Renewable energy

Business decision-makers are increasingly looking at what they can do to limit climate change and, in particular, how they can reduce dependency on fossil fuels. Renewable energy is the answer. This guide explores renewable energy in detail and looks into the various types of renewable energy and how your business can use these.

What is renewable energy?

Renewable energy is a sustainable energy source. This means an energy source that cannot run out, for example, solar or wind.

Occasionally, renewable energy can be referred to as “alternative energy”, an alternate source to fossil fuels. But contrary to belief, renewable and green energy is not the same thing.

What are the different types of renewable energy?

Here are the different types of renewable energy. In this guide, we provide a brief overview but for more information, follow the link to our in-depth guides.

Solar energy

Solar energy is an inexhaustible energy source produced from the sun’s radiant light and heat. Using Photovoltaics (PV) or Concentrated solar power (CSP), the solar energy is converted into electricity.

Over the last ten years, solar panel technology has significantly decreased in cost, allowing businesses to recoup the initial investment within 3.5-4 years. The lifespan of a solar panel is, on average, 30 years, meaning in the long run implementing solar panels is an astute investment.

As of 2020, the UK generates 13,158 Gigawatt Hours of solar electricity. To give you the context of this increase, a town of 1,000 homes uses about 11 Gigawatt hours each year.

Compare commercial solar panels today.

Wind energy

Wind energy is an energy source that is produced by harnessing the kinetic energy of the wind using wind turbines on the coast or land.

It works because the wind turbine faces the wind, forcing the blades to rotate. The rotating blades are connected to a generator which converts the rotational energy into electrical energy.


Hydropower is a renewable energy source created by harnessing the flow of water that produces sustainable energy. The most basic form of hydropower is when water flows into a water wheel that generates power. Hydropower is the largest source of renewable energy – and an example of the scale is that of the hoover dam.

Large hydroelectric dams produce vast amounts of completely renewable energy without producing greenhouse gases.

Geothermal energy

Geothermal energy is a source of energy that’s stored within the Earth’s crust. It’s in the form of high-temperature rocks.

Geothermal is produced by using the Earth’s heat to generate steam which powers a turbine to generate electricity.

The following methods are used to produce Geothermal energy:

  • Dry Steam power generation.
  • Flash Steam power generation.
  • Binary Steam power generation.

Geothermal energy has enormous potential for renewable energy generation in certain countries with high volcanic activity.

Tidal energy

Tidal energy is produced by converting the ocean’s tides into electricity. This is done using either a tidal stream generator or a tidal barrage.

Similar to the function of a wind turbine, a tidal steam generator works by an underwater turbine causes fast flowing water through a small channel which causes the moving water spins the underwater turbine to generate electricity.

A tidal barrage is an artificial dam used to trap water at high tide, the water trapped within the barrage now has gravitational potential energy.

Biomass energy

Biomass energy is when organic matter produced from animals and plants is converted into energy, creating biofuels, heat and electricity.

The most common organic matter used to produce biomass energy is corn and soy. The energy extracted from this matter is then burned to produce heat and electricity.

Here are the methods to produce biomass energy:

  • Direct combustion.
  • Thermochemical conversion
  • Chemical conversion
  • Biological conversion

Read our guide on biomass energy to learn more about the different methods of creating biomass energy.

What is the difference between renewable and non-renewable energy?

There’s a clear difference between the two; renewable energy is produced from an unlimited energy source. In each of the examples above, energy generation can continue to be exploited in the long term.

Non-renewable energy is limited by a resource which will run out. For instance:

Nuclear Energy – Relies on Uranium reserves which will run out.
Fossil Fuels – Relies on mining or extracted limited coal, gas, or oil reserves.

What are the advantages of renewable energy?

There are plenty of advantages to using renewable energy. Here’s an overview of the benefits:

  • Renewable energy can help alleviate the volatility of the energy market. By increasing renewable energy generation, the UK will become less reliant on importing power from other countries.
  • The maintenance of renewable technologies is much lower than its counterparts, such as gas-fired and nuclear power stations.
  • Better for the environment. Although not every form of renewable energy is environmentally friendly, most are. By using renewable energy, we will significantly reduce the carbon emissions we pump into the Earth’s atmosphere.
  • The development of renewable energy technologies is creating a lot of jobs. The increase in demand for renewable energy is creating a new industry, especially in research and development.
  • We will never run out of renewable energy sources. For example, in solar power, the sun will continue to shine for at least another 4.5 billion years allowing limitless energy production.
  • Leftover waste can be used to create biofuels, heat and electricity. Reducing the amount of landfill waste.

What are the disadvantages of renewable energy?

Here are the disadvantages of renewable energy and a few sticking points we need to overcome:

  • Renewable technology is still in the early stages of development. The current technology is not maximising the efficiency of renewable energy production.
  • Renewable energy is difficult to store. On a windy day in the UK, wind farms produce enough electricity to power the whole country and more. Unfortunately, there is no way of storing excess energy, so it is wasted. We rely heavily on gas-fired power plants to fill the gap when there isn’t enough renewable energy generation.
  • The initial cost can be pretty high compared to that of non-renewable. For example, the initial installation can be high for solar panels, preventing businesses from using them.
  • It needs plenty of space to install industrial-sized plants. For example, it takes 250 hectares to generate approximately 200 megawatts using solar energy. In contrast, a nonrenewable source like nuclear energy on the same site would produce 1,000 megawatts.
  • Renewable energy isn’t reliable. Solar power needs a certain level of sunlight to generate electricity. Likewise, wind power doesn’t work on a still day. Renewable energy cannot be relied upon to produce a minimum energy output.

Can I compare renewable energy suppliers for business?

Yes, you can. Use the AquaSwitch business energy comparison tool to compare the latest renewable energy tariffs. Simply add your postcode to the postcode finder to start the comparison.

What’s the difference between green energy and renewable energy?

This is a query that’s asked a lot; however, green energy and renewable energy, despite their similarities, are not the same.

The Cambridge dictionary defines green energy as “energy that can be produced in a way that protects the natural environment, for example, by using wind, water, or the sun”.

Whereas renewable energy is described as “energy that is produced using the sun, wind, etc., or from crops, rather than using fuels such as oil or coal”.

Green energy is essentially a subdivision of renewable, as it uses renewable energy sources but only includes energy with a zero-emissions profile to provide the highest environmental benefits.

The easy way to differentiate the two is that they both are renewable; however, only green energy sources have the benefit of not negatively impacting the environment, i.e. not producing greenhouse gas emissions.

Green vs renewable energy:

  • Both green and renewable energy: geothermal, low-Impact hydropower, solar and wind power.
  • Only green but not renewable energy: none.
  • Only renewable but not green: Biomass (Creates a large amount of greenhouse gas emissions).

The difference simplified: all green energy is renewable energy, but not all renewable energy is green energy.

*There is disagreement in the scientific community about whether nuclear power constitutes a green, non-renewable energy source. Nuclear energy does not directly release greenhouse gases, but it does produce nuclear waste.

Compare renewable energy tariffs

Compare renewable energy tariffs today with the AquaSwitch energy comparison form. Simply enter your business postcode to begin the switch.

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FAQs – Renewable energy

Here are some frequently asked questions about renewable energy.

Is a heat pump renewable?

It can be. A heat pump uses electricity instead of natural gas to heat a property. If the electricity used is generated by a renewable source, the heat pump can be classified as renewable.

A heat pump works by taking heat from external air, ground or water and transferring it into your property. Before transferring, the heat pump will apply pressure, and the pressure changes in gas will increase the temperature being transferred into the property.

Is nuclear energy renewable?

Unfortunately, it’s not. The issue here is the isotope they use (U-235) will run out in the next 200 years, according to The Nuclear Energy Agency, due to the current consumption rates.

Can my business sell excess renewable energy back to the grid?

Yes, the UK government has two schemes that allow businesses that generate renewable energy to sell unused electricity back to the local electricity grid:

In both schemes, your business energy supplier must purchase excess electricity at a price determined when you first sign up for the schemes.

The guaranteed purchase of unused energy will help your business yield a return on its investment in renewables.