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Introduction

Wind, solar, and hydroelectricity are three renewable sources of energy.

Renewable energy is energy that is collected from renewable resources, which are naturally replenished on a human timescale, such as sunlight, wind, rain, tides, waves, and geothermal heat. 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 are an estimated 7.7 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. Some places and 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 (where necessary generating higher temperatures than fossil fuels), 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.

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De Zoeker, an oil windmill built in 1672 and still in operation, located in Zaanstad, Netherlands.
De Zoeker, an oil windmill built in 1672 and still in operation, located in Zaanstad, Netherlands.

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Benjamin K. Sovacool is Director of the Danish Center for Energy Technology at AU Herning and a Professor of Social Sciences at Aarhus University in Denmark. He is also Associate Professor at Vermont Law School and Director of the Energy Security and Justice Program at their Institute for Energy and the Environment. Sovacool's research interests include energy policy, environmental issues, and science and technology policy, and his research has taken him to 50 countries. He is the author or editor of sixteen books and 250 peer reviewed academic articles. Sovacool's work has been referred to in academic publications such as Science, Nature, and Scientific American. He has written opinion editorials for the Wall Street Journal and the San Francisco Chronicle. Sovacool is a Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Contributing Author.

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Did you know?

... that efficient energy use is most often achieved by adopting a more efficient technology or production process ? Energy efficient buildings, industrial processes and transportation could reduce the world's energy needs in 2050 by one third, and help controlling global emissions of greenhouse gases, according to the International Energy Agency. Energy efficiency and renewable energy are said to be the twin pillars of sustainable energy policy.

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  • "The variability of sun, wind and so on, turns out to be a non-problem if you do several sensible things. One is to diversify your renewables by technology, so that weather conditions bad for one kind are good for another. Second, you diversify by site so they're not all subject to the same weather pattern at the same time because they're in the same place. Third, you use standard weather forecasting techniques to forecast wind, sun and rain, and of course hydro operators do this right now. Fourth, you integrate all your resources — supply side and demand side..." – Amory Lovins
  • "Because the wind blows during stormy conditions when the sun does not shine and the sun often shines on calm days with little wind, combining wind and solar can go a long way toward meeting demand, especially when geothermal provides a steady base and hydroelectric can be called on to fill in the gaps". – Mark Z. Jacobson and Mark A. Delucchi. Scientific American, November 2009, p. 43.

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