Renewable energy initiative update - Part 2

An agreement between a state ballot initiative group and major energy companies will increase the use of renewable energy sources, energy efficiency and improve the environment.

The recent agreement between DTE Energy, Consumers Energy and Clean Energy, Healthy Michigan requires these utilities to work toward a 50 percent clean energy goal by 2030. This will be accomplished through a combination of 25 percent renewable energy and 25 percent in energy efficiency. This agreement was adopted in exchange for Clean Energy, Healthy Michigan shelving a ballot initiative to increase the state’s renewable energy mandate. If adopted by voters in November, the ballot proposal would have incrementally increase state standards from 18 percent by 2022 to 30 percent by 2030. 

What is renewable energy and what are the sources?

Renewable energy is energy derived from renewable or natural processes, such as wind, water, sun, or earth, and will be used to obtain the 25 percent in the agreement. These sources will never be depleted unlike coal, oil or gas which are finite resources. Besides being unlimited, renewable energy sources also are clean sources because they don’t release carbon pollution in the atmosphere when burned to create energy. 

Hydropower, the most popular and largest form of renewable energy resource in the U.S. generating 44 percent of all utility-scale electricity from all renewable resources in 2016. It is also one of the oldest. The first industrial use of hydropower occurred in 1880 at the Wolverine Chair Factory in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Prior to that simple paddle wheels and gears were used, primarily to operate grain and fabric mills.

 Hydropower is created either by moving water (a river) or change in elevation (waterfalls). In either scenario, water flows through a pipe or penstock, which then pushes against blades in a turbine to spin a generator that produces energy. In some river systems, the water current directly applies pressure to the turbine. 

Wind energy is formed by the constantly moving air currents from the Earth’s rotation. Air movement is turned into electricity through wind turbines. Wind turns the blades of the turbine around a rotor that is connected to the shaft. This spins a generator to create electricity. There are several wind farms in Michigan, primarily in the Thumb area. 

Solar energy has been available for many years. Solar panels change the sun’s energy into electricity or heat. Photovoltaic Cells are the most common form found on many houses and businesses, passive and thermal are commonly used to heat water for pools and for hoop house growing. Whether photovoltaic cells or thermal, both use the sun’s inexhaustible energy to provide heat and power to the appliances that run our daily lives. Several solar farms are in operation in Michigan. Michigan State University has built solar panel roofs on top of its commuter parking lots around campus to generate energy as part of its Energy Transition Plan

Geothermal energy, while not as common as solar or wind, has significant potential as a heat energy source. Geothermal (“Geo” means earth and “thermal” means heat) energy comes from ground. This has also become a more common choice for homeowners to help heat and cool their homes. The earth’s shallow outer core stays a pretty constant 50-60 degrees Fahrenheit. This allows the earth to heat or cool water used for this purpose. 

In other applications, geothermal deep wells can access hot springs or heated pockets. These hot water reservoirs found underground are called hydrothermal resources. Geothermal power plants tap hydrothermal resources and use them to drive steam turbines and generators turning this heat energy into electricity. 

IN addition to the utility companies committing to increase their use of renewable energy resources, over 130 major corporations worldwide, including Microsoft, Nike, Walmart, Wells Fargo and Apple, who are committed to, or have achieved a 100 per cent renewable energy reliance. 

For more information about the agreement between DTE Energy, Consumers Energy and Clean Energy, Healthy Michigan, see Renewable Energy Initiative Update Part 1.

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