Renewable energy is useful energy that is collected from renewable resources, which are naturally replenished on a human timescale, including carbon neutral sources like sunlight, wind, rain, tides, waves, and geothermal heat. The term often also encompasses biomass as well, whose carbon neutral status is under debate. This type of energy source stands in contrast to fossil fuels, which are being used far more quickly than they are being replenished.
Renewable energy often provides energy in four important areas: electricity generation, air and water heating/cooling, transportation, and rural (off-grid) energy services.
Based on REN21's 2017 report,
renewables contributed 19.3% to humans'
global energy consumption and 24.5% to their
generation of electricity in 2015 and 2016,
respectively. This energy consumption is
divided as 8.9% coming from traditional
biomass, 4.2% as heat energy (modern
biomass, geothermal and solar heat), 3.9%
from hydroelectricity and the remaining 2.2%
is electricity from wind, solar, geothermal,
and other forms of biomass. Worldwide
investments in renewable technologies
amounted to more than US$286 billion in
2015. In 2017, worldwide investments in
renewable energy amounted to US$279.8
billion with China accounting for US$126.6
billion or 45% of the global investments,
the United States for US$40.5 billion and
Europe for US$40.9 billion. Globally there
were an estimated 10.5 million jobs
associated with the renewable energy
industries, with solar photovoltaics being
the largest renewable employer. Renewable
energy systems are rapidly becoming more
efficient and cheaper and their share of
total energy consumption is increasing. As
of 2019, more than two-thirds of worldwide
newly installed electricity capacity was
renewable. Growth in consumption of coal and
oil could end by 2020 due to increased
uptake of renewables and natural gas.
At the national level, at least 30 nations around the world already have renewable energy contributing more than 20 percent of energy supply. National renewable energy markets are projected to continue to grow strongly in the coming decade and beyond. At least two countries, Iceland and Norway, generate all their electricity using renewable energy already, and many other countries have the set a goal to reach 100% renewable energy in the future. At least 47 nations around the world already have over 50 percent of electricity from renewable resources. Renewable energy resources exist over wide geographical areas, in contrast to fossil fuels, which are concentrated in a limited number of countries. Rapid deployment of renewable energy and energy efficiency technologies is resulting in significant energy security, climate change mitigation, and economic benefits. In international public opinion surveys there is strong support for promoting renewable sources such as solar power and wind power.
While many renewable energy projects are large-scale, renewable technologies are also suited to rural and remote areas and developing countries, where energy is often crucial in human development. As most of renewable energy technologies provide electricity, renewable energy deployment is often applied in conjunction with further electrification, which has several benefits: electricity can be converted to heat, can be converted into mechanical energy with high efficiency, and is clean at the point of consumption. In addition, electrification with renewable energy is more efficient and therefore leads to significant reductions in primary energy requirements.
Renewable energy flows involve natural phenomena such as sunlight, wind, tides, plant growth, and geothermal heat, as the International Energy Agency explains:
Renewable energy is derived
from natural processes that are replenished
constantly. In its various forms, it derives
directly from the sun, or from heat
generated deep within the earth. Included in
the definition is electricity and heat
generated from solar, wind, ocean,
hydropower, biomass, geothermal resources,
and biofuels and hydrogen derived from
Renewable energy resources and significant opportunities for energy efficiency exist over wide geographical areas, in contrast to other energy sources, which are concentrated in a limited number of countries. Rapid deployment of renewable energy and energy efficiency, and technological diversification of energy sources, would result in significant energy security and economic benefits. It would also reduce environmental pollution such as air pollution caused by burning of fossil fuels and improve public health, reduce premature mortalities due to pollution and save associated health costs that amount to several hundred billion dollars annually only in the United States. Renewable energy sources, that derive their energy from the sun, either directly or indirectly, such as hydro and wind, are expected to be capable of supplying humanity energy for almost another 1 billion years, at which point the predicted increase in heat from the Sun is expected to make the surface of the Earth too hot for liquid water to exist.
Climate change and global warming concerns, coupled with the continuing fall in the costs of some renewable energy equipment, such as wind turbines and solar panels, are driving increased use of renewables. New government spending, regulation and policies helped the industry weather the global financial crisis better than many other sectors. As of 2019, however, according to the International Renewable Energy Agency, renewables overall share in the energy mix (including power, heat and transport) needs to grow six times faster, in order to keep the rise in average global temperatures "well below" 2.0 ◦C (3.6 ◦F) during the present century, compared to pre-industrial levels.
As of 2011, small solar PV systems provide electricity to a few million households, and micro-hydro configured into mini-grids serves many more. Over 44 million households use biogas made in household-scale digesters for lighting and/or cooking, and more than 166 million households rely on a new generation of more-efficient biomass cookstoves. United Nations' eighth Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has said that renewable energy has the ability to lift the poorest nations to new levels of prosperity. At the national level, at least 30 nations around the world already have renewable energy contributing more than 20% of energy supply. National renewable energy markets are projected to continue to grow strongly in the coming decade and beyond, and some 120 countries have various policy targets for longer-term shares of renewable energy, including a 20% target of all electricity generated for the European Union by 2020. Some countries have much higher long-term policy targets of up to 100% renewables. Outside Europe, a diverse group of 20 or more other countries target renewable energy shares in the 2020-2030 time frame that range from 10% to 50%.
Renewable energy often displaces conventional fuels in four areas: electricity generation, hot water/space heating, transportation, and rural (off-grid) energy services:
* Power generation
By 2040, renewable energy is projected to equal coal and natural gas electricity generation. Several jurisdictions, including Denmark, Germany, the state of South Australia and some US states have achieved high integration of variable renewables. For example, in 2015 wind power met 42% of electricity demand in Denmark, 23.2% in Portugal and 15.5% in Uruguay. Interconnectors enable countries to balance electricity systems by allowing the import and export of renewable energy. Innovative hybrid systems have emerged between countries and regions.
Solar water heating makes an important contribution to renewable heat in many countries, most notably in China, which now has 70% of the global total (180 GWth). Most of these systems are installed on multi-family apartment buildings and meet a portion of the hot water needs of an estimated 50-60 million households in China. Worldwide, total installed solar water heating systems meet a portion of the water heating needs of over 70 million households. The use of biomass for heating continues to grow as well. In Sweden, national use of biomass energy has surpassed that of oil. Direct geothermal for heating is also growing rapidly. The newest addition to Heating is from Geothermal Heat Pumps which provide both heating and cooling, and also flatten the electric demand curve and are thus an increasing national priority.
Bioethanol is an alcohol made
by fermentation, mostly from carbohydrates
produced in sugar or starch crops such as
corn, sugarcane, or sweet sorghum.
Cellulosic biomass, derived from non-food
sources such as trees and grasses is also
being developed as a feedstock for ethanol
production. Ethanol can be used as a fuel
for vehicles in its pure form, but it is
usually used as a gasoline additive to
increase octane and improve vehicle
emissions. Bioethanol is widely used in the
USA and in Brazil. Biodiesel can be used as
a fuel for vehicles in its pure form, but it
is usually used as a diesel additive to
reduce levels of particulates, carbon
monoxide, and hydrocarbons from
diesel-powered vehicles. Biodiesel is
produced from oils or fats using
transesterification and is the most common
biofuel in Europe.
A solar vehicle is an electric vehicle powered completely or significantly by direct solar energy. Usually, photovoltaic (PV) cells contained in solar panels convert the sun's energy directly into electric energy. The term "solar vehicle" usually implies that solar energy is used to power all or part of a vehicle's propulsion. Solar power may be also used to provide power for communications or controls or other auxiliary functions. Solar vehicles are not sold as practical day-to-day transportation devices at present, but are primarily demonstration vehicles and engineering exercises, often sponsored by government agencies. High-profile examples include PlanetSolar and Solar Impulse. However, indirectly solar-charged vehicles are widespread and solar boats are available commercially.
At the end of 2019, worldwide installed wind power capacity was 623 GW
Air flow can be used to run wind turbines. Modern utility-scale wind turbines range from around 600 kW to 9 MW of rated power. The power available from the wind is a function of the cube of the wind speed, so as wind speed increases, power output increases up to the maximum output for the particular turbine. Areas where winds are stronger and more constant, such as offshore and high-altitude sites, are preferred locations for wind farms. Typically, full load hours of wind turbines vary between 16 and 57 percent annually, but might be higher in particularly favorable offshore sites.
Globally, the long-term technical potential of wind energy is believed to be five times total current global energy production, or 40 times current electricity demand, assuming all practical barriers needed were overcome.
At the end of 2019, worldwide renewable hydropower capacity was 1,190 GW.
Since water is about 800 times denser than air, even a slow flowing stream of water, or moderate sea swell, can yield considerable amounts of energy. There are many forms of water energy:
* Historically, hydroelectric
power came from constructing large
hydroelectric dams and reservoirs, which are
still popular in developing countries. The
largest of them are the Three Gorges Dam
(2003) in China and the Itaipu Dam (1984)
built by Brazil and Paraguay.
* Small hydro systems are hydroelectric power installations that typically produce up to 50 MW of power. They are often used on small rivers or as a low-impact development on larger rivers. China is the largest producer of hydroelectricity in the world and has more than 45,000 small hydro installations.
* Run-of-the-river hydroelectricity plants derive energy from rivers without the creation of a large reservoir. The water is typically conveyed along the side of the river valley (using channels, pipes and/or tunnels) until it is high above the valley floor, whereupon it can allowed to fall through a penstock to drive a turbine. This style of generation may still produce a large amount of electricity, such as the Chief Joseph Dam on the Columbia river in the United States. Many run-of-the-river hydro power plants are micro hydro or pico hydro plants.
Hydropower is produced in 150 countries, with the Asia-Pacific region generating 32 percent of global hydropower in 2010. For countries having the largest percentage of electricity from renewables, the top 50 are primarily hydroelectric. China is the largest hydroelectricity producer, with 721 terawatt-hours of production in 2010, representing around 17 percent of domestic electricity use. There are now three hydroelectricity stations larger than 10 GW: the Three Gorges Dam in China, Itaipu Dam across the Brazil/Paraguay border, and Guri Dam in Venezuela.
At the end of 2019, global installed solar capacity was 586 GW.
Solar energy, radiant light and heat from the sun, is harnessed using a range of ever-evolving technologies such as solar heating, photovoltaics, concentrated solar power (CSP), concentrator photovoltaics (CPV), solar architecture and artificial photosynthesis. Solar technologies are broadly characterized as either passive solar or active solar depending on the way they capture, convert, and distribute solar energy. Passive solar techniques include orienting a building to the Sun, selecting materials with favorable thermal mass or light dispersing properties, and designing spaces that naturally circulate air. Active solar technologies encompass solar thermal energy, using solar collectors for heating, and solar power, converting sunlight into electricity either directly using photovoltaics (PV), or indirectly using concentrated solar power (CSP).
At the end of 2019, global geothermal capacity was 14 GW.
High temperature geothermal energy is from thermal energy generated and stored in the Earth. Thermal energy is the energy that determines the temperature of matter. Earth's geothermal energy originates from the original formation of the planet and from radioactive decay of minerals (in currently uncertain but possibly roughly equal proportions). The geothermal gradient, which is the difference in temperature between the core of the planet and its surface, drives a continuous conduction of thermal energy in the form of heat from the core to the surface. The adjective geothermal originates from the Greek roots geo, meaning earth, and thermos, meaning heat.
The heat that is used for geothermal energy can be from deep within the Earth, all the way down to Earth's core - 4,000 miles (6,400 km) down. At the core, temperatures may reach over 9,000 ◦F (5,000 ◦C). Heat conducts from the core to surrounding rock. Extremely high temperature and pressure cause some rock to melt, which is commonly known as magma. Magma convects upward since it is lighter than the solid rock. This magma then heats rock and water in the crust, sometimes up to 700 ◦F (371 ◦C).
At the end of 2019, bioenergy global capacity was 124 GW.
Biomass is biological material derived from living, or recently living organisms. It most often refers to plants or plant-derived materials which are specifically called lignocellulosic biomass. As an energy source, biomass can either be used directly via combustion to produce heat, or indirectly after converting it to various forms of biofuel. Conversion of biomass to biofuel can be achieved by different methods which are broadly classified into: thermal, chemical, and biochemical methods. Wood remains the largest biomass energy source today; examples include forest residues - such as dead trees, branches and tree stumps -, yard clippings, wood chips and even municipal solid waste. In the second sense, biomass includes plant or animal matter that can be converted into fibers or other industrial chemicals, including biofuels. Industrial biomass can be grown from numerous types of plants, including miscanthus, switchgrass, hemp, corn, poplar, willow, sorghum, sugarcane, bamboo, and a variety of tree species, ranging from eucalyptus to oil palm (palm oil).