When you boil it down there are only two types of energy: brown and green. Brown energy refers to electricity generated through the burning of traditional fossil fuels, such as coal or oil. This type of energy is associated with pollution because it emits a number of greenhouse gasses attributed to climate change. Green energy is the exact opposite. It's made of alternative energy sources that are infinite and pollution-free, such as wind, hydroelectric or solar power.

Types of alternative energy sources

When it comes to alternative energy sources, you're likely talking about the following renewable energy generation processes.

  •  Wind energy.  Wind energy is one of the most abundant alternative energy sources in the United States, at times generating more than 6 percent of the nation's electricity, according to the Natural Resources Defense Council.  Today, wind energy is typically generated through a wind turbine. These structures, which can stand more than 400 feet tall, resemble large pinwheels. As wind blows, the turbine blades spin, producing kinetic energy. That energy can then be converted into usable electricity for your home.
  • Solar energy.  The sun is so powerful that just one hour of sunlight could power the planet for an entire year. In order to harness its energy, solar panels, or photovoltaic cells, use semiconductors to capture the powerful rays. The semiconductor, typically silicon, absorbs sunlight and knocks its electrons loose, creating solar energy that can be harnessed and transported to the power grid.
  •  Geothermal energy. There are geological hot spots, such as volcanoes or hot springs, all over the world that are teeming with energy opportunity. These areas radiate extreme temperatures that, if harnessed, can be converted into renewable energy. To capture this energy, geothermal power plants are set up around hot spots where they drill into the Earth's core. The steam or scalding water that comes up in the process pushes a turbine to create electricity.
  •  Hydroelectric power. Water is another free resource that makes a great alternative energy source. And it's one of the nation's oldest renewable energy resources. In the 1920s, hydroelectric power supplied as much as 40 percent of the nation's electricity needs. Though the resource supplies significantly less today, it's still a valuable energy source. Hydroelectric power plants typically include a dam that helps control water levels and movement. To generate energy, the plant forces water through a turbine, causing it to spin. The movement is then captured by an attached generator that transforms the waters energy into electricity.
  •  Biomass. Instead of letting plant waste decompose on its own, the energy stored in the plants can be converted into renewable energy. Because plants store energy from the sun, they are full of usable energy that just needs to be harnessed. The process of creating energy involves burning plant material to create heat and then converting the heat into renewable electricity. Common biomass materials include forest residue, corn stalks or husks, sawdust and switch grass.
  •  Biogas. Biogas energy is generated by converting animal manure into electricity.  As bacteria works to decompose the manure, special machinery is used to depress oxygen and convert the animal waste into methane gas. The methane can be used to heat water or create electricity for your home, while any leftover manure becomes fertilizer. But there's little-to-no biogas available on the grid today. Most biogas plants reside on large farms, where farmers use the energy source to power their own operations.

Buy renewable energy from green energy companies

Although installing your own set of solar panels is a great way to get green energy to your home, it can be an expensive option. Fortunately, there's a more cost-effective solution to power your home off of alternative energy sources.  If you live in a deregulated area you have the opportunity to purchase a renewable energy supply. There are a number of green energy companies that offer electricity that's generated from alternative energy sources. Some even offer 100 percent renewable energy plans so you can completely offset your electricity consumption.

If you don't live in a deregulated state, you may still have opportunities to contribute to renewable energy generation. Some utilities will allow you to pay a small fee on top of your normal electricity costs to add power from alternative energy sources to the grid.

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