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. 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. worldwide, more than two-thirds of all new electricity capacity installed 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.
Biofuels – liquid fuels derived from plant materials – are entering the market, driven by factors such as oil price spikes and the need for increased energy security. However, many of the biofuels that are currently being supplied have been criticised for their adverse impacts on the natural environment, food security, and land use.
The challenge is to support biofuel development, including the development of new cellulosic technologies, with responsible policies and economic instruments to help ensure that biofuel commercialization is sustainable. Responsible commercialization of biofuels represents an opportunity to enhance sustainable economic prospects in Africa, Latin America and Asia.
Biofuels offer the prospect of increased market competition and oil price moderation. A healthy supply of alternative energy sources will help to combat gasoline price spikes and reduce dependency on fossil fuels, especially in the transport sector. Using transportation fuels more efficiently is also an integral part of a sustainable transport strategy.
Rolf Disch is a German architect, solar energy pioneer and environmental activist who has contributed greatly to the advancement and efficiency of solar architecture internationally. Born in Freiburg im Breisgau, Germany, Disch has dedicated particular focus to regional renewable and sustainable energy.
As head of his own architecture firm, Rolf Disch Solar Architecture, Disch built the Heliotrope in Freiburg which was the world’s first home to create more energy than it uses; it physically rotates with the sun to maximize its solar intake. Disch then developed his PlusEnergy concept, by making it a permanent goal for his buildings to produce more energy than they consume in order to sell the surplus solar energy back into the grid for profit.
Rolf Disch’s biggest venture was completed in 2004 with the 59 PlusEnergy home Solar Settlement and the 60,000 sq. ft. PlusEnergy Sun Ship building. In June 2009, Disch launched the 100% GmbH organization, with the aim to make Freiburg and its surrounding district the first 100% sustainable renewable energy region in the world.
Did you know?
- May 19, 2016: Final turbine of the 582MW German offshore Gode Wind Farm installed. (ReCharge)
- May 18, 2016: Renewable energy in Portugal supplies 100% of demand over four days in a row. (The Guardian)
- April 29, 2016: The Australian Capital Territory lifts its renewable energy target to 100% by 2020. (The Canberra Times)
- March 15, 2016: Bokpoort concentrated solar power inaugurated in South Africa. (ESI Africa)
- March 5, 2016: The 132MW Cadiz Solar Power Plant in the Philippines, the largest in Southeast Asia opens. (Deal Street Asia)
- February 5, 2016: Morocco completes the Noor 1 solar plant, the first stage of a 500MW project (The Japan Times)
- December 17, 2015: The 113MW Tafila Wind Farm in Jordan is inaugurated. (PR Newswire)
- December 2, 2015: The 300MW Cestas solar plant, the largest photovoltaic power station in Europe, is inaugurated near Bordeaux. (RenewEconomy)
- December 1, 2015: The 200MW Gulf of El-Zayt wind farm - the largest in Africa- is inaugurated in Egypt. (African Review)
- November 26, 2015: Mauritania's first wind farm inaugurated. (North Africa Post)
- "Wind projects boost local tax bases, helping to pay for schools, roads and hospitals. Wind projects also revitalize the economy of rural communities by providing steady income to farmers and other landowners. Each wind turbine contributes $3,000 to $5,000 or more per year in rental income, while farmers continue to grow crops or graze cattle up to the foot of the turbines." – American Wind Energy Association (2009). Annual Wind Industry Report, Year Ending 2008 pp. 9–10.
- "A wind farm, when installed on agricultural land, has one of the lowest environmental impacts of all energy sources. It occupies less land area per kilowatt-hour (kWh) of electricity generated than any other energy conversion system, apart from rooftop solar energy, and is compatible with grazing and crops." – Mark Diesendorf, in Dissent, No. 13, Summer 2003/04, pp. 43–48.