Low-Emission Energy Sources – Are they the Future?


Low-Emission Energy Sources – Are they the Future?

17th Apr 2023

What are low-emission energy sources?

Low-emission energy sources are exactly as their name suggests. They’re energy sources that generate lower emissions than their traditional counterparts. This includes the big five: solar, wind, water (hydropower), nuclear, and hydrogen.

In terms of emissions, they’re better for the environment because they release less carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Remember — carbon dioxide is one of the main greenhouse gases currently driving global warming.

Of these big five low-emission energy sources, solar, wind, water, and some forms of hydrogen are all also known as ‘renewable resources’. This means that they are utilising and converting energy from a naturally occurring process which cannot be depleted or consumed like fossil fuels (Coal, LNG, Oil etc.).

Let’s dive into a refresher about what each of these low-emission energy sources involves.

Solar power

Solar power converts sunlight into energy either through photovoltaic (PV) panels or through mirrors that concentrate solar radiation and heat up a receiver which generates steam to turn a turbine. This energy can then either be used as electricity or stored in batteries for future use.

Wind power

Wind turbines use the aerodynamic force on propellor blades to turn a generator and create electricity. Fan turbines are currently the most common wind power generator, but there are prototypes being developed that use ‘airborne wind’ and look like giant kites. Traditional turbines are often found on high, open ground but can also be floated on top of the ocean to make use of strong offshore wind.


Humans have used hydropower for thousands of years, making it one of our oldest energy sources. Simply, hydropower uses the movement of water to generate electricity. As water flows or is pumped through a turbine, it converts that movement into power. Hydroelectricity can be generated almost immediately, meaning it can help support other power sources in low production times, especially when power generation requires damming a water reservoir. Much like wind power, some hydroelectric farms are being researched in the ocean, where the motion of waves or tidal currents is converted to electricity.

Nuclear power

Fission Reactor:
At the heart of nuclear power is the nuclear reactor. The reactor uses the natural radioactive decay uranium as fuel to produce heat through a process called fission. This heat is then used to generate steam which spins a turbine and produces electricity.

Fusion Power – Research and Development:
Both fission and fusion are nuclear processes, whereby the nucleus of an atom is changed due to nuclear forces. Fusion reactors produce the inert gas helium (chemically inactive), whilst also producing and consuming hydrogen isotopes like tritium and deuterium inside a closed circuit. This process generates electricity by using heat from the nuclear power reaction. Due to technology-readiness and scalability constraints, electricity generation and utilisation of fusion power is currently expected to ramp up in the second half of the century, contingent on funding and technical advancement.

Hydrogen power

As you know, hydrogen is the most common element in the universe. There are several ways it can be utilised to produce electricity or mechanical energy. There are a variety of methods used to extract hydrogen including through electrolysis and steam methane reforming. Once it’s extracted, it can be stored as a liquid, a gas, or an additive in other materials. Because of its diversity, it has potential to be stored for later use or exported overseas.

What do these energy sources mean for Australia’s energy future?

The energy sector accounts for a significant amount of the world’s emissions, making it one of the primary drivers of climate change. Because of this, renewable and low-emission energy sources have a role to play in meeting global climate change goals. It’s expected that these energy sources will take on a larger role over the next few years.

With this increased focus on low-emission sources comes important considerations around maintaining reliability, scale, and affordability.

The two biggest renewable sources, solar and wind, aren’t always ‘running’ – the sun doesn’t always shine, and the wind doesn’t always blow. To overcome this, great strides have taken place to improve the batteries needed to store solar and wind power. However, it’s highly likely we’ll always need to combine these sources with other generation methods to ensure there is sufficient and reliable electricity.

The low-emissions power industry has experienced a lot of growth, but there’s still considerable room for more. To help start your classroom discussion, ask this question — what do you think Australia’s energy production will look like by 2050? You can also follow this up with a project for a more in-depth look at low-emission energy.


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What’s the Big Deal About Hydrogen?

20th Sep 2022

We use energy for so many things – from the bus ride to school or work to cooking popcorn in the microwave, we use energy every day, all the time. In Australia, we predominantly use traditional sources of energy but are increasingly looking to more sustainable sources to add into the energy mix.

Enter hydrogen!

Power generation in Australia today largely uses thermal coal and gas, along with renewable resources like wind and solar. Sometimes, renewable energy sources are not able to meet the electricity demand when and where it is required. Hydrogen has the potential to solve this problem.

Hydrogen comes in a range of different colour classifications but in Australia three are used: grey, blue, and green.

Grey – produced through steam methane reforming. This involves a two-step process that combines steam and natural gas to produce hydrogen. Carbon dioxide (CO2) is produced in this process.

Blue – similar to grey hydrogen, is made from natural gas using steam methane reforming but instead of releasing the carbon dioxide produced, some of it is captured and stored. It is not possible to capture all the carbon dioxide produced but the carbon footprint is lowered.

Green – the most sustainable form of hydrogen production is the electrolysis of water. Renewable electricity is used to power an electrolyser. This splits water into hydrogen and oxygen gas. Hydrogen produced this way is classified as green hydrogen as no CO2 emissions are produced, leaving only oxygen behind.

Australia’s resources industry is working hard to make energy production more sustainable and hydrogen is just one way they are doing it.

Learn more about hydrogen in the video below, or take a look at all of our hydrogen resources.