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Introduction to Renewable Energy

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Before You Watch Our Lecture Maximize your learning experience by reviewing these carefully curated readings we assign to our students.

Our Lecture Watch the Stanford course lecture.

Additional Resources Find out where to explore beyond our site.

Orange sunset with wind turbines on the horizon

Fast Facts About Renewable Energy

Principle Energy Uses: Electricity, Heat Forms of Energy: Kinetic, Thermal, Radiant, Chemical

The term “renewable” encompasses a wide diversity of energy resources with varying economics, technologies, end uses, scales, environmental impacts, availability, and depletability. For example, fully “renewable” resources are not depleted by human use, whereas “semi-renewable” resources must be properly managed to ensure long-term availability. The most renewable type of energy is energy efficiency, which reduces overall consumption while providing the same energy service. Most renewable energy resources have significantly lower environmental and climate impacts than their fossil fuel counterparts.

The data in these Fast Facts do not reflect two important renewable energy resources: traditional biomass, which is widespread but difficult to measure; and energy efficiency, a critical strategy for reducing energy consumption while maintaining the same energy services and quality of life. See the Biomass and Energy Efficiency pages to learn more.


14% of world 🌎 9% of US 🇺🇸

Electricity Generation

30% of world 🌎 21% of US 🇺🇸

Global Renewable Energy Uses

Electricity 65% Heat 26% Transportation 9%

Global Consumption of Renewable Electricity Change

Increase: ⬆ 33% (2017 to 2022)

Energy Efficiency

Energy efficiency measures such as LED light bulbs reduce the need for energy in the first place

Renewable Resources

Wind Solar Ocean

Semi-Renewable Resources

Hydro Geothermal Biomass

Renewable Energy Has Vast Potential to Meet Global Energy Demand

Solar >1,000x global demand Wind ~3x global demand

Share of Global Energy Demand Met by Renewable Resources

Hydropower 7% Wind 3% Solar 2% Biomass <2%  

Share of Global Electricity Generation Met by Renewable Resources

Hydropower 15% Wind 7% Solar 5% Biomass & Geothermal <3%

Global Growth

Hydropower generation increase ⬆6% Wind generation increase ⬆84% Solar generation increase ⬆197% Biofuels consumption increase ⬆23% (2017-2022)

Largest Renewable Energy Producers

China 34% 🇨🇳 US 10% 🇺🇸 of global renewable energy

Highest Penetration of Renewable Energy

Norway 72% 🇳🇴 of the country’s primary energy is renewable

(China is at 16%, the US is at 11%)

Largest Renewable Electricity Producers

China 31% 🇨🇳 US 11% 🇺🇸 of global renewable electricity

Highest Penetration of Renewable Electricity

Albania, Bhutan, CAR, Lesotho, Nepal, & Iceland 100%

Iceland, Ethiopia, Paraguay, DRC, Norway, Costa Rica, Uganda, Namibia, Eswatini, Zambia, Tajikistan, & Sierra Leone > 90% of the country’s primary electricity is renewable

(China is at 31%, the US is at 22%)

Share of US Energy Demand Met by Renewable Resources

Biomass 5% Wind 2% Hydro 1% Solar 1%

Share of US Electricity Generation Met by Renewable Resources

Wind 10% Hydropower 6% Solar 3% Biomass 1%

US States That Produce the Most Renewable Electricity

Texas 21% California 11% of US renewable energy production

US States With Highest Penetration of Renewable Electricity

Vermont >99% South Dakota 84% Washington 76% Idaho 75% of state’s total generation comes from renewable fuels

Renewable Energy Expansion Policies

The Inflation Reduction Act continued tax credits for new renewable energy projects in the US.

Production Tax Credit (PTC)

Tax credit of $0.0275/kWh of electricity produced at qualifying renewable power generation sites

Investment Tax Credit (ITC)

Tax credit of 30% of the cost of a new qualifying renewable power generation site

To read more about the credit qualifications, visit this EPA site .

*LCOE (levelized cost of electricity) - price for which a unit of electricity must be sold for system to break even

Important Factors for Renewable Site Selection

  • Resource availability
  • Environmental constraints and sensitivities, including cultural and archeological sites
  • Transmission infrastructure
  • Power plant retirements
  • Transmission congestion and prices
  • Electricity markets
  • Load growth driven by population and industry
  • Policy support
  • Land rights and permitting
  • Competitive and declining costs of wind, solar, and energy storage
  • Lower environmental and climate impacts (social costs) than fossil fuels
  • Expansion of competitive wholesale electricity markets
  • Governmental clean energy and climate targets and policies
  • Corporate clean energy targets and procurement of renewable energy
  • No fuel cost or fuel price volatility
  • Retirements of old and/or expensive coal and nuclear power plants
  • Most renewable resources are abundant, undepletable
  • Permitting hurdles and NIMBY/BANANA* concerns
  • Competition from subsidized fossil fuels and a lack of price for their social cost (e.g., price on carbon)
  • Site-specific resources means greater need to transport energy/electricity to demand
  • High initial capital expenditure requirements required to access fuel cost/operating savings
  • Intermittent resources
  • Inconsistent governmental incentives and subsidies
  • Managing environmental impacts to the extent that they exist

*NIMBY - not in my backyard; BANANA - build absolutely nothing anywhere near anything

Climate Impact: Low to High

what does renewable energy mean essay

  • Solar, wind, geothermal, and ocean have low climate impacts with near-zero emissions; hydro and biomass can have medium to high climate impact
  • Hydro: Some locations have greenhouse gas emissions due to decomposing flooded vegetation
  • Biomass: Some crops require significant energy inputs, land use change can release carbon dioxide and methane

Environmental Impact: Low to High

  • Most renewable energy resources have low environmental impacts, particularly relative to fossil fuels; some, like biomass, can have more significant impacts
  • No air pollution with the exception of biomass from certain feedstocks
  • Can have land and habitat disruption for biomass production, solar, and hydro
  • Potential wildlife impacts from wind turbines (birds and bats)
  • Modest environmental impacts during manufacturing, transportation, and end of life

Updated January 2024

Before You Watch Our Lecture on Introduction to Renewable Energy

We assign videos and readings to our Stanford students as pre-work for each lecture to help contextualize the lecture content. We strongly encourage you to review the Essential reading below before watching our lecture on  Introduction to Renewable Energy . Include the Optional and Useful readings based on your interests and available time.

  • The Sustainable Energy in America 2023 Factbook (Executive Summary pp. 5-11) . Bloomberg New Energy Finance. 2023. (7 pages) Provides valuable year-over-year data and insights on the American energy transformation.

Optional and Useful

  • Renewables 2023 Global Status Report (Global Overview pp. 11-40) . REN21. 2023. (30 pages).  Documents the progress made in the renewable energy sector and highlights the opportunities afforded by a renewable-based economy and society.

Our Lecture on Introduction to Renewable Energy

This is our Stanford University Understand Energy course lecture that introduces renewable energy. We strongly encourage you to watch the full lecture to gain foundational knowledge about renewable energy and important context for learning more about specific renewable energy resources. For a complete learning experience, we also encourage you to review the Essential reading we assign to our students before watching the lecture.

Kirsten Stasio

Presented by: Kirsten Stasio , Adjunct Lecturer, Civil and Environmental Engineering, Stanford University; CEO, Nevada Clean Energy Fund (NCEF) Recorded on:  November 16, 2022   Duration: 52 minutes

Table of Contents

(Clicking on a timestamp will take you to YouTube.) 00:00 What Does "Renewable" Mean? 12:56 What Role Do Renewables Play In Our Energy Use? 20:29  What Factors Affect Renewable Energy Project Development? 52:13 Conclusion

Lecture slides available upon request .

Additional Resources About Renewable Energy

Stanford university.

  • Precourt Institute for Energy Renewable Energy , Energy Efficiency
  • Stanford Energy Club
  • Energy Modeling Forum
  • Sustainable Stanford
  • Sustainable Finance Initiative
  • Mark Jacobson - Renewable energy
  • Michael Lepech - Life-cycle analysis
  • Leonard Ortolano - Environmental and water resource planning
  • Chris Field - Climate change, land use, bioenergy, solar energy
  • David Lobell - Climate change, agriculture, biofuels, land use
  • Sally Benson - Climate change, energy, carbon capture and storage

Government and International Organizations

  • International Energy Agency (IEA) Renewables Renewables 2022 Repor .
  • National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL)
  • US Department of Energy (DOE) Office of Energy Efficiency & Renewable Energy (EERE)
  • US Energy Information Administration (EIA) Renewable Energy Explained
  • US Energy Information Administration (EIA) Energy Kids Renewable Energy
  • US Energy Information Administration (EIA) Today in Energy Renewables

Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs)

  • Carnegie Institution for Science  Biosphere Sciences and Engineering
  • The Solutions Project

Other Resources

  • REN21: Renewable Energy Policy Network for the 21st Century
  • REN21 Renewables 2023 Global Status Report Renewables in Energy Supply
  • BloombergNEF (BNEF)
  • Renewable Energy World
  • World of Renewables
  • Energy Upgrade California
  • Windustry Community Wind Toolbox

Next Topic: Energy Efficiency Other Energy Topics to Explore

Fast Facts Sources

  • Energy Mix (World 2022): Energy Institute. Statistical Review of World Energy . 2023.
  • Energy Mix (US 2022): US Energy Information Agency (EIA). Total Energy: Energy Overview, Table 1.3 . 
  • Electricity Mix (World 2022): Energy Institute. Statistical Review of World Energy . 2023.
  • Electricity Mix (US 2022): US Energy Information Agency (EIA). Total Energy: Electricity, Table 7.2a.  
  • Global Solar Use (2022): REN21. Renewables 2023 Global Status Report: Renewables in Energy Supply , page 42. 2023
  • Global Consumption of Renewable Electricity Change (2017-2022): Energy Institute. Statistical Review of World Energy . 2023.
  • Renewable Energy Potential: Perez & Perez. A Fundamental Look at Energy Reserves for the Planet . 2009
  • Share of Global Energy Demand (2022): Energy Institute. Statistical Review of World Energy . 2023.
  • Share of Global Electricity Demand (2022): Energy Institute. Statistical Review of World Energy . 2023.
  • Global Growth (2017-2022): Energy Institute. Statistical Review of World Energy . 2023.
  • Largest Renewable Energy Producers (World 2022): International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA). Renewable Capacity Statistics 2023 . 2023.
  • Highest Penetration Renewable Energy (World 2022): Our World in Data. Renewable Energy . 2023.
  • Largest Renewable Electricity Producers (World 2022):   Energy Institute. Statistical Review of World Energy . 2023.
  • Highest Penetration Renewable Electricity (World 2022): Our World in Data. Renewable Energy . 2023.
  • Share of US Energy Demand (2022): Energy Information Administration (EIA). Electric Power Monthly. 2023.
  • Share of Electricity Generation (2022): Energy Information Administration (EIA). Electric Power Monthly. 2023.
  • States with Highest Generation (2022): Energy Information Administration (EIA). Electric Power Monthly. 2023.
  • States with Highest Penetration (2021): Energy Information Administration (EIA). State Profile and Energy Estimates. 2023.
  • LCOE of US Renewable Resources: Lazard. LCOE. April 2023.
  • LCOE of US Non Renewable Resources: Lazard. LCOE. April 2023.

More details available on request . Back to Fast Facts


Renewable energy, explained

Solar, wind, hydroelectric, biomass, and geothermal power can provide energy without the planet-warming effects of fossil fuels.

In any discussion about climate change , renewable energy usually tops the list of changes the world can implement to stave off the worst effects of rising temperatures. That's because renewable energy sources such as solar and wind don't emit carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases that contribute to global warming .

Clean energy has far more to recommend it than just being "green." The growing sector creates jobs , makes electric grids more resilient, expands energy access in developing countries, and helps lower energy bills. All of those factors have contributed to a renewable energy renaissance in recent years, with wind and solar setting new records for electricity generation .

For the past 150 years or so, humans have relied heavily on coal, oil, and other fossil fuels to power everything from light bulbs to cars to factories. Fossil fuels are embedded in nearly everything we do, and as a result, the greenhouse gases released from the burning of those fuels have reached historically high levels .

As greenhouse gases trap heat in the atmosphere that would otherwise escape into space, average temperatures on the surface are rising . Global warming is one symptom of climate change, the term scientists now prefer to describe the complex shifts affecting our planet’s weather and climate systems. Climate change encompasses not only rising average temperatures but also extreme weather events, shifting wildlife populations and habitats, rising seas , and a range of other impacts .

Of course, renewables—like any source of energy—have their own trade-offs and associated debates. One of them centers on the definition of renewable energy. Strictly speaking, renewable energy is just what you might think: perpetually available, or as the U.S. Energy Information Administration puts it, " virtually inexhaustible ." But "renewable" doesn't necessarily mean sustainable, as opponents of corn-based ethanol or large hydropower dams often argue. It also doesn't encompass other low- or zero-emissions resources that have their own advocates, including energy efficiency and nuclear power.

Types of renewable energy sources

Hydropower: For centuries, people have harnessed the energy of river currents, using dams to control water flow. Hydropower is the world's biggest source of renewable energy by far, with China, Brazil, Canada, the U.S., and Russia the leading hydropower producers . While hydropower is theoretically a clean energy source replenished by rain and snow, it also has several drawbacks.

For Hungry Minds

Large dams can disrupt river ecosystems and surrounding communities , harming wildlife and displacing residents. Hydropower generation is vulnerable to silt buildup, which can compromise capacity and harm equipment. Drought can also cause problems. In the western U.S., carbon dioxide emissions over a 15-year period were 100 megatons higher than they normally would have been, according to a 2018 study , as utilities turned to coal and gas to replace hydropower lost to drought. Even hydropower at full capacity bears its own emissions problems, as decaying organic material in reservoirs releases methane.

Dams aren't the only way to use water for power: Tidal and wave energy projects around the world aim to capture the ocean's natural rhythms. Marine energy projects currently generate an estimated 500 megawatts of power —less than one percent of all renewables—but the potential is far greater. Programs like Scotland’s Saltire Prize have encouraged innovation in this area.

Wind: Harnessing the wind as a source of energy started more than 7,000 years ago . Now, electricity-generating wind turbines are proliferating around the globe, and China, the U.S., and Germany are the leading wind energy producers. From 2001 to 2017 , cumulative wind capacity around the world increased to more than 539,000 megawatts from 23,900 mw—more than 22 fold.

Some people may object to how wind turbines look on the horizon and to how they sound, but wind energy, whose prices are declining , is proving too valuable a resource to deny. While most wind power comes from onshore turbines, offshore projects are appearing too, with the most in the U.K. and Germany. The first U.S. offshore wind farm opened in 2016 in Rhode Island, and other offshore projects are gaining momentum . Another problem with wind turbines is that they’re a danger for birds and bats, killing hundreds of thousands annually , not as many as from glass collisions and other threats like habitat loss and invasive species, but enough that engineers are working on solutions to make them safer for flying wildlife.

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Solar: From home rooftops to utility-scale farms, solar power is reshaping energy markets around the world. In the decade from 2007 and 2017 the world's total installed energy capacity from photovoltaic panels increased a whopping 4,300 percent .

In addition to solar panels, which convert the sun's light to electricity, concentrating solar power (CSP) plants use mirrors to concentrate the sun's heat, deriving thermal energy instead. China, Japan, and the U.S. are leading the solar transformation, but solar still has a long way to go, accounting for around two percent of the total electricity generated in the U.S. in 2017. Solar thermal energy is also being used worldwide for hot water, heating, and cooling.

Biomass: Biomass energy includes biofuels such as ethanol and biodiesel , wood and wood waste, biogas from landfills, and municipal solid waste. Like solar power, biomass is a flexible energy source, able to fuel vehicles, heat buildings, and produce electricity. But biomass can raise thorny issues.

Critics of corn-based ethanol , for example, say it competes with the food market for corn and supports the same harmful agricultural practices that have led to toxic algae blooms and other environmental hazards. Similarly, debates have erupted over whether it's a good idea to ship wood pellets from U.S. forests over to Europe so that it can be burned for electricity. Meanwhile, scientists and companies are working on ways to more efficiently convert corn stover , wastewater sludge , and other biomass sources into energy, aiming to extract value from material that would otherwise go to waste.

Geothermal: Used for thousands of years in some countries for cooking and heating, geothermal energy is derived from the Earth’s internal heat . On a large scale, underground reservoirs of steam and hot water can be tapped through wells that can go a mile deep or more to generate electricity. On a smaller scale, some buildings have geothermal heat pumps that use temperature differences several feet below ground for heating and cooling. Unlike solar and wind energy, geothermal energy is always available, but it has side effects that need to be managed, such as the rotten egg smell that can accompany released hydrogen sulfide.

Ways to boost renewable energy

Cities, states, and federal governments around the world are instituting policies aimed at increasing renewable energy. At least 29 U.S. states have set renewable portfolio standards —policies that mandate a certain percentage of energy from renewable sources, More than 100 cities worldwide now boast at least 70 percent renewable energy, and still others are making commitments to reach 100 percent . Other policies that could encourage renewable energy growth include carbon pricing, fuel economy standards, and building efficiency standards. Corporations are making a difference too, purchasing record amounts of renewable power in 2018.

Wonder whether your state could ever be powered by 100 percent renewables? No matter where you live, scientist Mark Jacobson believes it's possible. That vision is laid out here , and while his analysis is not without critics , it punctuates a reality with which the world must now reckon. Even without climate change, fossil fuels are a finite resource, and if we want our lease on the planet to be renewed, our energy will have to be renewable.

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Wind turbines scattered across a landscape of fields, tree plantations and a lake

Aerial view of a wind farm at Pen y Cymoedd in south Wales, UK. Wind-generated power in the UK increased by 83% between 2015 and 2020 to provide nearly a quarter of our electricity . It's also one of the fastest-growing renewable energy technologies globally. © Richard Whitcombe/ Shutterstock

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Renewable energy and its importance for tackling climate change

Replacing fossil fuel-reliant power stations with renewable energy sources, such as wind and solar, is a vital part of stabilising climate change and achieving net zero carbon emissions.

Professor Magda Titirici , Chair in Sustainable Energy Materials at Imperial College London, offers an introduction to renewable energy and the future of clean, green power in the UK.

What is renewable energy?

Renewable energy comes from sources that replenish naturally and continually within a human lifetime. Renewable energy is often called sustainable energy.

Major sources of renewable energy include solar, wind, hydroelectric, tidal, geothermal and biomass energy, which is derived from burning plant or animal matter and waste.

Switching our reliance on fossil fuels to renewable energy sources that produce lower or no greenhouse gas emissions is critically important in tackling the climate crisis .

Clean, green or renewable - what's the difference?

Clean energy doesn't produce any pollution once installed. Nor does green energy, which comes from natural sources such as the Sun and is produced without any major negative impacts on the environment. Renewable energy refers to sources that are constantly replenished.

While there is often overlap between these definitions and most renewable energy sources can also be considered clean and green, it's not always the case.

Nuclear energy doesn't release greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, so some people consider it to be clean - providing the radioactive waste is stored safely and doesn't escape into the environment. But the uranium energy source used in nuclear power plants isn't renewable.

Smoke and steam pouring out of power plant chimneys

A coal power plant emitting smoke, steam and carbon dioxide. Fossil fuels such as coal are non-renewable resources. Burning fossil fuels contributes to climate change by releasing greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. © Peter Gudella/ Shutterstock

What's the difference between renewable and non-renewable energy?

Non-renewable energy comes from natural resources such as coal, oil and natural gas that take billions of years to form, which is why we call them fossil fuels. They are present in finite amounts and will run out, as we are using them far more quickly than they form.

When will fossil fuels run out?

Research based on 2015 data predicts that coal stocks will last well into the next century, but oil and natural gas reserves (stocks that we know we can extract from) will run out in the late 2060s . However, scientific models suggest that if we are to limit global warming to 2°C - the target agreed at COP26 is 1.5°C - over 80% of coal, 50% of gas and 30% of oil reserves will need to be left untouched anyway.

When we extract fossil fuels from deep within the planet and burn them, we can generate electricity quite efficiently. But the process releases a lot of carbon dioxide (CO 2 ) into the atmosphere, which contributes to the greenhouse effect, global warming and biodiversity loss .

Magda explains, 'Fossil fuels brought with them immense technological progress but using them releases CO 2 into the atmosphere, which acts like a blanket, trapping heat that would otherwise escape into space and causing global warming.'

Did you know?

The energy sector is responsible for almost three-quarters of the emissions that have caused global temperatures to warm by 1.1°C since pre-industrial times. 

If we continue to use fossil fuels, the effect will only worsen.

Magda adds, 'If we want to live on this planet much longer than 2050 and keep temperature levels below the 1.5°C of warming agreed to by governments around the world, we need to make some radical changes right now. We need to move to technologies that will give us the same level and comfort of living but drastically cut our emissions and carbon footprint .'

Examples of renewable energy sources

The main types of renewable energy are wind, solar, hydroelectric, tidal, geothermal and biomass. Read on to discover the pros and cons of each of these renewable energy sources.

One of the main benefits of most renewable energy sources is that they don't release carbon dioxide or pollute the air when they are used to produce electricity or heat. Greenhouse gases are emitted during the lifetime of some of the technologies - for example, during their manufacture or construction - but overall emissions are significantly lower than for fossil fuels.

Whereas some countries lack direct access to fossil fuels and must rely on international sources, renewable energy often allows countries to supply their own energy needs, a big economic and political advantage.

Wind energy

Rows of wind turbines sticking up out of the sea, with coastline visible in the distance

An offshore wind farm in the North Sea off the UK coast. Wind energy is an important renewable resource for the UK. According to analysis by Imperial College London's Energy Institute , offshore wind turbines offer the best-value option for meeting the UK's target of delivering carbon neutral electricity by 2035. But the UK's current target for offshore wind electricity production - up to 50 gigawatts by 2030 - will need to be significantly increased to do so. © Riekelt Hakvoort/ Shutterstock

Wind power converts wind - the movement of air - into stored power by turning turbines and converting mechanical energy into electricity. Wind farms can be built both on land and offshore. They work well wherever wind is strong and reliable.

Advantages: Wind energy is a clean, green and renewable resource and turbines can be placed on farmland with minimal disruption. It has the lowest carbon footprint of all renewable energy sources .

Disadvantages: Like any infrastructure, there is an upfront establishment cost and ongoing maintenance fees. These are even higher if wind farms are built offshore. Turbines have a reputation for being noisy and poorly sited wind farms can be dangerous to some wildlife - for instance, if they're placed in the migration paths of birds or bats.

How loud is a wind turbine?

At 300 metres from a dwelling, wind turbines have a sound pressure of 43 decibels , which is between the volume of a refrigerator and an air conditioner.

Solar energy

Solar panels in a field

An array of solar panels in a field in Chippenham, UK. Solar energy is a renewable resource, and the Sun provides more energy than we'll ever use. If we could capture it all, an hour of sunlight would meet the world's energy needs for a year. © Alexey Fedorenko/ Shutterstock

Solar power captures energy (radiation) from the Sun and converts it into electricity, which is then fed into a power grid or stored for later use. Although places near the equator receive the most solar energy, solar panels can generate electricity anywhere that gets sunlight.

Advantages:  Solar energy is renewable, clean, increasingly efficient and has low maintenance costs. Once established, it can dramatically reduce the price of generating electricity.

Disadvantages:  Setting up a solar array is costly and there are expenses involved with energy storage. Solar panels can take up more land than some other types of renewable energy and performance depends on the availability of sunlight. The mining and processing of minerals needed to make the panels can pollute and damage the environment.

China is currently leading the world in solar energy production , with roughly 35% of the global market.

Hydroelectric energy

Water is held back by a huge wall creating a large lake, surrounded by tree-covered hills

Although hydroelectric energy is renewable, it is not always considered green, as building large-scale dams can negatively impact the environment. Nepean Dam in Australia, shown here, was included in a study that showed dams are causing problems for platypuses by creating a barrier between populations. © Greg Brave/ Shutterstock

Hydroelectric power uses the flow of water, often from rivers and lakes controlled by a dam, to turn turbines and power generators, creating electricity. Hydropower works best for regions with reliable rainfall and large, natural water reservoirs.

Hydropower currently produces more electricity than  all other renewable energy sources combined and provides around 17% of the world's energy.

Advantages: Hydroelectricity is dependable and renewable for as long as there is rainfall or flowing water. Reservoirs can offer additional benefits, such as providing drinking water, irrigation and recreational opportunities, including swimming or boating.

Disadvantages: Hydropower plants take up a lot of room and aren't suited to all climates. They are susceptible to drought. Creating artificial water reservoirs can harm biodiversity in natural water systems by limiting the inflow of nutrients and blocking the journey of migratory fish populations. These reservoirs can also release methane - a type of greenhouse gas - as vegetation in the flooded area decomposes. Large amounts of cement are used to construct dams. The manufacture of this material produces large amounts of carbon dioxide.

Tidal energy

Aerial view of a tidal power plant that has been integrated with a bridge

Renewable tidal energy is produced by the natural rise and fall of the sea. However, tidal power plants can change the local biodiversity. This one on the River Rance in Brittany, France, not only led to the local extinction of a fish called plaice but to an increase in the number of cuttlefish, which now thrive there. © Francois BOIZOT/ Shutterstock

Tidal energy uses the continual movement of ocean tides to generate power. Turbines in the water turn a generator, creating electricity.

Advantages: Tidal energy is renewable, generates no carbon emissions and can produce a lot of energy very reliably.

Disadvantages: Offshore infrastructure is expensive to set up and maintain and there are a limited number of appropriate sites for tidal power plants around the world. They can also damage marine environments and impact local plants and animals.

Geothermal energy

Lots of chimneys and steam

A geothermal power plant in Iceland harnesses this renewable energy source. © Peter Gudella/ Shutterstock

Geothermal power uses underground reservoirs of hot water or steam created by the heat of Earth's core to generate electricity. It works best in regions near tectonic plate boundaries .

Advantages: Geothermal energy is highly reliable and has a consistent power output. It also has a relatively small footprint on the land.

Disadvantages: Drilling geothermal wells is expensive and can affect the stability of surrounding land. It must be monitored carefully to minimise environmental impact. There is also a risk of releasing greenhouse gases trapped under Earth's surface.  

Biomass energy

Several large round storage containers on a site with buildings and lorries

A biogas plant producing renewable energy from biomass in the Czech Republic. © Kletr/ Shutterstock

Biomass energy comes from burning plants, plant by-products or waste. Examples include ethanol (from corn or sugarcane), biodiesel (made from vegetable oils, used cooking oils and animal fats), green diesel (derived from algae, sustainable wood crops or sawdust) and biogas (derived from animal manure and other waste).

Advantages: Abundant and cheaply produced, biomass energy is a novel use of waste product and leftover crops. It creates less emissions than burning fossil fuels and having carbon capture in place can stop carbon dioxide entering the atmosphere. Biofuels are also considered relatively easy and inexpensive to implement, as they are compatible with existing agriculture and waste processing and used in existing petrol and diesel vehicles.

Disadvantages: Generating biofuels requires land and water so growing demand for them could lead to deforestation and biodiversity loss. Burning biomass emits carbon dioxide unless carbon capture is implemented.

Ethanol-powered vehicles create up to 86% less greenhouse gas emissions than petrol vehicles, and crops that are grown to produce biomass absorb carbon dioxide.

Can renewable energy replace fossil fuels in the UK?

In 2020, 42% of the UK's electricity came from renewable energy. A quarter of the UK's electricity was produced by wind power, which is the highest proportion of any G20 country and more than four times the global average. Statistics on UK energy trends reveal that from April to June 2022, nearly 39% of the UK's electricity came from renewable energy, slightly more than during the same period in 2021, but down from 45.5% between January and March 2022 when it was unusually sunny and wind speeds were high.

'There has been good news in recent years in terms of progress on renewables,' says Magda, 'but in my opinion, the UK is still lagging behind. It is not so strong yet for truly sustainable technologies. It needs storage and conversion.'

Magda believes that wind (particularly offshore), solar, green hydrogen and rapid innovation in battery storage will be key to the UK reaching net zero by 2050.

She explains, 'The UK is a really windy place, so wind is the perfect renewable energy technology. By 2035 wind and solar should provide 75-90% of total UK electricity to bring emissions down significantly.'

'It has already been shown that it's feasible to produce 90% of the UK's electricity from wind and solar combined. The tech is there and it's becoming more efficient and affordable each year.'

'Offshore wind capacity will also help produce green hydrogen, another crucial part of the UK decarbonisation path.'

What is green hydrogen?

Green hydrogen is a fuel created using renewable energy in a process known as electrolysis. When green hydrogen is burned to produce energy, it releases water.

It's predicted that the UK will need 100 terawatt-hours of green hydrogen by 2035.

What is a terawatt-hour?

A terawatt-hour is a unit of measurement that's large enough to describe the annual electricity needs of entire countries. For scale, one terawatt-hour is equivalent to burning 588,441 barrels of oil.

The future of renewable energy in the UK

Magda believes the UK is at a very critical point in its sustainable technologies journey.

'Everything will depend on what happens this year and next. We need to see radical changes, investment, subsidies and support to reach our target of net zero by 2050.'

'It would cost less than 1% of GDP to get to net zero by 2050 but the advantages would be immense: new jobs, a sustainable economy and a healthy and resilient society.'

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An empty electric vehicle charging point © Tony Skerl/ Shutterstock

Challenges and opportunities for renewable energy in the UK

One of the biggest challenges the UK is facing right now is battery storage and access to materials like cobalt and lithium , which are needed to produce lithium-ion batteries at scale.

Why are batteries important for renewable energy?

Batteries help make renewable energy supply reliable and portable - such as in the case of electric vehicles.

Batteries are an important part of our transition to renewable technologies, as they allow energy to be stored and released as needed. For example, solar panels generate energy during the day, and batteries make it possible to store and use that electricity at night.

Currently, just a few countries are responsible for most of the world's production of lithium.

According to Magda, the UK lacks access to the supply chain needed for Li-ion batteries. 'As a result, she adds, 'Johnson Matthey, which is a major company driving battery innovations in the UK, announced they would stop lithium battery research because they are unable to secure a path to raw materials and be competitive on the international market.'

Museum researchers are investigating whether it would be possible to develop a  more sustainable, domestic supply chain by extracting lithium from UK rocks. They made a key breakthrough in 2021 when they produced battery-grade lithium chemicals from UK rocks for the first time.

According to Professor Richard Herrington, Head of Earth Sciences at the Museum, 'An increased, reliable supply of lithium is critical if we are to meet the rising demand for electric cars and provide a dependable supply of energy from renewable sources. The next generation of batteries that don't require lithium may still be three to five years away from being ready for public use.'

However, Magda is optimistic that the UK could lead in emerging battery technologies. 'I think the UK has an amazing opportunity to pioneer the next generation of batteries,' she says.

Innovative models already under development at The Faraday Institution include:

  • Sodium-ion batteries, which are based on waste-derived anodes and critical metal -free cathodes, provide almost the same performance as lithium-ion batteries at half the cost.
  • Lithium-sulphur batteries with 10 times the energy density of lithium-ion batteries make more efficient use of limited materials and eliminate metals from the cathode by using sulphur instead.

Magda adds, 'We need to focus on the areas where the UK has the potential to lead. The UK has such a big tradition in new materials and discoveries, we could move to completely new technologies both for batteries and hydrogen production.'

'There are a lot of challenges, but if we're investing in it, we could be future leaders and even solve one of the most difficult challenges in decarbonisation: flight.'

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what does renewable energy mean essay

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Course: ap®︎/college environmental science   >   unit 5.

  • Renewable and nonrenewable energy resources

Renewable and nonrenewable energy sources

  • Global energy use
  • Intro to energy resources and consumption

what does renewable energy mean essay

  • Nonrenewable energy sources are those that are consumed faster than they can be replaced. Nonrenewable energy sources include nuclear energy as well as fossil fuels such as coal, crude oil, and natural gas. These energy sources have a finite supply, and often emit harmful pollutants into the environment.
  • Renewable energy sources are those that are naturally replenished on a relatively short timescale. Renewable energy sources include solar, wind, hydroelectric, and geothermal energy. They also include biomass and hydrogen fuels. These energy sources are sustainable and generate fewer greenhouse gas emissions than fossil fuels.

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what does renewable energy mean essay

Renewable energy – powering a safer future

Energy is at the heart of the climate challenge – and key to the solution.

A large chunk of the greenhouse gases that blanket the Earth and trap the sun’s heat are generated through energy production, by burning fossil fuels to generate electricity and heat.

Fossil fuels, such as coal, oil and gas, are by far the largest contributor to global climate change , accounting for over 75 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions and nearly 90 percent of all carbon dioxide emissions.

The science is clear: to avoid the worst impacts of climate change, emissions need to be reduced by almost half by 2030 and reach net-zero by 2050.

To achieve this, we need to end our reliance on fossil fuels and invest in alternative sources of energy that are clean, accessible, affordable, sustainable, and reliable.

Renewable energy sources – which are available in abundance all around us, provided by the sun, wind, water, waste, and heat from the Earth – are replenished by nature and emit little to no greenhouse gases or pollutants into the air.

Fossil fuels still account for more than 80 percent of global energy production , but cleaner sources of energy are gaining ground. About 29 percent of electricity currently comes from renewable sources.

Here are five reasons why accelerating the transition to clean energy is the pathway to a healthy, livable planet today and for generations to come.

1. Renewable energy sources are all around us

About 80 percent of the global population lives in countries that are net-importers of fossil fuels -- that’s about 6 billion people who are dependent on fossil fuels from other countries, which makes them vulnerable to geopolitical shocks and crises.

In contrast, renewable energy sources are available in all countries, and their potential is yet to be fully harnessed. The International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) estimates that 90 percent of the world’s electricity can and should come from renewable energy by 2050.

Renewables offer a way out of import dependency, allowing countries to diversify their economies and protect them from the unpredictable price swings of fossil fuels, while driving inclusive economic growth, new jobs, and poverty alleviation.

2. Renewable energy is cheaper

Renewable energy actually is the cheapest power option in most parts of the world today. Prices for renewable energy technologies are dropping rapidly. The cost of electricity from solar power fell by 85 percent between 2010 and 2020. Costs of onshore and offshore wind energy fell by 56 percent and 48 percent respectively.

Falling prices make renewable energy more attractive all around – including to low- and middle-income countries, where most of the additional demand for new electricity will come from. With falling costs, there is a real opportunity for much of the new power supply over the coming years to be provided by low-carbon sources.

Cheap electricity from renewable sources could provide 65 percent of the world’s total electricity supply by 2030. It could decarbonize 90 percent of the power sector by 2050, massively cutting carbon emissions and helping to mitigate climate change.

Although solar and wind power costs are expected to remain higher in 2022 and 2023 then pre-pandemic levels due to general elevated commodity and freight prices, their competitiveness actually improves due to much sharper increases in gas and coal prices, says the International Energy Agency (IEA).

3. Renewable energy is healthier

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), about 99 percent of people in the world breathe air that exceeds air quality limits and threatens their health, and more than 13 million deaths around the world each year are due to avoidable environmental causes, including air pollution.

The unhealthy levels of fine particulate matter and nitrogen dioxide originate mainly from the burning of fossil fuels. In 2018, air pollution from fossil fuels caused $2.9 trillion in health and economic costs , about $8 billion a day.

Switching to clean sources of energy, such as wind and solar, thus helps address not only climate change but also air pollution and health.

4. Renewable energy creates jobs

Every dollar of investment in renewables creates three times more jobs than in the fossil fuel industry. The IEA estimates that the transition towards net-zero emissions will lead to an overall increase in energy sector jobs : while about 5 million jobs in fossil fuel production could be lost by 2030, an estimated 14 million new jobs would be created in clean energy, resulting in a net gain of 9 million jobs.

In addition, energy-related industries would require a further 16 million workers, for instance to take on new roles in manufacturing of electric vehicles and hyper-efficient appliances or in innovative technologies such as hydrogen. This means that a total of more than 30 million jobs could be created in clean energy, efficiency, and low-emissions technologies by 2030.

Ensuring a just transition , placing the needs and rights of people at the heart of the energy transition, will be paramount to make sure no one is left behind.

5. Renewable energy makes economic sense

About $7 trillion was spent on subsidizing the fossil fuel industry in 2022, including through explicit subsidies, tax breaks, and health and environmental damages that were not priced into the cost of fossil fuels.

In comparison, about $4.5 trillion a year needs to be invested in renewable energy until 2030 – including investments in technology and infrastructure – to allow us to reach net-zero emissions by 2050.

The upfront cost can be daunting for many countries with limited resources, and many will need financial and technical support to make the transition. But investments in renewable energy will pay off. The reduction of pollution and climate impacts alone could save the world up to $4.2 trillion per year by 2030.

Moreover, efficient, reliable renewable technologies can create a system less prone to market shocks and improve resilience and energy security by diversifying power supply options.

Learn more about how many communities and countries are realizing the economic, societal, and environmental benefits of renewable energy.

Will developing countries benefit from the renewables boom? Learn more here .

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Renewable and Non-renewable Energy Resources Explained

by Kevin Stark

There are two major categories of energy: renewable and non-renewable.

Non-renewable energy resources are available in limited supplies, usually because they take a long time to replenish. The advantage of these non-renewable resources is that power plants that use them are able to produce more power on demand. The non-renewable energy resources are:

  • Natural gas

Renewable resources, on the other hand, replenish themselves. The five major renewable energy resources are:

  • Water, also called hydro
  • Biomass, or organic material from plants and animals
  • Geothermal, which is naturally occurring heat from the earth

While renewable energy resources have the advantage of unlimited supply over the long haul, they are limited in their availability at any given moment.

For example, the sun rises each day, but its ability to generate power is limited when its cloudy . Another disadvantage is that power plant operators can’t crank up renewable energy production when people are consuming more power, such as on a hot day when many people are running air conditioners at the same time.

States like California are trying to solve this problem by using energy storage, like large batteries, to collect electricity from renewable sources when demand is low in order to use it later when demand goes up.

Non-renewable Energy and Climate Change

When coal, natural gas and oil are burned to produce energy, they emit heat-trapping gases such as carbon dioxide. This process of trapping heat is what drives climate change, and the failure to address this problem is what's catalyzing the current climate crisis.

Fossil fuels are hydrocarbon-containing materials like coal or gas that are found in the Earth’s crust and formed in the geological past from the remains of living organisms. These energy sources account for the majority of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions .

If emissions continue unrestrained, the atmosphere could warm by as much as 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit above preindustrial levels by the year 2040, according to the latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a group of international scientists empowered by the United Nations to advise world leaders.

Scientists say this increase in the temperature  would threaten life on the planet in a myriad of ways, including severe water shortages; more air pollution; rising sea levels, habitat loss; heat waves; melting ice sheets in West Antarctica and Greenland; and destruction of the world’s coral reefs.

Over the last 150 years, humans are responsible for the vast majority of the increase of these gases in the atmosphere, and the burning of fossil fuels through activities like driving a car is the largest source of these emissions.

There is a vocal group of environmentalists and researchers —Stanford’s Mark Jacobson, who developed a state-by-state 100% renewable plan for one — who argue that the power grid should be supported only by renewable resources.

Policy makers who invest in renewable energy often do so with the goal of generating power without emitting these planet-warming gases.

The Nuclear Debate

Experts debate whether nuclear energy should be considered a renewable or non-renewable energy resource.

Nuclear energy is considered clean energy, as it doesn’t create any air pollution or emit carbon dioxide, but generates energy through nuclear fission, the process of atoms splitting apart.

For this reason, supporters of nuclear energy argue it should be considered renewable.

Those who are in favor of more nuclear energy hold that that even with investment in wind, solar and other renewable resources, nuclear power is necessary, because without it we can’t reduce emissions quickly enough to stave off the worst impacts of climate change. Without contributions from nuclear energy “the cost of achieving deep decarbonization targets increases significantly,” wrote MIT researchers in a 2018  paper  examining the issue.

Detractors of this approach say that both the mining and refining of uranium and the building of nuclear power plants is energy-intensive. Other downsides to nuclear energy are the finite amount of uranium deposits on the planet and the production of harmful waste from nuclear reactors.

For these reasons, the U.S. Energy Information Administration considers it a non-renewable energy resource.

Links to Learn More

Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Change A body of the United Nations, the IPCC regularly assesses the science of climate change and issues annual reports on the impacts and risks of warming, as well as guidance for adaptation and mitigation.

U.S. Energy Administration This U.S. Department of Energy website includes detailed information, analysis and graphics about energy production and use in the U.S.

The United States of Energy A series of infographics provides insight on our country’s energy production and consumption of both renewable and non-renewable energy sources.

PBS LearningMedia Find hundreds of digital media resources about renewable energy for use in the classroom from public media stations across the country.

Andrea Aust contributed to this post.

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what does renewable energy mean essay

This Is the Future: Essay on Renewable Energy

what does renewable energy mean essay

Today the world population depends on nonrenewable energy resources. With the constantly growing demand for energy, natural gas, coal, and oil get used up and cannot replenish themselves. 

Aside from limited supply, heavy reliance on fossil fuels causes planetary-scale damage. Sea levels are rising. Heat-trapping carbon dioxide increased the warming effect by 45% from 1990 to 2019. The only way to tackle the crisis is to start the transition to renewable energy now. 

What is renewable energy? It is energy that comes from replenishable natural resources like sunlight, wind, thermal energy, moving water, and organic materials. Renewable resources do not run out. They are cost-efficient and renew faster than they are consumed. How does renewable energy save money? It creates new jobs, supports economic growth, and decreases inequitable fossil fuel subsidies. 

At the current rates of production, some fossil fuels will not even last another century. This is why the future depends on reliable and eco-friendly resources. This renewable energy essay examines the types and benefits of renewable energy and its role in creating a sustainable future.

Top 5 Types of Renewable Energy: The Apollo Alliance Rankings

There are many natural resources that can provide people with clean energy. To make a list of the five most booming types of renewable energy on the market today, this energy essay uses data gathered by the Apollo Alliance. It is a project that aims to revolutionize the energy sector of the US with a focus on clean energy. 

The Apollo Alliance unites businesses, community leaders, and environmental experts to support the transition to more sustainable and efficient living. Their expert opinion helped to compile information about the most common and cost-competitive sources of renewable energy. However, if you want to get some more in-depth research, you can entrust it to an essay writer . Here’s a quick overview of renewable energy resources that have a huge potential to substitute fossil fuels. 

Solar Renewable Energy

The most abundant and practically endless resource is solar energy. It can be turned into electricity by photovoltaic systems that convert radiant energy captured from sunlight. Solar farms could generate enough energy for thousands of homes.

An endless supply is the main benefit of solar energy. The rate at which the Earth receives it is 10,000 times greater than people can consume it, as a paper writer points out based on their analysis of research findings. It can substitute fossil fuels and deliver people electricity, hot water, cooling, heat, etc. 

The upfront investment in solar systems is rather expensive. This is one of the primary limitations that prevent businesses and households from switching to this energy source at once. However, the conclusion of solar energy is still favorable. In the long run, it can significantly decrease energy costs. Besides, solar panels are gradually becoming more affordable to manufacture and adopt, even at an individual level. 

Wind Renewable Energy

Another clean energy source is wind. Wind farms use the kinetic energy of wind flow to convert it into electricity. The Appolo Alliance notes that, unlike solar farms, they can’t be placed in any location. To stay cost-competitive, wind farms should operate in windy areas. Although not all countries have the right conditions to use them on a large scale, wind farms might be introduced for some energy diversity. The technical potential for it is still tremendous. 

Wind energy is clean and safe for the environment. It does not pollute the atmosphere with any harmful products compared to nonrenewable energy resources. 

The investment in wind energy is also economically wise. If you examine the cost of this energy resource in an essay on renewable resources, you’ll see that wind farms can deliver electricity at a price lower than nonrenewable resources. Besides, since wind isn’t limited, its cost won’t be influenced by the imbalance of supply and demand.

Geothermal Renewable Energy

Natural renewable resources are all around us, even beneath the ground. Geothermal energy can be produced from the thermal energy from the Earth’s interior. Sometimes heat reaches the surface naturally, for example, in the form of geysers. But it can also be used by geothermal power plants. The Earth’s heat gets captured and converted to steam that turns a turbine. As a result, we get geothermal energy.

This source provides a significant energy supply while having low emissions and no significant footprint on land. A factsheet and essay on renewable resources state that geothermal plants will increase electricity production from 17 billion kWh in 2020 to 49.8 billion kWh in 2050.

However, this method is not without limitations. While writing a renewable resources essay, consider that geothermal energy can be accessed only in certain regions. Geological hotspots are off-limits as they are vulnerable to earthquakes. Yet, the quantity of geothermal resources is likely to grow as technology advances. 

Ocean Renewable Energy

The kinetic and thermal energy of the ocean is a robust resource. Ocean power systems rely on:

  • Changes in sea level;
  • Wave energy;
  • Water surface temperatures;
  • The energy released from seawater and freshwater mixing.

Ocean energy is more predictable compared to other resources. As estimated by EPRI, it has the potential to produce 2640 TWh/yr. However, an important point to consider in a renewable energy essay is that the kinetic energy of the ocean varies. Yet, since it is ruled by the moon’s gravity, the resource is plentiful and continues to be attractive for the energy industry. 

Wave energy systems are still developing. The Apollo energy corporation explores many prototypes. It is looking for the most reliable and robust solution that can function in the harsh ocean environment. 

Another limitation of ocean renewable energy is that it may cause disruptions to marine life. Although its emissions are minimal, the system requires large equipment to be installed in the ocean. 

Biomass Renewable Energy

Organic materials like wood and charcoal have been used for heating and lighting for centuries. There are a lot more types of biomass: from trees, cereal straws, and grass to processed waste. All of them can produce bioenergy. 

Biomass can be converted into energy through burning or using methane produced during the natural process of decomposition. In an essay on renewable sources of energy, the opponents of the method point out that biomass energy is associated with carbon dioxide emissions. Yet, the amount of released greenhouse gases is much lower compared to nonrenewable energy use. 

While biomass is a reliable source of energy, it is only suitable for limited applications. If used too extensively, it might lead to disruptions in biodiversity, a negative impact on land use, and deforestation. Still, Apollo energy includes biomass resources that become waste and decompose quickly anyway. These are organic materials like sawdust, chips from sawmills, stems, nut shells, etc. 

What Is the Apollo Alliance?

The Apollo Alliance is a coalition of business leaders, environmental organizations, labor unions, and foundations. They all unite their efforts in a single project to harness clean energy in new, innovative ways. 

Why Apollo? Similarly to President John F. Kennedy’s Apollo Project, Apollo energy is a strong visionary initiative. It is a dare, a challenge. The alliance calls for the integrity of science, research, technology, and the public to revolutionize the energy industry.

The project has a profound message. Apollo energy solutions are not only about the environment or energy. They are about building a new economy. The alliance gives hope to building a secure future for Americans. 

What is the mission of the Apollo Alliance? 

  • Achieve energy independence with efficient and limitless resources of renewable energy.
  • Pioneer innovation in the energy sector.
  • Build education campaigns and communication to inspire new perceptions of energy. 
  • Create new jobs.
  • Reduce dependence on imported fossil fuels. 
  • Build healthier and happier communities. 

The transformation of the industry will lead to planet-scale changes. The Apollo energy corporation can respond to the global environmental crisis and prevent climate change. 

Apollo renewable energy also has the potential to become a catalyst for social change. With more affordable energy and new jobs in the industry, people can bridge the inequality divide and build stronger communities. 

Why Renewable Energy Is Important for the Future

Renewable energy resources have an enormous potential to cover people’s energy needs on a global scale. Unlike fossil fuels, they are available in abundance and generate minimal to no emissions. 

The burning of fossil fuels caused a lot of environmental problems—from carbon dioxide emissions to ocean acidification. Research this issue in more detail with academic assistance from essay writer online . You can use it to write an essay on renewable sources of energy to explain the importance of change and its global impact. 

Despite all the damage people caused to the planet, there’s still hope to mitigate further repercussions. Every renewable energy essay adds to the existing body of knowledge we have today and advances research in the field. Here are the key advantages and disadvantages of alternative energy resources people should keep in mind. 

Advantage of Green Energy

The use of renewable energy resources has a number of benefits for the climate, human well-being, and economy:

  • Renewable energy resources have little to no greenhouse gas emissions. Even if we take into account the manufacturing and recycling of the technologies involved, their impact on the environment is significantly lower compared to fossil fuels. 
  • Renewable energy promotes self-sufficiency and reduces a country’s dependence on foreign fuel. According to a study, a 1% increase in the use of renewable energy increases economic growth by 0.21%. This gives socio-economic stability.
  • Due to a lack of supply of fossil fuels and quick depletion of natural resources, prices for nonrenewable energy keep increasing. In contrast, green energy is limitless and can be produced locally. In the long run, this allows decreasing the cost of energy. 
  • Unlike fossil fuels, renewable energy doesn’t emit air pollutants. This positively influences health and quality of life. 
  • The emergence of green energy plants creates new jobs. Thus, Apollo energy solutions support the growth of local communities. By 2030, the transition to renewable energy is expected to generate 10.3 million new jobs. 
  • Renewable energy allows decentralization of the industry. Communities get their independent sources of energy that are more flexible in terms of distribution. 
  • Renewable energy supports equality. It has the potential to make energy more affordable to low-income countries and expand access to energy even in remote and less fortunate neighborhoods. 

Disadvantages of Non-Conventional Energy Sources

No technology is perfect. Renewable energy resources have certain drawbacks too: 

  • The production of renewable energy depends on weather conditions. For example, wind farms could be effective only in certain locations where the weather conditions allow it. The weather also makes it so that renewable energy cannot be generated around the clock. 
  • The initial cost of renewable energy technology is expensive. Both manufacturing and installation require significant investment. This is another disadvantage of renewable resources. It makes them unaffordable to a lot of businesses and unavailable for widespread individual use. In addition, the return on investment might not be immediate.
  • Renewable energy technology takes up a lot of space. It may affect life in the communities where these clean energy farms are installed. They may also cause disruptions to wildlife in the areas. 
  • One more limitation a renewable resources essay should consider is the current state of technology. While the potential of renewable energy resources is tremendous, the technology is still in its development phase. Therefore, renewable energy might not substitute fossil fuels overnight. There’s a need for more research, investment, and time to transition to renewable energy completely. Yet, some diversity of energy resources should be introduced as soon as possible. 
  • Renewable energy resources have limited emissions, but they are not entirely pollution-free. The manufacturing process of equipment is associated with greenhouse gas emissions while, for example, the lifespan of a wind turbine is only 20 years. 

For high school seniors eyeing a future rich with innovative endeavors in renewable energy or other fields, it's crucial to seek financial support early on. Explore the top 10 scholarships for high school seniors to find the right fit that can propel you into a future where you can contribute to the renewable energy movement and beyond. Through such financial support, the road to making meaningful contributions to a sustainable future becomes a tangible reality.

Renewable energy unlocks the potential for humanity to have clean energy that is available in abundance. It leads us to economic growth, independence, and stability. With green energy, we can also reduce the impact of human activity on the environment and stop climate change before it’s too late. 

So what’s the conclusion of renewable energy? Transitioning to renewable energy resources might be challenging and expensive. However, most experts agree that the advantages of green energy outweigh any drawbacks. Besides, since technology is continuously evolving, we’ll be able to overcome most limitations in no time.

what does renewable energy mean essay

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Powering Australia with nuclear energy would cost roughly twice as much as renewables, CSIRO report shows

Building a large-scale nuclear power plant in Australia would cost at least $8.5 billion, take 15 years to deliver and produce electricity at roughly twice the cost of renewable sources, the country's leading scientific institution has found.

In a report that has for the first time compared conventional nuclear power with other options in Australia, the CSIRO concluded the technology's costs were broadly similar to gas- and black coal-fired generation with carbon capture and storage.

But the CSIRO's GenCost report noted that nuclear was still likely to be at least 50 per cent more expensive than large-scale wind and solar power backed by "firming" technologies such as batteries.

And it warned that the true costs of utility-scale nuclear were likely to be far higher still, given the major risks of cost and time-frame blowouts for a technology that had never been built in Australia before.

It said a nuclear power plant in Australia would be a "first of a kind" and, as such, "premiums of up to 100 per cent cannot be ruled out".

Nuclear power station chimneys

"We did a lot of work to determine what nuclear power would cost in Australia," Paul Graham, the chief economist of the CSIRO's energy business unit, said.

"We've previously reported on small modular reactors.

"But this time, we did an update and looked at the cost of large-scale nuclear reactors, and they're cheaper — on the order of $150 to $250 a megawatt hour.

"That's still one and a half to two times the cost of renewables.

"So they are still higher cost than deploying solar and wind."

As part of its process, the CSIRO looks at technologies using a measure called the "levelised cost of energy", which calculates how much money a generator would need for its power to break even.

The GenCost report is prepared each year by the CSIRO and the Australian Energy Market Operator (AEMO). It gives an updated estimate of costs for building new electricity generation and storage projects.

Shadow Energy Minister Ted O'Brien didn't object to the CSIRO's $8.5 billion price tag for a large-scale reactor but disagreed with the agency's finding that it would produce power at about twice the cost of renewables.

"At first glance, there's nothing that stung me in the capital costs of the large reactors that was out-of-the-ordinary," he told the ABC.

"But I don't accept the price of electricity that I see in this report."

When asked who was doing the Coalition's modelling, Mr O'Brien said those details would be released in due course.

Debate over nuclear role in Australia

The report comes amid a debate in Australia about what part — if any — nuclear power should play in Australia's energy transition.

Unlike other sources of conventional power such as coal and gas, nuclear energy can run around the clock while emitting virtually no greenhouse gases.

The federal Coalition has seized on the technology as a solution to help Australia wean itself off fossil fuels and decarbonise by the middle of the century.

Australian Opposition Leader Peter Dutton speaks during a press conference.

While the opposition at first touted the prospect of so-called small modular reactors that were just a few hundred megawatts of capacity in size, it has since pivoted towards large-scale plants.

Opposition Leader Peter Dutton is yet to release his official policy but has floated the idea of building a fleet of large-scale nuclear reactors around the country on the site of retiring coal-fired plants.

But federal Energy Minister Chris Bowen said the CSIRO report provided further confirmation that renewables were the cheapest form of energy and that nuclear was "by far the most expensive form of energy".

"So nuclear is slow and expensive and is risky when it comes to the reliability of Australia's energy system," he told the ABC.

The CSIRO said there was no technical reason why Australia could not build nuclear plants but it also suggested the risks were considerable.

Chief among them were the costs involved and the time any plants would take to deliver.

It said the "best representation" of a nuclear program was in South Korea, a rich, developed country that had been continuously building reactors for years.

By contrast, the agency noted other Western countries such as the US and the UK were only building nuclear plants "sporadically".

As a result, they had suffered major blowouts in the costs and time required to finish projects.

The CSIRO said even if Australia could emulate South Korea, it would still likely face higher costs given the price of labour, the lack of existing skills and governance and standards differences.

Nuclear will not meet coal deadline

What is more, Mr Graham said any nuclear power plant would be unlikely to be built until 2040 or later — well after much of Australia's coal-fired generation capacity needs to be replaced.

And he said regardless of whether Australia might opt for small- or large-scale nuclear, the country's outright ban on the underlying technology would have to be overturned in a process that could take many years.

To that end: "The inclusion of large-scale and SMR nuclear in the 2030 cost comparison is only as a point of interest rather than practicality."

"The second issue we found with large-scale nuclear, or the small modular reactors, is that they'll take around 15 years before we can have the first operational plant," Mr Graham said.

"When we deploy any technology in Australia, there's a lead-up time where you have to plan, get [permission], organise some financing and maybe who you're going to sell the electricity to.

"That all takes time before you can even start construction. What we found with large-scale nuclear was that they've got a longer development time than other technologies in Australia.

"The first is the legal hurdle — we'd have to make it legal to deploy nuclear power.

"The second is they've got extra safety and security steps that other technologies don't have because of the nuclear material.

"And finally, they have the longest construction time of any technology — between about four to six years. That's why it takes so long to deploy nuclear."

Mr O'Brien refused to say when coal would exit the grid under the Coalition's policy, only that "none of those plants should be forced out of the grid prematurely."

"We do not support the premature closure of coal-fired power stations, we believe we should be pouring more gas into the market and we need to fix the debacle that Labor has started in trying to push for 82 per cent renewables by 2030," he said.

The government does not decide when power plants are closed, instead, operators have to give three years' notice before closing. But Australia's ageing coal fleet is increasingly being hit by outages, and AEMO has raised concerns plants could close before new generation has been built.

Cheapest power from wind, solar

According to the CSIRO, reliably estimating any "first-of-a-kind premium" for nuclear was too fraught to try because the technology had never been built locally.

But it noted this was not unique to nuclear, saying similar caveats applied to the cost estimates for coal- and gas-fired power with carbon capture and storage as well as offshore wind.

The agency said onshore wind and solar were still the cheapest forms of new electricity even when accounting for the cost of the capacity — such as batteries, pumped hydro plants and high-voltage power lines — needed to back them up.

It said the average cost of new "variable renewable energy projects" was $119/MWh in 2023 and it would fall to $99/MWh by 2030.

This was despite wind suffering a major increase in costs and being the "slowest" to recover from the "global inflationary pressures associated with the pandemic".

Artist's impression of eight large, white wind turbines standing in a row in the ocean.

Mr Graham noted offshore wind was likely to be about twice as expensive as onshore wind.

Solar thermal plants, which are different from the photovoltaic cells that dominate the solar industry now, were more competitive but still relatively expensive, he added.

With a complete overhaul of Australia's electricity system already well underway, Mr Graham said getting the balance right between low costs and timely new supply was critical.

"We also have to manage the supply and demand balance as we go," he said.

"If we retire things too quickly without replacing them with capacity, new capacity, then we run the risk of creating a supply-demand imbalance, which can then lead to higher prices.

"We have to make sure that we're replacing the capacity that retires with a like level of new capacity."

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It's Settled, More Nuclear Energy Means Less Mining

Clean energy minerals are challenging traditional environmental dogmas.

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For decades, the environmental movement has lumped nuclear energy with fossil fuels as a mining-intensive, environmentally destructive technologies while extolling solar and wind as pillars of a more sustainable future.

“Nuclear energy is a carbon hog. Plant construction cement, steel, and complex electronics is carbon intensive” opines Greenpeace co-founder Rex Wyler in one rambling essay . Another report by Friends of the Earth condemns mining for nuclear fuel as unacceptable, while exonerating mining for solar and wind as worrying but manageable in the next breath. A graphic produced by the Japanese environmental think tank Climate Integrate groups nuclear power and mining under an unequal fossil-fuel system while enshrining wind and solar within an “equal” and “nature positive” future society, somehow blissfully separated from mineral production.

Claiming that nuclear power is more mining-intensive than renewables never made much sense to begin with, but such assertions have stubbornly persisted in environmental forums, simply because nobody had invested the effort into challenging them with modern data.

That debate is now settled. When considering how to best manage the mining footprint of a global shift to low-carbon energy, the math clearly shows that clean energy systems using relatively more nuclear energy will impose fewer mining impacts than systems using only solar, wind, and storage. A major research report from my team, building on recent U.S. National Renewable Energy Laboratory, MIT, and United States Geological Survey analyses, finds that every unit of clean electricity from a nuclear power plant requires excavating just 30% or 23% the mass of rock and metal, compared to an equal unit of solar or onshore wind electricity.

But many traditional environmentalists and nuclear technology opponents remain determined to exclude clean nuclear power from consideration as a clean energy source by any means necessary. However, using mining as an angle of attack to label nuclear energy as “not sustainable” relative to solar and wind is to make arguments utterly unmoored from real-world data. Rather, insisting on a renewables-only nuclear-free energy system means accepting higher mining-related environmental tradeoffs. Anti-nuclear environmental thinkers must either grapple with that tension or embrace it, but they cannot deny it.

After the clean tech mining arguments

I do have some good news—both for wind and solar advocates and for all pragmatic environmentalists. First, blanket demonization of mining as a concept is misguided to begin with, given mining’s necessity to modern society and for global human development. Second, the extractive intensity of any clean energy system will likely prove considerably better than our existing fossil-based energy system, given the gargantuan scale of coal mining globally. Third, the mining impacts of solar, wind, or nuclear energy are flexible, not fixed , and can improve significantly as technology and practices advance.

To the pragmatic technological optimist, the moderately higher mining footprint of solar and wind energy is just one of many variables in the calculus and politics of achieving a better future, one in which society will probably employ both renewable and nuclear technologies together.

Nuclear less Mining 1

Rather, the harshest rebuke from this data-driven discussion of clean energy mineral needs falls upon entrenched, incoherent environmental dogmas. International green groups and decorated sustainability scholars cannot claim to worship at the altar of empirical science while invoking the material footprint of nuclear energy to classify it “unsustainable”. Nor are calls from degrowth, ecosocialist, or traditional environmentalists to limit extraction through unrealistic and convoluted social measures logically reconcilable with their continued rejection of nuclear power’s potential to alleviate the mining impacts of the clean energy transition.

In one prominent example, the treatise A Planet to Win devotes thirty-odd pages to the importance of reducing energy demand, slashing car dependence, recycling more, restricting the global mining industry, and even supporting resistance at “mines linked to renewable energy” to “buy time” for better mining and recycling technologies (essentially blockading clean energy mineral production) as part of the authors’ vision for a Global Green New Deal. Yet the book’s only mention of nuclear power is a gesture of lukewarm support for running existing nuclear plants a little longer… until society can replace them with solar and wind.

It is time for climate commentators to acknowledge that nuclear technology could in fact aid the advancement of many of their fundamental aims—and in doing so begin the necessary work of rethinking their environmental worldviews in more ecomodernist terms.

At the very least, environmentalists must acknowledge the inherent tradeoffs of insisting on 100% renewable energy systems. The last 10% of an ultimately subjective 100% renewable grid aspiration not only comes with high and nonlinear cost increases from the additional solar, wind, and storage resources to cover all needs at all times and in all weather, but also necessitates greater land and mining footprints. Energy systems with high shares of wind and solar also require more geographically distributed infrastructure like transmission, substations, synchronous condensers, distribution upgrades, and more—important additional mineral demand drivers that our recent study does not capture. Producing low-carbon fuels like hydrogen, methanol, or renewable synthetic methane for use in power plants, vehicles, or industry would require yet even more expansive deployment of renewables and storage to power the requisite electrolyzers and carbon capture facilities.

The match between nuclear and better mining is strong

Some environmental commentators would counter that society will ultimately supply new solar, wind, and battery equipment through recycling rather than new mining. While this is possible in the long-term, the limited availability of many recycled materials like silver, rare earth elements, lithium, or graphite makes this infeasible in the near-term. Moreover, improved recycling would benefit nuclear technology equally if not more, enabling reactors not only built with repurposed steel and concrete aggregate but also powered with recycled spent fuel.

Others might emphasize that the avoided coal mining from a clean energy transition is so substantial that the relative differences in the mining footprint of nuclear, wind, or solar are minor and negligible by comparison. This argument has some merit, but falters somewhat upon considering important nuances.

First, coal-fired electricity is already diminishing, extinct, or was nonexistent to begin with in many regions like Western Europe, California, the Middle East, or much of South America. Coal mining impacts are entirely irrelevant to the mining-related implications of the energy transition in these regions, which are effectively choosing between renewables, gas, and nuclear (and oil in the case of the Middle East). Coal of course remains a factor in other regions like Eastern Europe, East Asia, India, Australia, or Southeast Asia.

Second, mining for clean energy minerals is often more additional to coal mining than it is substitutional. Coal is a consumable fuel, not a metal, so society has already incurred all of the coal mining impacts for the coal energy historically produced to date. Much—though certainly far from all—of current and future coal demand will also be supplied from existing mines and regions . Those mines would correspondingly expand even as the required rate of global supply shrinks, consuming more land in the process, but the global geography of coal mining will not likely shift as dramatically as that of the critical minerals sector in the decades to come. The energy transition, in contrast, will bring new mines to mostly new places, impacting new ecosystems and creating new sociopolitical tensions. Such regional dynamics can get overlooked when considering changes in global average mining activity only.

Nuclear less M Ining 2

Lastly, environmentalists and progressives would themselves challenge society not to contentedly accept a future that only offered moderate improvements from the present day when even greater gains are reasonably possible. All else equal, future energy systems that incorporate more nuclear power alongside renewables will consume less land directly, and less land through mining.

At the same time avid pro-nuclear supporters should not leap too quickly to condemn renewable energy as a mining nightmare. Too often, debate over nuclear and renewables originates out of technological pessimism over allegedly inherent, insurmountable problems that society and technology can actually overcome in practice. Nuclear proponents dismiss wind and solar as sprawling, short-lived infrastructure while nuclear opponents bemoan nuclear energy costs and safety risks. But none of these characteristics are ironclad axioms.

One can imagine thinner, more efficient futuristic solar panels that last for half a century, just as one can imagine affordable factory-produced nuclear reactors with inventive, foolproof safety features. A rigorous ecomodernist and technological optimist imagines both sets of technologies at their best, distinguishes between solvable problems and truly inherent characteristics, and works determinedly to crack the former.

The long lever of innovation

But even if traditional and radical environmentalists remain hesitant to contemplate ecomodernism, it may be time for them to reconsider their stubborn opposition to nuclear energy. Indeed, the challenging nexus of clean energy minerals and the energy transition arguably reveals underlying fissures and incoherencies within both traditional environmentalism and its modern offshoots like ecosocialism and degrowth communism. The key driver for maximizing human well-being and minimizing the impacts of mining upon nature is clearly technological innovation and decoupling, not societal behavior change.

With current technology, nuclear energy would do more to reduce energy transition mining than degrowth ideas like rationing ever could. Looking forward into the future, it is far easier to cut the amount of aluminum in solar farms by half than it would be to cut the amount of solar panels needed globally by half. Innovative approaches for isolating magnesium from seawater could replace aluminum solar module frames with virtually no future mining whatsoever. And even degrowth and circular economy proponents cannot avoid invoking significant future advances in recycling technology that will require some time yet to materialize. While degrowth writers might rush to cite material efficiency gains and recycling improvements as evidence that they also do support technological solutions, this ultimately amounts to drawing the same tired, arbitrary boundaries around “good” and “bad” technologies.

Indeed, the act of mining new metals itself has produced immeasurable good throughout ancient and modern human history and is hardly inherently sinful. The key metric for society to manage is not the quantity of metals pulled out of the ground, but rather the tonnage of moved earth, the change in water quality, the amount of airborne dust and carbon, and the fair sharing of the profound benefits to civilization that those metals produce. Good governance and technological advances can improve all of these metrics.

The point of highlighting differences in mining footprints between energy sources is not that we should build only nuclear energy, that we should limit the amount of energy we consume, or that we should restrict the quantity of renewables we build. Instead, we should continue to use all the tools at our disposal to meet future energy needs with fewer and fewer minerals and environmental impacts. The foundation for this approach is the ability to imagine how technologies can continue to advance individually and in concert. Mounting support for nuclear power in many parts of the world is one of many promising signs that such thinking is already gaining momentum.

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Seaver Wang

Seaver Wang is Co-Director of the Climate and Energy team.

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Kenyan President’s State Visit: An Antidote to U.S. Troubles in Africa?

The White House is hosting President William Ruto of Kenya for a state dinner this week, an embrace that both countries urgently need.

President William Ruto of Kenya sitting in an armchair, wearing a short-sleeved shirt, with his hands clasped in his lap.

By Declan Walsh

Reporting from Nairobi, Kenya

As other African nations move away from the United States, disillusioned with democracy or lured by rival powers, President William Ruto of Kenya arrives in Washington on Wednesday for a three-day state visit intended to showcase a stalwart American ally on the continent.

A spate of military coups , shaky elections and raging wars have upended Africa’s political landscape in the past year, giving an edge to American rivals like Russia and China, but also shredding Washington’s key selling point: that democracy delivers.

In Niger, a recently installed military junta has asked American troops to leave . Relations with once-firm American allies like South Africa and Ethiopia are decidedly cool. A recent election in Senegal , long considered a beacon of stability, nearly went off the rails .

Mr. Ruto, the Biden administration hopes, is the antidote to those troubles.

Since he came to power two years ago, Mr. Ruto, 57, has pulled Kenya, the economic powerhouse of East Africa, ever closer to the United States. His visit is just the sixth state visit hosted by the Biden administration, and the first for an African president since 2008.

In some respects, President Biden is atoning for a broken promise. At a high profile Africa summit in Washington in December 2022, Mr. Biden declared he was “all in” on Africa, and pledged to make a visit to the continent in the following year. The trip never materialized.

In choosing Mr. Ruto, the Biden administration is confirming that it views the Kenyan leader as one of its closest security, diplomatic and economic partners in Africa.

The two countries cooperate closely to fight militants with Al Shabab in Somalia. American corporate giants like Google have sizable operations in the Kenyan capital, Nairobi, which is also a hub of diplomatic efforts to end the chaos in neighboring countries like Sudan, South Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Very soon, Kenya is expected to start deploying 1,000 paramilitary police officers to help quell unrest Haiti — a dangerous mission largely funded by the United States and one which runs significant political risks for Mr. Ruto if Kenyan personnel are injured or killed.

And Mr. Ruto has adroitly garnered American support for his outspoken advocacy on global issues like debt relief, reform of international financial institutions and climate change, on which he is attempting to carve out a reputation as Africa’s leading statesman.

“We live the nightmare of climate change every day,” he said in an interview with The New York Times on Sunday, hours before he flew to the United States. Nearly 300 Kenyans died in the past month as heavy rains lashed the country , causing floods that forced hundreds of thousands from their homes.

“A year ago we were deep in drought,” he said during the interview, speaking in an open pavilion next to State House, his official residence in Nairobi, as thunder rolled and more rain fell. “This is the case of many countries on the continent.”

It’s not many years since Mr. Ruto was considered part of the problem in Kenya. A decade ago he was on trial at the International Criminal Court , facing accusations of orchestrating post-election violence that left over 1,100 Kenyans dead. At the trial, his lawyer was Karim Khan, currently the court’s prosecutor. The United States backed the prosecution, seeing it as a chance to end impunity in Kenya’s political class.

But the trial collapsed in 2016, after witnesses disappeared or changed their testimony, and Mr. Ruto’s electoral triumphs eclipsed the trial at home: He was elected vice-president in 2013 and 2018, and then president in 2022.

“So much was said about who we were in that episode,” he said, referring also to former President Uhuru Kenyatta who faced similar charges. “But doesn’t it strike you that finally we were elected by the same people we were being accused of harming? That tells you the whole narrative was false.”

An American official, who requested anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media, said that Mr. Ruto had been privately urged to confront indirectly what was described as his “I.C.C. hangover” early into his visit. At his first speech on Monday, at the Jimmy Carter Presidential Museum and Library in Atlanta, he vowed to keep Kenya “on the path of an open society, strongly committed to greater accountability and transparency, with robust engagement of civil society.”

Mr. Ruto also needs the trip to succeed. As he has made about 50 foreign trips since 2022, gathering support for his ideas, his popularity at home has plunged. Faced with a crippling debt crisis — Kenya owes about $77 billion — Mr. Ruto introduced tax hikes that brought cries of protest from his citizens.

Some Kenyans call him “Zakayo,” in reference to the biblical tax collector Zacchaeus. The reference makes him smile. “I have been very candid with the people of Kenya that I cannot continue to borrow money,” he said, predicting he would eventually win over his critics.

Still, time is running short, and Mr. Ruto’s big idea for turning around the economy is to ride the wave of green energy. Over 90 percent of Kenya’s energy comes from renewable sources — mostly wind and geothermal springs — a natural advantage Mr. Ruto hopes to leverage to convert Kenya into an industrial powerhouse.

He wants foreign companies to move to Kenya, where their products would be carbon neutral. He is also selling Kenya as an enormous carbon sink, tapping into the nascent industry of sucking carbon from the atmosphere, then burying it deep in the rock formations of the Rift Valley.

“ How do we move Africa from a continent of potential to a continent of opportunity and finally to a continent of investment?” he said. Last month, Microsoft and two other firms announced they were building a 1 gigawatt data center, powered by renewable energy in Naivasha, 40 miles northwest of Nairobi.

Still, Mr. Ruto’s embrace of Washington and democracy are not universally popular in Africa. Disillusionment with sham elections and corrupt elites has fed young people’s support for recent military coups in countries like Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger.

“There is a perception that democracy hasn’t delivered, that elites which had come to power through elections were not delivering,” said Murithi Mutiga, Africa director at International Crisis Group. Yet, he added, Kenya’s example of stability and steady growth proved that while democracy can be “messy, difficult, noisy and tough,” it still works.

Mr. Ruto is scheduled to spend much of Wednesday with members of Congress. On Thursday he lays a wreath at Arlington National Cemetery before meetings with Mr. Biden and a state dinner at the White House. The pomp and prestige is a major prize for a first-term president who, critics charge, has a strong authoritarian streak.

Last year Mr. Ruto launched public attacks on judges whose rulings obstructed his policies, reviving fears he could eventually take Kenya down an authoritarian route.

And like other African leaders, he is not afraid to play the field of foreign suitors.

Last year, to American dismay, Mr. Ruto hosted President Ebrahim Raisi of Iran, who was killed in a helicopter crash on Sunday, and foreign minister Sergei V. Lavrov of Russia. In October, Mr. Ruto flew to Beijing for a three-day state visit to China.

Mr. Ruto dismissed the suggestion that he is a darling of the West, or anyone else.

“This is not about taking sides,” he said. “It’s about interests. There’s absolutely no contradiction to working with different countries. It’s just common sense.”

  More about Declan Walsh

How India is emerging as an advanced energy superpower 

As the world watches, India is progressing advanced energy solutions rapidly.

As the world watches, India is progressing advanced energy solutions rapidly. Image:  Unsplash/Milin John

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Debmalya sen, jeremy williams.

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  • India is setting ambitious targets for deploying advanced energy solutions such as clean hydrogen, energy storage and carbon capture. By 2030, it plans to invest over $35 billion annually in these areas.
  • India has surpassed its 2030 renewable energy goals; the government supports the energy transition through targeted policies, subsidies and incentives, such as production-linked incentives and tax credits.
  • Scaling up advanced energy solutions requires overcoming challenges related to business confidence, demand certainty and technology reliability.

India is emerging as a global powerhouse in advanced energy solutions. It is the largest country in the world by population and fifth by size of national economy. It is also the third largest in terms of carbon emissions. According to Jennifer Granholm, US Secretary of Energy, “In so many ways, the world’s energy future will depend on India’s energy future.”

In line with this, the country is adopting ambitious goals for deploying solutions such as clean hydrogen, energy storage, carbon capture and sustainable aviation fuels.

Based on announced pledges, India is expected to invest more than $35 billion annually across advanced energy solutions by 2030 (excluding any solar or wind investment). Investment in battery storage alone must reach $9-10 billion annually.

Fast renewable growth drives exponential demand growth for energy storage in India. The country intends to build 47 gigawatts (GW)/236 GW hours (GWh) of battery storage capacity by 2031-32. This ambitious scale-up is equivalent to installing nearly 80 of the largest battery storage facilities globally and 110 times larger than the capacity of India’s battery energy storage systems.

In clean hydrogen, India has set a target to achieve a production capacity of 5 million metric tonnes (MMT) by 2030 . The country aims to build an electrolyzer manufacturing capacity equal to 40GW by 2030 to achieve this goal. This will more than double the total global existing manufacturing capacity at the end of 2023.

More attention has been paid to energy storage and green hydrogen due to the country’s techno-commercial maturity and demand requirements. However, India’s ambitions and needs go further. By 2030, India aims to achieve 30 MMT capacity of carbon capture and storage and 2 MMT of sustainable aviation fuels from currently negligible levels.

Have you read?

Advanced energy solutions: the innovators scaling up clean power, why accelerating the deployment of advanced energy solutions is not a technology readiness challenge, how advanced energy technologies can hasten the energy transition in the developing world, advancing goals.

India has set bold ambitions and demonstrated remarkable progress on energy transition investment. For example, it surpassed its 2030 goal of achieving 40% of installed capacity from renewable energy sources nine years in advance.

To replicate this success and complement it with “made in India” goals, the central and state governments in India have implemented numerous policies and regulations. These include mandates via renewable purchase obligations, energy storage obligations and various subsidies and incentives.

The government offers production-linked incentive schemes that have proved effective in attracting strong industry interest. Other incentives include viability gap funding schemes and tax credits. Additionally, to lower the cost premium of advanced solutions, the government has initiated waivers on transmission, wheeling and banking charges.

In 2023, various tendering authorities in India released 25 tenders linked to energy storage and a viability gap funding scheme for batteries to facilitate better price discoveries. In green hydrogen, two tenders were issued aimed at facilitating 0.45 MT of green hydrogen production and 1,500 MW of electrolyzer manufacturing.

These tenders are supported by production incentives under the Strategic Interventions for Green Hydrogen Transition programme, for which $2 billion has been allocated.

Made in India

Building strong industries and supply chains at home constitutes a central point of India’s strategy in advanced solutions.

Various central-level policies and regulations have been implemented over the last few years to promote domestic manufacturing of advanced energy technologies and components. The production-linked incentive scheme mentioned above is an example of such an intervention, which is a performance-linked incentive on incremental sales from products manufactured domestically.

Moreover, India is promoting domestic mining by identifying 30 critical minerals and auctioning 20 blocks in 2023, with plans for 20 more in 2024. The government also emphasizes innovative procurement, offtake agreements and research and development investment to bolster these sectors.

Overcoming barriers

Despite significant progress, scaling up advanced energy solutions at the intended level requires additional efforts.

In India, as globally, the primary challenge in deploying advanced solutions over the next decade does not lie so much in their fundamental technological feasibility. It is rather related to confidence in these solutions. The challenge can be broken down into low confidence related to the business case and demand certainty, public trust and confidence in technology.

Unclear business cases and uncertain demand hinder scaling up investments. These need to be increased rapidly to keep up with the need to achieve targets. This acceleration requires building viable business cases to bolster investor confidence, including addressing the cost premium of advanced energy solutions and developing innovative financing models for solutions.

Strategic partnering

Exponentially scaling the advanced energy solutions industries will require unprecedented levels of collaboration to build confidence in the business case and demand while taking a people-positive approach. Collaboration will be essential to driving scale, creating demand signals, unlocking investment, spreading risk and informing policymaking.

Given the constraints of limited resources and tightening timelines, India’s “growing with less” strategy emphasizes the importance of maximizing resource use through collaborations and partnerships. The government works very closely with the industry already and the country is forming strategic alliances with mineral-rich countries for long-term supply of key materials.

Advanced energy solutions community

While every region, country, industry and company will decide on its own approach, all stakeholders must cooperate with each other and the existing system. The World Economic Forum’s Advanced Energy Solutions community looks forward to supporting stakeholders in India and globally.

The Advanced Energy Solutions community aspires to accelerate, from decades to years, the deployment at industrial scale of advanced energy solutions such as clean fuels and hydrogen, advanced nuclear, storage and carbon removal.

The community engages industry leaders who drive frontier segments of the energy system to shape the advanced energy solutions industry vision and narrative, support partnerships among innovators, large energy companies, energy users and investors, and inform policymaking. The community helps increase public confidence in advanced energy solutions, technology readiness, demand, and business cases while enabling collaborations and informing policy.

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Nonrenewable Energy

Nonrenewable energy comes from sources that will eventually run out, such as oil and coal.

Biology, Ecology, Earth Science, Geography, Social Studies, Economics

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Nonrenewable energy comes from sources that will run out or will not be replenished in our lifetimes—or even in many, many lifetimes.

Most nonrenewable energy sources are fossil fuels : coal , petroleum , and natural gas . Carbon is the main element in fossil fuels. For this reason, the time period that fossil fuels formed (about 360-300 million years ago) is called the Carboniferous Period.

All fossil fuels formed in a similar way. Hundreds of millions of years ago, even before the dinosaurs, Earth had a different landscape. It was covered with wide, shallow seas and swampy forests. 

Plants, algae , and plankton grew in these ancient wetlands . They absorbed sunlight and created energy through photosynthesis . When they died, the organisms drifted to the bottom of the sea or lake. There was energy stored in the plants and animals when they died.

Over time, the dead plants were crushed under the seabed. Rocks and other sediment piled on top of them, creating high heat and pressure underground. In this environment , the plant and animal remains eventually turned into fossil fuels (coal, natural gas, and petroleum). Today, there are huge underground pockets (called reservoirs ) of these nonrenewable sources of energy all over the world.

Advantages and Disadvantages

Fossil fuels are a valuable source of energy. They are relatively inexpensive to extract . They can also be stored, piped, or shipped anywhere in the world.

However, burning fossil fuels is harmful to the environment. When coal and oil are burned, they release particles that can pollute the air, water, and land. Some of these particles are caught and set aside, but many of them are released into the air.

Burning fossil fuels also upsets Earth’s “ carbon budget ,” which balances the carbon in the ocean, earth, and air. When fossil fuels are combusted (heated), they release carbon dioxide into the atmosphere . Carbon dioxide is a gas that keeps heat in Earth’s atmosphere, a process called the “ greenhouse effect .” The greenhouse effect is necessary to life on Earth, but relies on a balanced carbon budget.

The carbon in fossil fuels has been sequestered , or stored, underground for millions of years. By removing this sequestered carbon from the ground and releasing it into the atmosphere, Earth’s carbon budget is out of balance. This contributes to temperatures rising faster than organisms can adapt.

Coal is a black or brownish rock. We burn coal to create energy. Coal is ranked depending on how much “ carbonization ” it has gone through. Carbonization is the process that ancient organisms undergo to become coal. About three meters (10 feet) of solid vegetation crushed together form 0.3 meter (one foot) of coal!

Peat is the lowest rank of coal. It has gone through the least amount of carbonization. It is an important fuel in areas of the world including Scotland, Ireland, and Finland.

Anthracite is the highest rank of coal. Anthracite forms in regions of the world where there have been giant movements of the earth, such as the formation of mountain ranges. The Appalachian Mountains, in the eastern part of the United States, are rich in anthracite.

We mine coal out of the ground so we can burn it for energy. There are two ways that we can mine coal: underground mining and surface mining.

Underground mining is used when the coal is located below the surface of Earth, sometimes 300 meters (1,000 feet) deep—that’s deeper than most of the Great Lakes! Miners take an elevator down a mineshaft. They operate heavy machinery that cuts the coal out, and brings it above ground. This can be dangerous work because cutting coal can release dangerous gases. The gases can cause explosions or make it hard for miners to breathe.

Surface mining is used when the coal is located very near the surface of the planet. To get to the coal, companies must first clear the area. They take away the trees and soil. The coal can then be cut out of the ground more easily. Entire habitats are destroyed during this process.

Almost 20 percent the electricity in the United States comes from coal. It gives power to our lights, refrigerators, dishwashers, and most other things we plug in. When coal is burned, it leaves “ byproducts ” that are also valuable. We use the byproducts to make cement, plastics, roads, and many other things.

Coal is a reliable source of energy. We can rely on it day and night, summer and winter, sunshine or rain, to provide fuel and electricity.

Using coal is also harmful. Mining is one of the most dangerous jobs in the world. Coal miners are exposed to toxic dust and face the dangers of cave-ins and explosions at work.

When coal is burned, it releases many toxic gases and pollutants into the atmosphere. Mining for coal can also cause the ground to cave in and create underground fires that burn for decades at a time.

Petroleum is a liquid fossil fuel. It is also called oil or crude oil.

Petroleum is trapped by underground rock formations. In some places, oil bubbles right out of the ground. At the LaBrea Tar Pits, in Los Angeles, California, U.S., big pools of thick oil bubble up through the ground. Remains of animals that got trapped there thousands of years ago are still preserved in the tar!

Most of the world’s oil is still deep under the ground. We drill through the earth to access the oil. Some deposits are on land, and others are under the ocean floor. 

Once oil companies begin drilling with a “drill rig,” they can extract petroleum 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year. Many successful oil sites produce oil for about 30 years. Sometimes they can produce oil for much longer.

When oil is under the ocean floor, companies drill offshore . They must build an oil platform . Oil platforms are some of the biggest artificial structures in the world!

Once the oil has been drilled, it must be refined . Oil contains many chemicals besides carbon, and refining the oil takes some of these chemicals out.

We use oil for many things. About half the world’s petroleum is converted into gasoline . The rest can be processed and used in liquid products such as nail polish and rubbing alcohol, or solid products such as water pipes, shoes, crayons, roofing, vitamin capsules, and thousands of other items.

There are advantages to drilling for oil. It is relatively inexpensive to extract. It is also a reliable and dependable source of energy and money for the local community.

Oil provides us with thousands of conveniences. In the form of gasoline, it is a portable source of energy that gives us the power to drive places. Petroleum is also an ingredient in many items that we depend on. 

However, burning gasoline is harmful to the environment. It releases hazardous gases and fumes into the air we breathe. There is also the possibility of an oil spill. If there is a problem with the drilling machinery, the oil can explode out of the well and spill into the ocean or surrounding land. Oil spills are environmental disasters, especially offshore spills. Oil floats on water, so it can look like food to fish and ruin birds’ feathers. 

Natural Gas

Natural gas is another fossil fuel that is trapped underground in reservoirs. It is mostly made up of methane . You may have smelled methane before. The decomposing material in landfills also release methane, which smells like rotten eggs.

There is so much natural gas underground that it is measured in millions, billions, or trillions of cubic meters. 

Natural gas is found in deposits a few hundred meters underground. In order to get natural gas out of the ground, companies drill straight down. However, natural gas does not form in big open pockets. Natural gas is trapped in rock formations that can stretch for kilometers. 

To reach natural gas, some companies use a process called “hydraulic fracturing,” or fracking . Hydraulic means they use water, and fracturing means to “split apart.” The process uses high-pressure water to split apart the rocks underground. This releases the natural gas that is trapped in rock formations. If the rock is too hard, they can send acid down the well to dissolve the rock. They can also use tiny grains of glass or sand to prop open the rock and let the gas escape.

We use natural gas for heating and cooking. Natural gas can also be burned to generate electricity. We rely on natural gas to give power to lights, televisions, air conditioners, and kitchen appliances in our homes.

Natural gas can also be turned into a liquid form, called liquid natural gas ( LNG ). LNG is much cleaner than any other fossil fuels.

Liquid natural gas takes up much less space than the gaseous form. The amount of natural gas that would fit into a big beach ball would fit into a ping-pong ball as a liquid! LNG can be easily stored and used for different purposes. LNG can even be a replacement for gasoline. 

Natural gas is relatively inexpensive to extract, and is a “cleaner” fossil fuel than oil or coal. When natural gas is burned, it only releases carbon dioxide and water vapor (which are the exact same gases that we breathe out when we exhale!) This is healthier than burning coal.

However, extracting natural gas can cause environmental problems. Fracturing rocks can cause mini-earthquakes. The high-pressure water and chemicals that are forced underground can also leak to other sources of water. The water sources, used for drinking or bathing, can become contaminated and unsafe.

Other Nonrenewable Energy Sources

Fossil fuels are the leading nonrenewable energy sources around the world. There are others, however.

Nuclear Energy

Nuclear energy is usually considered another nonrenewable energy source. Although nuclear energy itself is a renewable energy source, the material used in nuclear power plants is not.

Nuclear energy harvests the powerful energy in the nucleus, or core, of an atom . Nuclear energy is released through nuclear fission , the process where the nucleus of an atom splits. Nuclear power plants are complex machines that can control nuclear fission to produce electricity.

The material most often used in nuclear power plants is the element uranium . Although uranium is found in rocks all over the world, nuclear power plants usually use a very rare type of uranium, U-235. Uranium is a nonrenewable resource.

Nuclear energy is a popular way of generating electricity around the world. Nuclear power plants do not pollute the air or emit greenhouse gases . They can be built in rural or urban areas , and do not destroy the environment around them.

However, nuclear energy is difficult to harvest. Nuclear power plants are very complicated to build and run. Many communities do not have the scientists and engineers to develop a safe and reliable nuclear energy program.

Nuclear energy also produces radioactive material. Radioactive waste can be extremely toxic, causing burns and increasing the risk for cancers, blood diseases, and bone decay among people who are exposed to it.

Biomass Energy

Biomass energy, a renewable energy source, can also be a nonrenewable energy source.

Biomass energy uses the energy found in plants. Biomass energy relies on biomass feedstocks —plants that are processed and burned to create electricity. Biomass feedstocks can include crops such as corn or soy, as well as wood. If people do not replant biomass feedstocks as fast as they use them, biomass energy becomes a nonrenewable energy source.

Fossilized Energy According to the Central Intelligence Agency, the world generates more than 66 percent of its electricity from fossil fuels, and another 8 percent from nuclear energy.

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March 18, 2024

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