Hesperian Health Guides
Benefits and Costs of Clean Energy
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Clean energy is energy that can be made with few negative social, cultural, health, and environmental effects. Clean energy is also called renewable or sustainable energy, because it is produced from sources that do not run out, such as:
|wind||falling water from small dams|
|biogas and other biomass||sunlight|
By using clean energy, we reduce harm to both human health and the environment caused by finding and using fossil fuels and other forms of polluting, nonrenewable energy. Clean energy can provide power in rural villages, in big cities, and in factories without causing harm.
Each way of making clean electricity has advantages and disadvantages. And each depends on local conditions such as how much wind, sunshine, or falling water there is in each place. Electricity, even clean electricity, may be too costly for many people to afford. But as more and more people use clean energy, and as the ways to make clean energy are improved, it will likely become easier and less costly to make and use.
Paying for clean energy
Home energy systems that run on solar, wind, or water power cost money to install. But once they are in place they cost little to run and maintain. The income generated by labor-saving electric machines such as grain grinders and water pumps, and the ability to work after nightfall, can often pay for the initial costs.
People in many countries are developing ways to make it possible for everyone to have access to clean energy. Forming village cooperatives to pay for energy collectively is one solution. Another solution is microcredit programs. Microcredit programs allow families to pay small amounts over time, rather than a large amount all at once. By paying into a “revolving credit fund,” money is made available to help more people install home energy over time.
There are no longer any technical reasons why people in poor countries or rural areas should not have electricity. The reasons they do not have electricity have to do with a scarcity of social justice.
Any form of energy, in order to be useful when and where it is needed, must be stored. For gas or oil-powered transportation, this means storing fuel in the tank of a car or bus so it can be burned along the journey. For electricity, it means using batteries.
Even if energy is made using clean sources such as wind, water, or sunshine, it must be captured in batteries. Batteries can often be among the most costly parts of a clean energy system. They also contain toxic materials and must be replaced after several years. So far, there is no good replacement for batteries as a way to store electrical energy.