When it comes to renewable energy sources, one of the best indications that they’re successful is that we haven’t really noticed how easily we’ve adopted them.
Wind turbines and solar panels have replaced smoking chimneys and cooling towers on the landscape. At the same time, we continue turning on our lights, cooking, and enjoying our homes.
Bus passengers board electrically-powered or low-carbon LPG (liquified petroleum gas) buses, pausing only to notice the lack of engine noise. Indeed, the triumph of renewables is how they have seamlessly integrated into our lives.
Renewable energy technologies are evolving and improving all the time. Global energy demands have increased by almost two-thirds in the last 20 years. Renewables supplied only 15.3% of that energy demand in 2019. Fossil fuels contributed the remaining 84.3% towards our total energy provision that year, and carbon emissions are not getting lower.
The climate crisis alarm has sounded, and the renewables industry has heard its call. If you have questions about renewable energy, it’s time to get answers. Let’s see how sustainable energy could be powering the world within a generation.
Is There a Future in Renewable Energy?
The future is already steeped in renewable energy, with extra energy capacity planned for the next five years. In its published fuel report, the International Energy Agency (IEA) predicts renewables will account for 95% of net global power capacity increases from now until 2025.
The IEA also predicts electricity generation from renewables will expand almost 50% in the next five years to nearly 9,745 TWh (Terawatt-hours). That’s equivalent to the combined demands of China and the European Union.
Furthermore, in 2021 renewables will provide a record 10% extra electricity generation capacity. By 2023, total installed wind and solar PV capacity are on course to surpass natural gas additions. By 2024, renewables will eclipse coal capacity additions. Furthermore, Carbon Tracker anticipates some 72% of coal-based power will become globally unprofitable by 2040.
The impressive renewable energy statistics continue to mount up. Solar power will account for almost two-thirds of additions as it becomes more efficient, thanks to a 36% decrease in generation costs. Wind will make up 30% of the new capacity.
The same IEA report states that by 2025, one third of all the world’s electricity will be supplied by renewable energy sources, surpassing coal’s electricity generation. Hydropower will create half of that renewable electricity, followed by wind and solar power.
Is Renewable Energy the Future?
Yes, renewable energy is both the future and the present.
Businesses and governments are investing heavily in sustainable sources of energy. They must do so because carbon emissions have flatlined as energy demands increase, which is a blow to limit global temperature rises to 1.5°C (2.7° Fahrenheit) and achieve net-zero emissions by 2050. Even though we’re producing cleaner energy, those gains are being wiped out because we’re using more energy.
Renewable energy investment must increase to $131 trillion to hit climate change targets, according to a new report by The International Renewable Agency (IRENA). It says electricity must overtake fossil fuels as the dominant energy source before the middle of the century. It also claims that, for each $1 million invested, renewables create three times as many jobs as fossil fuels.
Investors have also been attracted to renewable energy stock, with the S&P Clean Energy Index up by 138% in 2020.
We can also see how renewables are shaping the present and aren’t dampening growth. In 2019, Germany’s CO2 emissions dropped 8% to levels not seen since the 1950s, despite its economy now being around 10 times larger.
The United Kingdom met 40% of its electricity demand from renewable energy that same year. In comparison, just 2% of the U.K.’s electricity supply came from coal-fired power plants. Renewable energy sources supplied a whopping 90.1% of Scotland’s electricity, too, thanks to its abundant wind energy.
Tackling Transport and Heating With Renewables
Transport and heating are two of the biggest drivers of pollutants and carbon emissions. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA), transportation accounted for more than a quarter of all United States’ energy consumption in 2019. Heating and cooling dwellings account for 47% of a home’s energy use.
IRENA’s report anticipates that transport will see the highest growth of electrification with a 30-fold increase, cutting 70% of its carbon emissions. Global electric car sales rose from a then-record 2.1 million in 2019 to a new high of 3.2 million in 2020. That’s 7.2 million electric cars now on the world’s roads.
Heating is a vastly underexploited area for renewable energy. Half of the global energy consumption in 2018 was used for heating. Renewables provided only 10% of heating energy, which is expected to rise to 12% by 2024. Conversely, almost a third of U.S. power came from natural gas in 2019.
Fossil fuels are finite and here’s the harsh reality: Globally, there are only 52 years of gas reserves left at current consumption rates.
As Adnan Z. Amin, Director-General at IRENA, wrote: “Around two-thirds of global greenhouse gas emissions stem from energy production and use, which are at the core of efforts to combat climate change. To meet climate goals and the decarbonization of transport and heating must pick up steam.”
Why Do We Need Renewable Energy Resources?
The Paris Agreement of 2015 seeks to avoid damaging climate change by limiting global temperature rises to 1.5°C by 2050 and capping peak emissions as soon as possible. Warmer temperatures may bring rising sea levels and weather changes, with enormous implications for the planet.
We need renewable energy resources to limit our environmental impact. Fossil fuels are finite, so we must develop large-scale alternative energy sources to keep our global energy systems running.
More people are becoming interested in power generation, energy efficiency, and how we produce electricity. Harnessing renewable energies like wind power reduces the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and can help in the battle against climate change.
How Much of the World’s Energy Is Renewable?
In 2019, 15.3% of the world’s energy demand was supplied by renewables. Renewables for global electricity supply reached 27% in 2019, the highest level ever recorded. Wind power, solar photovoltaic (PV), and hydropower account for 85% of renewables growth, complemented mainly by bioenergy.
Looking at electricity production in 2019, that 27% of global renewable electricity share can be broken down as such:
- Hydroelectricity: 58%
- Wind Power: 22%
- Solar Power: 10%
- Biopower (biofuels): 8%
What Are 10 Renewable Energy Trends to Watch in 2021?
The year 2021 promises to be an important one for renewable energy sources. Increased investment, public awareness, and government policies could have a significant impact. Here are 10 renewable energy trends to look out for in 2021.
1. Spain emerges as a solar powerhouse
Europe’s sunniest country, Spain, generated 60% more solar power in 2020 than it did in 2019. The Iberian country has about a third of the solar installations of Germany, but Spain’s previously untapped solar potential is about to be exploited. The solar sector is due to grow twice as fast as Germany’s in the next couple of years.
2. Electric cars record sales
Some 4.4 million electric vehicles are forecast to be sold in 2021, hot on the heels of 3.2 million EV sales in 2020, with Europe and China leading the way.
3. Heat pumps
Look out for hot water and central heating for your home, generated from electricity-powered air, ground, or water pumps. Bloomberg NEF research estimates that 12 million heat pumps could be installed this year alone. Heat pumps using renewable energy could rise by 40% by 2024.
4. Bitcoin and cryptocurrency energy demands
With the rise of cryptocurrencies, so comes scrutiny. A study by Cambridge University suggests Bitcoin mining uses more energy annually than Argentina. Bitcoin miners say most of its power source is excess hydroelectricity. Expect the debate to rumble on.
5. Geothermal heat
Geothermal power is expected to grow 28% by 2024, with Kenya set to overtake Iceland’s geothermal capacity. Asia leads the expansion in thermal energy with projects in Indonesia and the Philippines. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, geothermal energy will generate 8.5% of all electricity in the country by 2050.
6. Solar power
Expect massive growth in solar, especially in China. President Xi has declared that China will be “carbon neutral” by 2060, prompting an anticipated solar boom. The U.S. government is offering investment tax credits (ITCs) to encourage people to switch from fossil fuels to solar energy, too. Experts predict the United States will double domestic solar panels from two million to four million by 2023. For example, California has mandated that after 2020, solar panels must be installed on new homes and buildings of up to three stories.
7. Battery boom
Utility-scale battery technology aims to solve the issue of intermittent renewable energy supplies. California’s Moss Landing Power Plant is now the world’s largest battery, a 300-megawatt lithium-ion battery with another 100-megawatt battery to start working this year. Both small-scale and utility-scale batteries can expect strong growth in the coming years.
Bioenergy comes in many guises. It’s also called biomass, and we’re using it more. Biodiesel is a renewable diesel replacement made from recycled cooking oil, soybean oil, and animal fats. It’s used increasingly in the transport industry. Brazil has been leading an increased use of ethanol as a biofuel, too.
Biogas includes methane, a byproduct of decomposing organic material found, for example, in landfill sites. We burn the methane to create electricity, with growth anticipated globally, driven by China and the European Union.
10. Space power
Scientists have successfully tested a solar panel that can beam solar-generated electricity from solar panels in space to Earth. It captures stronger sunlight than solar panels on Earth, and could provide electricity more efficiently than current solar options. It’s very early days, but large panels could provide enough power for cities.
How Long Will It Take to Transition to Renewable Energy?
Opinions divide on how long it will take to transition to renewable energy. Definitions vary, too.
Does transition mean when renewables provide the majority of global energy consumption? Or does transition mean when we no longer use fossil fuels at all? Or is it when we reach net-zero emissions?
Some researchers think we will be a renewable world by 2032. Others point to the Paris Agreement and say 2050 is a more likely target for net-zero emissions. China is an essential player in the fossil fuel and renewable energy markets and has set 2060 as its net-zero target date.
All we know is that the renewable energy sector is proliferating and eating into fossil fuel’s dominance. Parity in energy provision by both fossil fuels and renewables is a fair while off yet.
What Is the Fastest Growing Renewable Energy?
The fastest-growing renewable energy is solar power. Between now and 2024, renewable electricity capacity will grow 50% globally. Solar PV will provide 60% of the expected growth. Onshore wind farms the next most significant growth area, representing one-quarter of anticipated new capacity.
Global Warming and Climate Change
Global warming and climate change gave birth to the surge in renewable energy. Society and governments are aware of the relationship between fossil fuel emissions and how these pollutants are increasing global temperatures.
How Do Renewable Energy Sources Affect the Environment?
Renewable energy sources do come with an environmental price tag. Below are some issues arising from renewable energy sources, assuming the ecological cost of sourcing, extracting, and processing the raw materials to build the technology.
Wind power: Wind farms and their windmills may create noise pollution, be unsightly, and negatively impact local wildlife, especially birds and insects.
Solar: A photovoltaic (PV) panel’s 30-year lifetime creates a lot of waste and recycling. Birds often crash into solar panels, and solar farms may displace wildlife and create new micro-climates.
Geothermal: The power plants cause visual pollution, and the process can seep bad smells and noise into the local area. There are some issues with soil subsidence.
Hydroelectric power: The installation of hydroelectric dams can be significant. River courses can change, and some governments flood basins and dam them to create hydroelectric stations. Such macro changes to areas can affect local temperatures, wildlife habitats, and displace local human populations, too.
Nuclear: Large amounts of toxic and hazardous waste require treatment and storage. Discharged cooling water can warm local watercourses and affect local aquatic populations.
Does Renewable Energy Help Reduce Climate Change?
Yes, using more renewable energy could help to reduce climate change. First, we need to look at what climate change is.
Between 1970-2020, the average global temperature has increased at the fastest rate in recorded history. According to NASA, the warming is also speeding up, with the last seven years the warmest on record and 2020 the warmest ever. Last year, the global averaged temperature was 1.84 degrees Fahrenheit (1.02 degrees Celsius) warmer than the average temperature between 1951-1980. This is what we call global warming.
Why does global warming happen? Global warming happens when carbon dioxide (CO2) and other air pollutants, and greenhouse gases collect in the atmosphere, where they can stay for centuries. They absorb sunlight and solar radiation that have bounced off the Earth’s surface. The radiation cannot escape into space, so the heat is trapped and causes the planet to get hotter, known as the greenhouse effect.
Fossil fuels release a lot of carbon dioxide and greenhouse gases when burned to create electricity or power. By replacing these polluting fossil fuels with clean, renewable energy sources, there is less carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Over time, solar radiation can once more escape into space, reducing the greenhouse effect and stopping the Earth’s temperature from rising further.
Why Is Renewable Energy Good for the Planet?
Renewable energy is a replenishable energy source that won’t run out for many millions of years. The wind will always blow, the sun will always shine, or at least for many millions of years. Harnessing this energy source provides clean power to meet our everyday energy demands.
Renewable energy sources provide clean energy for many years, once we have extracted the natural resources to build them. Renewables are a flexible energy source, too. We can build micro or macro production sites from a small wind turbine for your home to gigantic offshore wind farms for towns and cities.
Can Renewable Energy Sources Save the World?
The next few years will be full of buzzwords like decarbonization, electrification, and sustainable growth. These will work alongside well-known phrases like renewable energy, climate change, and greenhouse gases.
This expanded and more specialized vocabulary feels representative of a mind shift towards mass renewable energy adoption. Electric cars and heat pumps may soon be as mainstream as solar panels.
All of this will help increase the use of renewable electricity in our day-to-day lives, with people asking for green energy plans from their energy suppliers. The human population is increasing and bringing ever greater energy needs. We need to dovetail the transition to renewable sources with better energy storage and energy conservation, too.
We must balance our energy demands with increased renewable energy use to save the world from a climate crisis.
Brought to you by amigoenergy
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