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Demystifying Sustainable Energy: A Beginner’s Guide to Sourcing Clean Power for Your Operations

The way that we power our businesses is changing. The introduction of sustainable alternatives to established forms of power is helping us to eliminate fossil fuel consumption, and the accompanying carbon emissions. 

Solar, wind and hydroelectric power are all, in various ways, providing these alternatives. Let’s take a closer look at each of them, and how they might be used in your operations.

Solar Power

Every second, the planet is bombarded with enormous amounts of solar radiation. Through the use of photovoltaic cells, we can harness just a small amount of this energy for our own use. Solar heating can also serve a purpose, helping us to eliminate the burning of gas.

Solar panels are compact enough to be installed on even small premises. All we need is a suitable space on the rooftop. However, the gains are best when the roof is south-facing (at least, in the Northern Hemisphere). Moreover, we might run into problems with intermittency, which means that local energy storage is often necessary.

Wind Power

Wind power works according to very simple principles. An enormous turbine is spun by the wind, which in turn generates electricity. Offshore wind farms tend to be more efficient than their onshore equivalents, because the wind over the sea tends to be more regular and unimpeded. However, onshore wind farms tend to be easier to build.

Certain premises might lend themselves to a single turbine or two – provided that there is plenty of open space around to drive the turbine itself. 

Hydro Power

In harnessing flowing water, we’re effectively turning gravitational potential into electrical energy. A hydroelectric plant can be situated wherever there’s water flowing downhill. In the US, the largest single plant is the Grand Coulee Dam in Washington State, which was built between 1933 and 1942 and which supplies power to the region today.

Sourcing and Integration Process

The type of energy your business needs will depend on its size and shape. Smaller organizations might not have the means to erect a wind turbine, but solar panels might make a viable investment.

A business should start the process with an audit of its current energy requirements. This way, we can be reasonably sure of how long a given investment will take to pay for itself. It might be that the installation of a given technology requires more extensive changes to the surrounding infrastructure. You can’t plug an appliance directly into a wind turbine, after all.

If you’re installing potentially dangerous equipment onto your premises, then you’ll need qualified personnel to oversee and maintain them. This might add to your costs in the long run – especially if you run into issues with reliability. Forming strong partnerships with reliable suppliers like RS Americas might be hugely helpful.

Tips for Informed Decision-Making

The successful integration of a renewable energy source means putting in the right amount of planning. The businesses that make the transition painlessly tend to be the ones that put in place formal risk assessments, and check whether the proposed changes are actually practicable. 

This might mean partnering with outside businesses. For example, when L’Oreal USA proposed to make its manufacturing operations carbon-neutral by 2019, it formed a partnership with a renewable natural gas facility in Kentucky.

Regulatory and Incentive Landscape

It’s in the interest of regulators, in the USA and beyond, to incentivize the use of sustainable energy. In some cases, those regulators might find themselves bound by treaty obligations. Tax incentives might also play a role in shaping behavior.

It’s a good idea to take stock of what your tax obligations might look like after you’ve made the switch to sustainable energy. Consulting with a specialist lawyer might reduce the likelihood of error.

Future Trends and Innovations

These technologies are still emerging, and it seems likely that they will become more sophisticated in the coming years. This applies especially in the case of battery storage. Battery capacities and efficiencies have improved exponentially over the last few decades – and this has big implications for renewable energy sources whose intermittency is a problem.

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