anna, your article has a neat explanation and I bet the style is something similar to that of found in wikipedia or any other authority site for that matter. I was searching in google for solar power implementation @ our motels and I am glad that I landed here to get these valued information. Thanks for your efforts in enlightening us.

  4. Randy @ Commercial Solar Power December 7, 2009 at 10:21 am #

    Anna,

    This might be nitpicking a little too much, but I think that there are plenty of people who would argue that nuclear energy is still an alternative energy. Personally, I don’t believe that it’s much of a solution (too hard to get/enrich fissile material), but it definitely causes fewer emissions per watt, at least.

  5. WestieBoy January 18, 2010 at 6:26 pm #

    Anna,

    Thanks for an informative article.

    In renewable energy, you mention “wind, rain, sunlight, geothermal heat, and tides”, but all of these are in fact derivatives of the energy Earth receives from the Sun (just transformed consistent with the basic principle of energy conservation).

    Tidal flow has a frictional component that means the rotation of the Earth slows down a little bit each time the tide goes in and out. Adding electricity generation to “harness” this flow exacerbates the slow down.

    I’ve always wondered when the first “wind farms” started appearing what taking that amount of energy from the wind would do to the climate of the Earth. So far, no one has been able to answer my query (or my searching has not been good enough). Any ideas?

    You also speak about reducing the “the speed of global warming” by producing “an insignificant amount of carbon dioxide” through the use of “clean energy”.

    This seems to follow the United Nations feeling carbon dioxide is a “toxin”. This has caused me to do quite a bit of research, because without carbon dioxide none of the plants and trees will grow very well and, given our desperate shortage of food, you would think being able to grow crops and the like would be a good thing.

    The outcome of my questing for information about carbon dioxide and its possible contribution to global warming can be encapsulated in two very simple questions:

    1. How much carbon dioxide is required to change the [average] temperature of the Earth by one (1) degree Celcius?

    2. How much carbon dioxide does mankind and all of our endeavours emit on an annual basis?

    To change the temperature by one degree Celcius (removing carbon dioxide will lower it and adding will increase it) requires one trillion tonnes of carbon dioxide. As a number that is 1,000,000,000,000 tonnes. That is a big number in anyone’s language.

    Mankind and all of our industry, transport, breathing et al emit thirty billion tonnes of carbon dioxide annually. As a number that is 30,000,000,000 tonnes. Another big number.

    Using these two numbers it is easy to work out that if mankind stopped ALL of their carbon dioxide emissions for over three hundred years we can make a change of one degree Celcius.

    Stopping all of our emissions means no transport that produces carbon dioxide (fossil fuel vehicles, aircraft, horses etc), no electricity that was generated by a process that produces carbon dioxide (fossil fuel power stations), no fires [for cooking or heating water etc] and the list goes on.

    It means almost every industry and business will be required to cease all of its activities for over three hundred years.

    Unless you are lucky enough to live in a country where hydro, wind and geothermal energy are prolific, it is likely to mean living in the dark, having cold showers and eating food that is not cooked in any way.

    Or, looking from the other side, it means that mankind has such a miniscule effect on the global warming with our carbon dioxide emissions that we need to be looking a little further afield for the changes in the climate we are observing.

    Maybe it has something to do with our nearest star and changes in its energy emissions over time?

    Just a thought.

  6. Gave February 4, 2010 at 9:24 am #

    It is no wonder things can get confusing. It sounds like Alternative Energy is the umbrella for the clean and renewable energy, basically alternative energy does not have its own category as the energy providers will come under clean and renewable. Oil can be classed as renewable energy as the earth reproduces it. This will give weight to RecycleBills comment that renewable is not always clean. Great post by the way, nothing better than a good debate.

    • Anna February 8, 2010 at 12:17 pm #

      @green electricity – Thanks for your input. You are right, there is a lot of confusion on the subject. The more people understand a subject correctly, the easier it is to push progress in that field.

  7. Mark March 17, 2010 at 12:27 pm #

    Hi all, I found this article interesting and informative. My question is, has anyone here ever considered purchasing solar kits and wind power kits? I ask this because it’s mentioned in this article as being a cheaper option compared to getting commercial companies to do the dirty work.

    I agree that these kits are cheaper, but are they going to be worth while in the long run? Cheaply made solar cells/panels are going to produce much less energy and produce less energy for a much shorter time than quality solar panels installed by a certified and professional company.

    If I were to invest in a renewable technology I would do it via a professional company.

  8. Commercial Energy April 21, 2010 at 10:31 pm #

    Yeah..With the use of renewable energy we can help keep earth green. It can be also used to generate electricity.

  9. guargum June 24, 2010 at 5:01 am #

    hope we leave our dependence on Black god – petroleum and go green.

  10. komal@EPC Edgware October 11, 2010 at 2:36 am #

    Alternative Energy, Renewable Energy, & Clean Energy is best source of energy. this is part of future energy.

  11. jennifer@EPC Richmond October 21, 2010 at 12:47 am #

    The term “alternative energy” is used to refer to sources of energy other than nuclear energy or fossil fuels.Renewable energy is any type of energy which comes from renewable natural resources, such as wind, rain, sunlight. “Clean energy” is any form of energy which is created with clean, harmless, and non-polluting methods.

  12. Jasmine@air conditioning inspector  October 24, 2010 at 11:51 pm #

    Renewable Energy is the wave of the future. There is nothing more pressing today then finding renewable, clean energy sources. Alternative, or renewable energy, sources show significant promise in helping to reduce the amount of toxins that are by-products of energy use.

  13. komal@air conditioning inspectors October 26, 2010 at 2:37 am #

    Clean energy may also be called renewable energy or green energy and it specifically refers to energy produced usually from renewable resources without creating environmental debt

  14. Jack@air conditioning survey November 4, 2010 at 4:14 am #

    Hi Anna,
    Ya I agree with before comment that With the use of renewable energy we can help keep earth green. It can be also used to generate electricity.

    Clean energy” is simply any form of energy which is created with clean, harmless, and non-polluting methods.

    Most renewable energy sources are also clean energy sources. But not all.

    At Last alternative energy alternative energy we refer to sources of usable energy that can replace conventional energy sources (usually, without undesirable side effects). The term “alternative
    energy” is typically used to refer to sources of energy other than nuclear energy or fossil fuels.

    Clean energy may also be called renewable energy or green energy and it specifically refers to energy produced usually from renewable resources without creating environmental debt.

  15. Jack@air conditioning survey November 4, 2010 at 4:15 am #

    the utilization of renewable energy sources for decades. In this article he described the benefits of hydroelectric energy. To read more of his articles that will describe other types of renewable energy sources, suggest […]

  16. Warrington EPC - Online EPC Providers February 16, 2011 at 10:31 am #

    We need to start making changes to our homes now in order to save our futures. We provide EPC’s to homeowners in the UK which provide levels and reccommendations in whcih they can save energy in the home.

    The most popular (easiest) option, is to use Low-E light fittings. However, more extreme measures would be Solar Panels, Wind turbines or even hydo power.

  17. air conditioning energy assessment March 8, 2011 at 10:06 am #

    We should be up to the guidelines given…. Surely

  18. Adrian Reid April 3, 2011 at 9:50 am #

    I have many friends who have spoken about your blog so I thought I’d have a look.You have great stuff here, truly informative. Very well written I shall be bookmarking your blog and subscribing to your feed so I can regularly read posts of this quality.

  19. Business Electricity April 20, 2011 at 2:37 am #

    Solar, wave and wind are definitely the future. Lets hope that the technology is opted more widespread soon

  20. look at the facts here now October 19, 2012 at 6:49 pm #

    I want to get one of these, but my dad won’t give it to me!
    , annoying

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