During human history, most sources of energy were renewable. Biomass was burned for heat and to feed animals. As nonrenewable sources began to dominate the world’s energy supply in the early 1800s, renewable energy became less relevant. Biomass was used to power buildings in rural areas and as supplemental heat in cities. In the mid-1980s, incentives pushed the use of renewable energy, including wind, water, and biomass.
Solar power is rapidly transforming the energy sector throughout the world. Between 2007 and 2017, the total installed energy capacity of solar photovoltaics rose by nearly four times. Combined with wind and water power, solar thermal energy is being developed for hot water and heating as well as cooling. Renewable energy is making it possible to create power for a growing global population while reducing environmental impact. Solar power is now a leading source of electricity in the world, making up just two percent of total electricity worldwide.
Wind power accounts for 6 percent of U.S. energy generation, and has become the most affordable energy source in many regions. Wind turbines can be installed anywhere there is a high wind speed, including on an offshore platform. Hydropower, meanwhile, is the largest renewable energy source in the country, and relies on fast-moving water to convert its force into electricity. In the United States, wind power is expected to provide eight percent of all electricity by 2020.
Sustainable energy solutions are not simple to implement, but by advocating for renewable sources, people can accelerate the transition to a clean energy future. If you don’t have solar panels, consider buying renewable energy certificates to help you get the power you need. Renewable energy can help pay for your electric bills, and your power company may even be able to provide you with electricity derived from another source. The next time you visit your electric company, be sure to ask if they offer a renewable energy option.
In the early 1990s, wind power and photovoltaics continued to grow rapidly. During the decade between 2001 and 2017, the world’s total installed wind power capacity increased by a factor of 22. Photovoltaic capacity rose by 50 percent during that same period. And in Europe, the European Union has adopted a goal to produce 20 percent of its energy from renewable sources by 2020. As of 2016, about seventeen percent of the EU’s energy was derived from renewable sources.
Geothermal energy is a potential source of electricity but only in certain parts of the world. It also requires large amounts of freshwater to make steam. This may be an issue in areas with dry heat underground or where freshwater is limited. Biomass is the material generated by recently-living organisms. Plants generate energy and store it after they die. Similarly, manure and garbage can be used as biomass feedstock. All three are viable, although they are not widespread.
In the United States, renewable energy will account for nearly five percent of the total energy used in the country by 2020, with growth rates expected to be around 2.4 percent annually. By 2030, the proportion of renewables is expected to reach 35 percent. Wind and solar power are the fastest-growing sources of electricity in the country, and will make up nearly a third of the nation’s electricity. The growth rate in these sources of energy will continue to increase, and the technology will soon be widely available for widespread use.
As renewable energy continues to grow, policymakers should focus on the nuances of the language they use to promote the technology. By defining renewable energy in terms that the public can relate to, they are more likely to receive widespread public support. For example, research has shown that 82% of Americans support the use of renewable energy. This figure is similar to the global percentage for all energy sources. Moreover, renewable energy is bipartisan in the U.S., with both Democrats and Republicans looking for economic benefits.
Solar energy, wind energy, hydroelectric power, and geothermal energy are all renewable sources of energy that cannot be depleted. Unlike fossil fuels, these sources are infinite and replenish themselves faster than the rate of human consumption. In addition, solar farms should be paired with storage solutions to store the energy they generate. And remember: renewable energy sources can create jobs. And while they do not deplete, they also provide cleaner, safe energy.