Renewable energy is the fastest-growing energy source in the U.S.
The national consumption of renewables is expected to grow over the next 30 years at an average annual rate of 1.8%, according to the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions.
In fact, renewables will make up the majority of new energy generation in the coming year.
According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration’s latest inventory of electricity generators, developers and power plant owners plan for 39.7 gigawatts (GW) of new electricity generating capacity to start commercial operation in 2021. With this addition, solar energy will account for the largest share at 39%, with wind energy at 31%.
This trend can be attributed to market conditions, but also changes in policy and attitudes toward sustainability and reducing our carbon footprint. Countries and businesses alike are setting aside sustainability goals and driving renewable energy in order to combat climate change.
Renewable energy means energy that comes from sources that are naturally replenishing but limited in flow, based on the definition from the U.S. EIA. This means that renewable resources are inexhaustible but still limited in the amount of energy that is available per unit of time. However, unlike fossil fuels, they are not emitters of carbon dioxide emissions.
Renewable energy can be derived from several sources:
Renewable energy sources are considered to be zero (wind, solar, and water), low (geothermal) or neutral (biomass) with regard to greenhouse gas emissions during their operation, according to the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions.
Although demand for renewable energy is increasing while costs are decreasing, our power generation is still heavily dependent on on fossil fuels.
As of 2019, renewable energy consumption made up only 11% of overall energy consumption in the U.S. This equates to approximately 11.4 quadrillion Btus, or British thermal units, out of 100.2 quadrillion Btus. One kilowatthour of electricity generation equates to about 3,412 Btus.
Options are available, but there’s still a need to build beyond what we have in order to reduce our consumption of fossil-fuel backed sources of energy and in turn reduce our carbon emissions.
In order for the U.S. to reach its emission goals, action needs to be taken toward new sources of renewable energy. According to researchers from Princeton University, the required scale of investments and the pace of building new infrastructure demands that rapid change starts immediately in order to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050, in all net-zero scenarios.
With that said, the researchers prioritized investment around clean electricity and electrification. This action will come from wind and solar projects, along with the electrification of buildings and cars, all of which must grow rapidly in the coming years.
“The current power grid took 150 years to build. Now, to get to net-zero emissions by 2050, we have to build that amount of transmission again in the next 15 years and then build that much more again in the 15 years after that,” said Jesse Jenkins, assistant professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering and the Andlinger Center for Energy and the Environment, in the report. “It’s a huge amount of change.”
According to the research, the United States will need to expand its electricity transmission systems by 60% by 2030. Any change going forward will be in part to expansive purchases of new sources of renewable energy and in turn additions to the grid.
We all know renewable energy helps reduce the effects of climate change and greenhouse gas emissions, but there are many other added benefits, including improved public health, jobs and economic benefits, and stable energy prices.
With an incoming presidential administration poised to tackle climate action and renewable energy predictions on the rise in 2021, renewable energy is on a path of marked growth.
The development of new sources in turn will create more reliable sources of renewable energy, and it is one of the most important actions to take in reducing our carbon impact going forward, as electricity production is our No. 1 source of greenhouse gases in the U.S.
Whether you’ve thought about switching to renewable energy for your household or not,
you're expanding resources by purchasing new energy and adding to the grid.
This leaves a lasting impact in offsetting our carbon emissions and by moving the needle toward progress.
One thing is certain: the clean energy transition is in full effect.