Global Trends in Renewable and Alternative Energy
In 2020, renewable capacity upgrades grew 45% worldwide from 2019, according to a report by the International Energy Agency (IEA) — with a 90% rise in global wind generation and a 23% rise in solar power installations. China alone made up 80% of that rise, with the United States and Vietnam next in line, respectively. Policy deadlines are to thank for the “unprecedented boom.”
Another report by the IEA finds that renewables were the only sources of energy to see an increase in 2020, as demand for all other sources declined. Despite supply chain disruptions and construction delays brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, these sources of energy have remained steadfast. The use of renewables has been dubbed the “new normal” by the IEA.
From solar to wind and everything in between, there is no doubt that renewables are the future of energy generation. Countries all over the world are on board with this development, as evidenced by the IEA’s reports.
Trends in Solar Energy
In 2019, the U.S. Energy Information Administration forecasted that solar energy will be among the fastest-growing sources of electricity generation in the U.S. Solar is a popular alternative energy source — and for good reasons. This energy source does not create pollution or greenhouse gases, unlike its traditional counterparts: coal, oil, and natural gas.
Harnessed from the sun’s radiant light and heat, solar power is here to stay. Solar panels, which convert sunlight into electricity, have become efficient, commonplace energy sources for both residents and businesses alike. Other uses of solar power include heating homes, water, and even supplying large power stations. From fighting air pollution to toxic water to homelessness, solar technologies are saving the planet.
In 2020, China was leading the way in solar power capacity and was expected to add up to 65 more gigawatts to its grid in 2021. When it comes to the United States, California is the largest producer of solar power in the country. Solar incentives are a driving force to this rise in California, as well as around the world.
Trends in Wind Energy
The rise in the popularity of wind energy is right up there with solar. In 2020, wind energy capacity nearly doubled from 2019, according to the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) — with China adding 72 additional gigawatts, followed by the U.S. with 14 gigawatts. Once again, China leads the way in wind energy generation with 29% of the world’s share, followed by the U.S. and Germany with 21% and 9%, respectively.
There are many benefits of wind energy; it is cost-effective, a clean energy source, sustainable, and creates jobs. Perhaps one of the biggest benefits of wind energy is its ability to ramp up electricity production in cold snaps of weather. This source of energy has its drawbacks too though.
One drawback is that wind sites are often located in rural areas, but energy demand largely comes from cities. Transmission lines must be built to carry power to these more densely packed locations, where placing wind turbines isn’t as practical.
Besides rural areas, offshore sites are another common location for wind power. In 2021, the U.S. Biden administration kicked off a series of offshore wind projects to foster a clean energy revolution and create jobs.
Trends in Hydropower
In 2020, hydropower plants contributed to 7.3% of the total electricity generation in the U.S. — and 37% of the total renewable energy generation, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. This technology, also known as water power, utilizes mechanical equipment to turn running water into electricity.
Hydropower facilities in the U.S. are primarily concentrated in three states: Washington, California, and Oregon. However, this country and those states are not the forerunners of the pack.
China and Brazil lead the way in hydropower generation, respectively, with China adding another 6.8 gigawatts to reach over 370 gigawatts of capacity in 2020, according to a status report conducted by the International Hydropower Association (IHA). Citing its low costs and flexibility, the same report by the IHA predicts hydropower will become the dominant source of electricity generation by 2050.
Trends in Alternative Fuel
Alternative fuel, also known as advanced fuels, is defined as any materials or substances that can be used as fuel, other than traditional sources, such as fossil fuels or nuclear materials.
This type of fuel includes gaseous fuels such as hydrogen, natural gas, or propane; alcohols such as ethanol, methanol, and butanol; vegetable and waste-derived oils; and electricity. Biodiesel and bio-alcohol are two of the more commonly known forms of alternative fuel.
In 2020, the U.S. and Brazil were leading the way in the production of biofuels, contributing 1,347.3 and 883.7 petajoules that year, respectively. The biofuel revolution in Brazil is largely thanks to Brazilian law, which requires that gasoline be mixed with 27% ethanol. Blending fuel like this releases fewer emissions and contributes to a cleaner environment.
What Does This Mean for the Future of Alternative Energy?
From solar, wind, and hydropower to alternative fuel, each of these innovations is benefitting our world in myriad ways. For one, the energy that produces zero greenhouse gases is energy that reduces pollution. The environment is not the only thing benefitting from the switch to renewables though. These forms of energy diversify our energy supply, reduce our reliance on imported fuels, and create jobs in manufacturing, installation, and design.
The Center for Climate and Energy Solutions (C2ES) reports that renewables have the fastest-growing market of any energy source in the U.S. — from 2000 to 2018, renewable energy witnessed a 100% increase in use.
The continued development and implementation of renewable energy sources, however, will heavily rely on the backs of governments all over the world. Policy initiatives and government incentives serve as a driving force to get consumers and businesses alike to make the switch to renewables.