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Renewable energy sources are revolutionizing the way we power our world, offering sustainable alternatives to traditional fossil fuels. From harnessing the energy of the sun to tapping into the Earth’s natural heat and water resources, renewables play a pivotal role in combating climate change and fostering a more sustainable future.

What is Renewable Energy?

Renewable energy is power generated from resources that naturally replenish themselves. Examples of renewable energy sources include sunlight, wind, water, geothermal heat, and organic waste. Unlike fossil fuels, which are finite and contribute to climate change, renewable energy offers clean, sustainable alternatives for generating power.

What is the current capacity for renewable energy in the U.S.?

In the United States, renewable energy accounts for 21% of national energy consumption. Rounding out the United States’ energy mix is nuclear energy at 19% and fossil fuels at a 60% majority. However renewable energy is projected to grow exponentially over the next several years.

The world is pursuing cleaner, renewable energy sources to combat the effects of climate change. By the end of 2024, the U.S. Energy Information Administration projects solar power to be the driving force of this change, growing an estimated 5.6%. Wind power is also on the rise, projecting an increase from 149GW to 156 GW of capacity this year. As more renewable energy sources are incorporated into the national grid, our reliance on harmful fossil fuels reduces.

What are the Pros and Cons of Renewable Energy?

Renewable energy is propelling the transition to a greener, more sustainable energy future. Costs are decreasing and renewable energy projects are increasing dramatically. With such a peak in interest, it’s evident that there are many advantages to renewable energy sources. Whether the goal is controlling energy costs or reducing carbon footprints, the advantages of renewables extend beyond business operations. However, what disadvantages need to be considered, and what obstacles could affect the clean energy transition?

The two greatest challenges of widespread renewable energy integration are the cost of installation and energy source intermittency. While installation and equipment costs have decreased as much as 20% in the last decade, renewable energy systems are still a substantial investment. Many businesses and homeowners still require financial incentives and tax credits to complete their projects. Renewable energy reliability is also a concern, especially with solar and wind power. These renewables need to be attached to a microgrid energy storage system to improve reliability, which is another costly investment.

Advantages of renewable energy

  • No greenhouse gas emissions
  • Infinite source of energy
  • Creates clean energy jobs
  • Improves public health
  • Environmentally friendly
  • Reduces energy costs overtime
  • Lowers dependence on international energy resources

Disadvantages of renewable energy

  • Steep upfront investment costs
  • Renewables alone aren’t always reliable
  • Geographic and climate limitations
  • Requires energy storage solutions for reliability
  • Large spatial requirements
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Types of Renewable Energy Sources

Renewable energy sources offer a sustainable solution to combat the effects of climate change. From solar, wind, and hydro power to geothermal heat and biomass, renewable energy sources make use of the Earth’s abundant and replenishable natural resources. Each of the renewables detailed below requires unique technologies to generate clean, green energy.

What Is Solar Energy?

Solar energy is most commonly converted into usable power through photovoltaic (PV) solar panels. Small PV cells within the panel have an electrical current that converts sunlight into usable energy. Solar panels can be installed on roofs, walls, or as a stand alone system on land. 

Solar energy is the most abundant renewable energy source on the planet. Within an hour and a half, the amount of sunlight that hits Earth’s surface is enough to power the world’s energy consumption for a full year. All areas of the country can benefit from solar energy. PV panels are effective on cloudy days and even during the winter months.

An Infographic on how solar panels work

What Is Wind Energy?

The second most popular renewable energy source is wind power. According to the Department of Energy (DOE), the United States has increased its wind power capacity by 30% year over year. Wind power is a fast-growing industry. Utility-scale wind plants operate in 41 states, creating more than 100,000 jobs in the clean energy industry.

Wondering how wind energy works exactly? Wind energy is converted into power through a wind turbine. Air currents flow across the blades of the turbine, causing them to rotate. As the turbine blades spin, it activates a generator which converts the turbine’s kinetic energy into usable power. Wind is a plentiful energy resource across the country, especially in the central states and coastal regions.

An Infographic on how wind turbines work

What Is Hydropower?

Hydropower, also called hydroelectric power, is the oldest and one of the most abundant sources of renewable energy. From water wheels created by ancient Greeks to grind flour to advanced dam systems like the Hoover Dam, water is an excellent source of sustainable energy. This energy is harnessed at utility-scale with large bodies of water or it can be small enough to generate power through irrigation ditches.

Hydropower is generated by harnessing the power of moving water. Each hydropower plant uses a dam or diversion structure to alter the natural flow of water. Operators adjust the flow of water, using flowing water’s kinetic energy to rotate underwater turbines connected to a generator. The generator then converts the kinetic energy into electricity. Any excess power is used to pump water back into the reservoir, creating a pumped energy storage system.

An Infographic on how hydropower works

What Is Geothermal Energy

Harnessing and processing thermal energy underneath Earth’s surface produces geothermal energy.
In the natural world, volcanoes, geysers, and hot springs exhibit geothermal energy, but it can also serve for utility-scale power generation. It’s a unique renewable energy source because geothermal energy is always available regardless of weather conditions. Most geothermal power plants in the U.S. are found in the Western states and Hawaii due to their abundant natural reserves.

Geothermal energy systems can be small enough for individual households or large enough to provide utility-scale power to cities. These systems utilize wells to access underground hot water reservoirs, either natural or man-made. A heat pump forces hot water and steam up the well where a generator converts thermal energy into useable power. Once used, the groundwater is returned to the reservoir for future use.

What Is Bioenergy?

A new renewable energy source has emerged to help meet our growing energy demands.
Bioenergy, also called biomass energy, results from processing organic waste products. The industrial sector is the largest consumer of bioenergy accounting for 46% of the United States’ bioenergy usage. Bioenergy is particularly prevalent in industries such as wood products, paper, and agriculture. It’s a thoughtful energy solution that reduces greenhouse gasses while also reducing waste.

Bioenergy relies on biomass as its fuel source. Processing organic waste materials like crop residues, forestry byproducts, and food waste creates biomass. Then, we can convert it into biofuels for the transportation sector or refine it further through anaerobic digestion to create biogas. Biogas is used directly as a fuel source or it can be refined further to create a renewable natural gas alternative, biomethane. We can integrate biomethane directly into natural gas pipelines to provide heat and electricity.

What Is Marine Energy?

Marine energy, also known as ocean energy or tidal energy, is a renewable energy source originating from the natural movement of waves, currents, and tides. One methodology even uses temperature differences in bodies of water to generate power, called ocean thermal energy conversion. Marine energy is a great complement to more intermittent renewables, like solar and wind.

There are plentiful methodologies to generate marine energy with active development underway to improve them. For example, Rotating Mass is a device that rocks with waves, using the hydrokinetic energy to power a generator. Additional methods include bulge wave systems, tidal turbines, point absorbers, and oscillating surge flaps, all of which convert hydrokinetic energy into power.

Current Trends & Innovations in the Renewable Energy Sector

Innovations in renewable energy technologies are consistent and ongoing. Within the commercial sector, two major trends stand out: electrified car fleets and onsite renewable energy generation with a microgrid. Many businesses are opting to upgrade delivery and transportation to electric vehicles (EVs) to reduce fuel and maintenance costs while reducing their carbon footprint.

Microgrids and on-site renewable energy generation are becoming increasingly popular for essential services, larger enterprises and manufacturing facilities. Essential services, such as hospitals and fire departments, use microgrids to offset intense energy demands and guarantee reliable power. Larger corporations and manufacturing facilities are adopting microgrid technology to reduce their energy demands, lower carbon emissions, and practice corporate responsibility.

Fueling a Sustainable Future with Renewable Energy

While we transition to a more sustainable energy landscape, renewables continue to gain momentum, reshaping the way we generate power. With advancing technology and increased clean energy investment, a sustainable future is on the horizon. Embracing renewables forges a path towards a more resilient, low-carbon future for generations to come.

Furthermore, if you would like to make the transition to a renewable energy plan, request a free quote from Integrity Energy’s experts. With more than 30 suppliers in our network, we’re able to customize a cost-effective energy plan to meet your sustainability goals. Take control of your expenses while stepping towards a greener future with our customized energy solutions.