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What is sustainable energy?


Sustainable energy is the provision of energy such that it meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs. A broader interpretation may allow inclusion of fossil fuels as transitional sources while technology develops, as long as new sources are developed for future generations to use. A narrower interpretation includes only energy sources which are not expected to be depleted in a time frame relevant to the human race, which can potentially also include nuclear power if it is utilized differently from the current manner.


Sustainable energy sources are most often regarded as including all renewable sources, such as plant matter, solar power, wind power, wave power, geothermal power and tidal power. It usually also includes technologies that improve energy efficiency. Conventional fission power is sometimes referred to as sustainable, but this is controversial politically due to concerns about peak uranium, radioactive waste disposal and the risks of disaster due to accident, terrorism, or natural disaster.


Twin pillars of sustainable energy:

  • Energy efficiency

  • Renewable energy


Some ways in which sustainable energy has been defined are:

* "Effectively, the provision of energy such that it meets the needs of the future without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. ...Sustainable Energy has two key components: renewable energy and energy efficiency." – Renewable Energy and Efficiency Partnership (British)

* "Dynamic harmony between equitable availability of energy-intensive goods and services to all people and the preservation of the earth for future generations." And, "the solution will lie in finding sustainable energy sources and more efficient means of converting and utilizing energy." – Sustainable energy by J. W. Tester, et al, from MIT Press.

* "Any energy generation, efficiency & conservation source where: Resources are available to enable massive scaling to become a significant portion of energy generation, long term, preferably 100 years.." – Invest, a green technology non-profit organization.

* "Energy which is replenishable within a human lifetime and causes no long-term damage to the environment." – Jamaica Sustainable Development Network

This sets sustainable energy apart from other renewable energy terminology such as alternative energy and green energy, by focusing on the ability of an energy source to continue providing energy. Sustainable energy can produce some pollution of the environment, as long as it is not sufficient to prohibit heavy use of the source for an indefinite amount of time. Sustainable energy is also distinct from Low-carbon energy, which is only sustainable only in the sense that it does not add to the CO2 in the atmosphere.

Green power is a subset of renewable energy and represents those renewable energy resources and technologies that provide the highest environmental benefit. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency defines green power as electricity produced from solar, wind, geothermal, biogas, biomass, and low-impact small hydroelectric sources. Customers often buy green power for avoided environmental impacts and its greenhouse gas reduction benefits.