Our Earth is more fragile than we like to think, and the human race has not done the best job at keeping it at its best.
Luckily, with scientific discoveries, renewable energy resources have surfaced and given us the ability to be cleaner and more efficient. They have saved us hundreds of millions of carbon emissions for thousands of years, with records of water-power generation dating back to the Ancient Greeks, and the industries are continuing to grow and change and adapt based on new research and new technologies.
We use energy from renewable resources every day, all over the world, and we are constantly discovering more and more about clean energy opportunities.
The growth is accelerating at an exciting rate, and projections made in 2019 had the industry growing 50% in just 5 years! Even large companies like Apple, Amazon, Target, Walmart, and Google are investing in renewable energy, creating even more growth. This energy comes from various sources, each with their own perks and ways that they help us better preserve the earth.
Here are the top 5 renewable energy resources across the globe and some fun facts about them!
Water helps us create 54% of renewable energy across the globe and 15.9% of energy overall. It is the cheapest and cleanest source of energy and has helped the world avoid 100 billion tons of carbon dioxide in the past 50 years.
When water flows through plants, its force moves turbines that turn on a generator to create power, and there are two different kinds of plants: run-of-the-river systems, which use rivers and flowing water, and storage systems, which use reservoirs and dams. There are also pumped-storage hydropower facilities, with reservoirs exchanging water through a turbine to power the generator.
China produces the most hydroelectricity, at 40%, with Brazil, the US, Canada, and Russia following close behind. Almost 100% of Norway’s energy is produced from hydroelectric production, with only one facility, the Hammeren Hydroelectric Power Station, powering the entire capital city of Oslo. It is the only facility in Oslo and is one of the oldest in their country.
Water-powered electricity is a resource that we can continue to rely on making the world cleaner and more efficient, with over 2,000 dams across the United States producing electricity, though there is potential for more, as those 2,000 only make up 3% of all dams in the country (there are over 80,000!).
- In 2050, Hydropower could potentially support more than 195,000 jobs in the United States.
- Hydropower can help to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 5.6 gigatons by 2050, which is equal to nearly 1.2 billion passenger cars driven in a year and saving $209 billion by avoiding global damages from climate change.
- By 2050, hydropower can save 30 trillion gallons of water, which is about 45 million swimming pools (Olympic-sized).
- Wind and solar power can be further integrated into new pumped-storage facilities and into the national power grid because the facility can better provide flexibility, reliability, and reserve capacity.
2. Wind Power
With the most efficient and successful turbines placed offshore (creating 4x more electricity than a common electrical grid can handle), wind power makes up 24% of renewable energy and 5.9% of all energy. The wind blows the blades that turn and power a generator to create power, similar to hydropower.
Also similar to waterpower, China produces the most wind power. The US follows closely, continued by India, Brazil, Canada, and six countries in Europe. These eleven countries produce 85% of total wind power production globally.
Wind power is pollution-free and continues to grow as an industry and resource for green living. Blades can be over 60 meters long and the tallest windmill in the world is 246.5 meters tall in Germany, and the Biden administration recently passed legislation that will allow for the first major offshore wind project in United States waters, so wind energy from the western hemisphere is about to get a boost!
- It is believed that by 2050, every state can have viable wind energy powering their electricity, and 600,000 jobs can be supported.
- $280 billion of consumer money will be saved by reducing the nation’s exposure to price spikes and disruptions in supply with long-term pricing.
- Wind energy helps to preserve water, with 2050 projections at 250 billion gallons of water saved. That’s equal to 400,000 Olympic swimming pools.
3. Solar Power
There are two different kinds of solar production: photovoltaic (PV) and concentrating solar power (CSP).
PV is more dominant and used more than CSP, but the whole industry of solar power is the fastest growing renewable industry, with demand increasing by over 20 times between 2008 and 2015. It currently accounts for 8.4% of renewable energy and 2.8% of all energy, but it is projected that by 2023, there will be 4 million solar systems installed, up from 2 million in 2019 and making it the most popular form of renewable energy production.
The way plants use light for photosynthesis is similar to the way the panels create energy. The light photons work with negative charges on the panels, and you can learn more about how solar panels work by reading more here!
70% of the production comes from the continent of Asia (mostly from China), and the US, Australia, and Germany produce the next highest amounts. Solar power has saved homeowners upwards of $20,000 per homeowner since installation, and Blue Raven Solar is happy to be part of that! Capacity additions are anticipated to grow more than three times their current gigawatts by 2024 in this market that stretches all 50 states.
- By 2050, solar panels will likely have reduced in cost by 700% with ongoing research and development.
- The industry has the potential to employ 18 million people in 2050.
- If solar (coupled with wind power) continues to grow at its rate, or even much less of its current rate, we can see renewable energy covering the whole world’s electricity by 2050.
4. Bio Power
Biofuels, biomass, and other biopower make up 8% of renewable energy through wood pellets, agricultural byproducts, algae, and other biological makeup. It can be processed in a few ways: burning, decomposition, and conversion to gas or fuel.
The burning process is similar to wind and hydropower–the biomass is burned in a boiler and the high-pressure steam pushes turbines to power a generator. It can also be coupled with coal to help reduce coal burning while still producing energy.
Decomposition works with organic waste that is collected in digesters (oxygen-free tanks). The material is decomposed by anaerobic bacteria, and methane and other byproducts are produced that form a renewable natural gas which is then purified and used to create power.
The conversion to gas or fuel can go through two processes: gasification or pyrolysis. Gasification exposes the biomass material to high temperatures with low oxygen levels. This produces a synthetic gas, which is made mostly of hydrogen and carbon monoxide. This gas is then burned in a boiler, or it can replace natural gas in a combined-cycle gas turbine.
Pyrolysis is similar, but the operating conditions are different. The biomass is heated at a lower temperature, but instead of low levels of oxygen, there is absolutely none. This creates a bio-oil, which is then used in place of fuel oil or diesel in furnaces, turbines, and engines.
Bio power is used for heat and power generation, and the biggest plant in the world is called Vaskiluodon Voima in Finland, though Finland doesn’t lead in production—the US, Brazil, China, India, Germany, and Sweden are leaders, and China, India and the UK account for more than half of the world’s bioenergy capacity expansion in 2018. It’s a quickly growing industry, and new discoveries are being made every day for bio power.
- Biomass production is expected to nearly double by 2050.
- In developing countries, there are over 160 million people that use biomass energy for electricity.
- By 2050, it is predicted that 60% of industrial fuels and heat will come from biomass.
There is less data on geothermal energy because it is used for much less. It is responsible for a very small amount of energy (in comparison to the others, though there are no small players in the renewable energy game).
Geothermal energy is created through water flowing through the ground and creating heat, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Wells are dug 1-2 miles into the earth, and hot water is pumped to the surface under high pressure.
When it gets close to the surface, the pressure is dropped, and it turns into steam, which pushes turbines that power generators. After the steam goes through the turbine, it is stored and cooled so that it turns back into water. It is then drained back into the earth to start the process over.
The movement creates 1.4% of renewable energy, and it produces an incredibly low carbon footprint. Though its production is relatively low, it is still renewable energy that we wouldn’t have otherwise. From its energy, 1/3 of it goes to electricity, and 2/3 goes to direct heat, so it doesn’t impact the electricity grid or the way we power our homes and lives near as much as water, wind, or solar power.
San Francisco holds the world’s biggest geothermal power plant at The Geysers Geothermal Complex with 900 megawatts of capacity. Thanks to this plant, the US is one of the top 5 producers of geothermal energy along with the Philippines, Indonesia, Mexico, and Italy.
Geothermal energy is continuing to grow as an industry, just like the other resources, and we will continue to learn more about it as research develops.
- The industry could grow to 60 gigawatts of installed capacity by 2050, putting its output to 8% of renewable energy.
- Some models show the potential for more than 17,000 direct-heating and cooling for 28 million households using geothermal heat pumps by 2050.
Utilizing our renewable resources and minimizing our fossil fuel usage is a necessary part of keeping the planet safe and clean.
We only have one planet, and it is up to us to take care of it, so we need to understand these potential resources in order to maximize their abilities and productions while minimizing our negative affect on the earth. These five sources are essential, giving us the power to change the world and protect the earth we have while also giving us the ability to be energy independent in the United States and all over the world.
Blue Raven Solar is proud to help people change the world through solar energy and we are excited to see how the world can continue to change through the growth of the renewable energy industry.
We would love to help you become part of the change.