What are the renewable resources available in 2020?
Written by Andrew Sendy
Updated August 12, 2021
10 minutes read
Categories: Solar 101, Solar efficiency, Solar energy, Solar financing, Solar panels, Solar power
According to the US Energy Information Administration, renewable sources accounted for 17% of total energy production in 2017. While they still pale in comparison to fossil fuels and coal, these numbers represent record production highs for alternative fuel sources.
Renewable power uses wind, water, and other natural resources to fuel our homes and businesses. Slowly, these technologies are being adapted to our everyday lives. Property owners who support energy from renewable sources help preserve our common resources while lowering their monthly utility bills.
What is the difference between renewable resources and alternative energy?
The terms ‘renewable resource’ and ‘alternative energy’ are often used interchangeably. However, they don’t mean exactly the same thing.
- Renewable resources are natural materials used in the production of alternative energy. This includes sunlight, wind, water, and geothermal heat. Even the wood you burn in your home’s fireplace is considered a renewable resource.
- Alternative energy is power produced from sources other than fossil fuels; the generation of which typically results in lowered or even zero carbon emissions. It includes power produced from renewable resources as well as non-renewable resources such as nuclear.
- Both types of energy reduce our collective impact on the environment. However, only energy produced from renewable resources is a sustainable, long-term solution to humanity’s energy needs.
What renewable energy sources are being used for residential homes in 2020?
- Solar power is an up-and-coming trend in renewable energy resources. In 2018, solar power produced just over 2% of the country’s total useable energy. Supported by legislation like the federal Solar Tax Credit, homeowners are quickly adopting this clean, efficient, and flexible technology into their homes.
- Hydroelectric power is the single largest source of renewable energy in the country today. In 2017, it accounted for 7.4% of the country’s total power production. Since this technology depends on the proximity of a large body of water, it is currently only available in select locations.
- Wind power represented 6.3% of energy usage in 2017. Used for everything from powering small appliances, pumps, or farm equipment to providing enough energy for an entire household, wind power is quickly gaining popularity in rural areas.
- Biomass fuels accounted for 1.6% of our total energy production in 2017. Wood, methane gas harvested from landfills, biogenic energy, solid waste, and fuel from other sources are being explored as alternatives to non-renewable combustibles like coal.
Private property owners are exploring the possibilities with renewable energy sources. As the demand for cleaner energy sources increases, utility companies are also investing in alternative fuels. Where does your local utility company get the power you use in your home every day? Use this tool to find out more.
What alternative energy sources are being used for commercial properties in 2020?
Commercial operations are also taking advantage of cost-effective and pollution reducing renewable energy systems. Here are some corporations that are using renewable energy sources to power their operations:
- In 2015, computer and software producer Intel installed wind turbines and solar panels to power their Santa Clara, California offices.
- Kohl’s, the department store giant, uses solar power in 163 of its locations. In addition, 1,001 Kohl’s locations have earned an Energy Star certification.
- International retailer Walmart is the second highest corporate user of solar power in the country with an installed capacity of 145 MW. This is second only to their competitor Target, which boasts an impressive 147.5 MW of solar power capacity.
- Following its ambitious climate change plan, personal computing producers Apple uses only renewable energy sources to power their offices and production plants. As of 2015, the company succeeded in getting 93% of it's power from renewable resources.
Smaller businesses are finding ways to use non-traditional energy sources to lower their carbon footprint, decrease utility payments, and improve their public reputation.
How does geothermal energy work?
Geothermal energy uses the earth’s natural heat to create power. Water sits underneath the earth’s crust, absorbing heat from the core. In a geothermal plant, technicians install wells and pumps that allow them to redirect the hot water and steam into machinery that converts that heat into usable energy.
When compared to traditional energy sources, geothermal energy is highly efficient. An average of 90% of the power produced through geothermal energy is available for use as opposed to 75% for a coal-powered plant.
Residential geothermal systems work in a slightly different way. The goal is to use the earth’s consistent temperature to heat and cool a home. A residential geothermal company explains it so:
“The ground absorbs nearly half of the solar energy our planet receives. As a result, the earth remains at a constant, moderate temperature just below its surface all year round. However, air temperature varies greatly from summer to winter, making air source (traditional) heating and cooling least efficient when you need it the most.
Geothermal heating and cooling systems take advantage of the stable temperature underground using a piping system, commonly referred to as a “loop.” Water circulates in the loop to exchange heat between your home, the ground source heat pump, and the earth, providing geothermal heating, cooling, and hot water.”
How does wind power work?
Turbines are the center of a wind-powered energy system. Wind moves the blades on a windmill. This motion is sent down a shaft and harvested by a generator that converts it into usable electric current. Wind power can also be stored in batteries to power equipment in remote locations or for emergency use.
According to the US Energy Information Administration, 10.9 GW of wind power is set to come online in 2019, making it the fastest growing renewable energy source in the country.
How does solar power work?
There are 3 main types of solar power installations.
- Photovoltaic systems use collectors, called panels, to gather energy from the sun. This energy can be directly linked to appliances and residential systems or saved in batteries for later use.
- Thermal systems use the sun’s radiation to heat air and water for indoor use. These are then distributed by traditional appliances.
- Thermal power plants use the sun’s radiation to heat a special fluid. The steam from this high-temperature process is then used in a generator to produce usable electrical current.
Learn more: What is solar energy and how do solar panels work in your home?
How does wave power work?
There are several different methods of harvesting the ocean’s energy. The main 3 types are oscillating water columns, buoyancy units or point absorbers, and surface-following attenuators. While each method varies somewhat, they all use rely on kinetic energy. Essentially, a piece of equipment is placed in the ocean. As the waves move it, this motion is channeled into a generator that converts it into electricity.
If this technology is fully developed, wave power could easily provide up to 40% of the world’s total energy needs.
What new renewable energy technologies are being developed in 2020?
New technologies are making renewable energies more efficient, affordable, and available to property owners all over the world. These exciting developments are changing the potential of renewable energy in the United States.
- Concentrating solar power uses mirrors to increase the efficiency of solar power installations.
- Floating wind farms seek to take advantage of the incredible power locked in deep ocean waves.
- Organic, printable photovoltaic solar cells are a lightweight and flexible solution with a range of practical applications.
- Microbial fuel cell (MFC) technology uses the biological processes of microbes to produce usable energy.
What are the challenges that hinder the adoption of renewable energies?
Renewable energy sources produce less harmful emissions, reduce reliance on politically questionable fuel sources, and often costs less to use and produce than more traditional sources. Why aren’t more people adopting these technologies?
- Upfront costs. Many renewable energy technologies require a heavy upfront investment. Rebates, credits, and other types of incentives help make new systems more affordable.
- Infrastructure issues. Decentralized power production, such as installing your own residential solar power system, requires an investment of property space for production equipment. For residential areas, community solar projects are a great way to circumvent this issue.
- Habit. Traditional power sources are already set up, operational, and proven their ability to provide for our energy needs. Unless there is a real problem or an attractive incentive, most people don’t think it’s worth the effort to switch.
Despite these challenges, renewable resources continue to gain popularity in the US energy market. According to the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, 80% of the country’s electricity could come from renewable sources by 2050.
How can you benefit from renewable energy sources in your home or business? Use our solar calculator at the top of this page for more information on how you can power your life with renewable energy.