Renewable energy

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Renewable energy is defined by the U.S. Department of Energy as energy derived "from resources that are regenerative or for all practical purposes can not be depleted. Types of renewable energy resources include moving water (hydro power, tidal and wave power), thermal gradients in ocean water, biomass, geothermal energy, solar energy, and wind energy. Municipal solid waste (MSW) is also considered to be a renewable energy resource."[1]

Microgeneration is the generation of renewable, zero or low-carbon heat and power by individuals, small businesses, and communities to meet their own energy needs, which can smooth out demand on electric grids.[2]

Here are some articles that discuss renewable energy as an alternative to coal:

  • Biomass as an alternative to coal - Biomass generally includes any organic material that is not a fossil fuel.[3] Support for biomass within the environmental community is mixed. Supporters identify biomass as an improvement over coal, including significant reductions in the emissions of sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, and mercury. Critics point out that no combustion technologies actually mitigate greenhouse gas emissions, and that the focus of a new energy policy should be on energy conservation and zero-emissions technologies like wind and solar.[4] In terms of emissions, biomass releases approximately the same amount of particulate matter (PM) as coal and fifty percent more carbon monoxide and carbon dioxide.[5]
  • Geothermal power as an alternative to coal - Geothermal power (from the Greek roots geo, meaning earth, and thermos, meaning heat) is power extracted from heat stored in the earth. Geothermal energy is generated in the Earth's core, where temperatures hotter than the sun's surface are continuously produced by the slow decay of radioactive particles.[6] Enhanced geothermal systems (EGS) use heat-mining technology to extract and utilize the earth’s stored thermal energy. A 2006 report by MIT and funded by the U.S. Department of Energy on EGS found that U.S. EGS resources far exceeded the country’s energy use in 2005, and that with an R&D investment of $1 billion over 15 years, EGS could be capable of producing electricity for as low as 3.9 cents/kWh.[7]
  • Photovoltaic power as an alternative to coal - Photovoltaics (PVs) are arrays of cells containing a solar photovoltaic material that converts solar radiation into direct current electricity. Materials presently used for photovoltaics include monocrystalline silicon, polycrystalline silicon, microcrystalline silicon, cadmium telluride, and copper indium selenide/sulfide.[8]
  • Wind power as an alternative to coal - Wind power is the conversion of wind energy into a useful form of energy, such as using wind turbines to make electricity, wind mills for mechanical power, wind pumps for pumping water or drainage, or sails to propel ships. At the end of 2009, worldwide nameplate capacity of wind-powered generators was 159.2 gigawatts (GW) and energy production was 340 terawatt hour (TWh), or about 2% of worldwide electricity usage.[10]

Renewable energy and U.S. policy

The 2009 National Renewable Energy Laboratory report, State of the States 2009: Renewable Energy Development and the Role of Policy, found positive correlations between the total number of market transformation policies within a given state, including both barrier reduction and technology accessibility policies, and the total megawatt-hours (MWh) of renewable energy generated within that state. This relationship is particularly true when considering individual renewable energy resources, such as wind, solar, and biomass, as well as the policies and support mechanisms implemented to encourage this development. Statistical analysis of renewable energy development within U.S. states showed states that implemented net metering legislation in 2005 had significantly more renewable energy generation in 2007 than states without such a policy. It was also found that combining generation disclosure requirements with required green power programs was also connected with significantly higher levels of renewable energy development.[11]

The report also found that there are many contextual factors, other than policies, that affect renewable energy development. These include, but are not limited to, resource and technology availability, the economic context, land use and public perception issues, transmission availability, institutional structures, and financing. Understanding the contextual factors within which policies are placed is essential to defining the most appropriate policy features.[11]

The U.S. National Renewable Energy Laboratory

The U.S. National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), located in Golden, Colorado, as part of the U.S. Department of Energy, is the United States' primary laboratory for renewable energy and energy efficiency research and development. It was designated a national laboratory of the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) in September 1991 and its name changed to NREL. Its mission is to develop renewable energy and energy efficiency technologies and practices, spur advances related to science and engineering, and transfer knowledge and innovation to address the nation's energy and environmental goals. Its strategy is to accelerating the U.S. research path from scientific innovations to market-viable alternative energy solutions.[11]

The lab was established in 1974, and began operating in 1977 as the Solar Energy Research Institute.[11] Under the Carter administration, it was the recipient of a rather large budget and its activities went beyond research and development in solar energy as it tried to popularize knowledge about already existing technologies, like passive solar, amongst the population. President Reagan cut the renewable energy R&D budget 85% after he took office and eliminated the wind investment tax credit in 1986.[12] In later years renewed interest in the energy problem improved the institute's position. But funding has fluctuated. In 2006 its annual funding was dropped to $209.6 million, and it was forced to lay off 32 workers.[11]


New power capacity

According to the European Wind Energy Association, in 2013 new power capacity installations for the country was 32% wind and 31% PV (22% natural gas and 5% coal).[13]

Germany aims for 100% renewables by 2050

On July 7, 2010, Germany's Federal Environment Agency said the country could derive all of its electricity from renewable energy sources by 2050 and become the world's first major industrial nation to kick the fossil-fuel habit. The government has set goals for cutting greenhouse gas emissions by 40% between 1990 and 2020, and by 80-85% by 2050. About 40% of Germany's greenhouse gases come from electricity production, in particular, from coal-fired power plants. The Environment Agency's study found that switching to green electricity by 2050 would have economic advantages, especially for the vital export-oriented manufacturing industry. It would also create tens of thousands of jobs.[14]

The country already gets 16% of its electricity from wind, solar, and other renewable sources – three times higher than the level it had achieved 15 years ago. Due to its Renewable Energy Act, Germany is the world leader in photovoltaics: it expects to add more than 5,000 megawatts of photovoltaic capacity in 2010 to reach a total of 14,000 megawatts. It is also the second-biggest wind-power producer after the United States. Some 300,000 renewable energy jobs have been created in Germany in the last decade. Last month a report by the UK's Centre for Alternative Technology in Machynlleth, mid Wales, said Britain could eliminate all its carbon emissions by 2030 by overhauling its power supply.[14]

Renewables as leapfrogging technology

In the Indian state of Orissa, the state government has decided to electrify approximately an additional 2,000 villages by March 2012. But rather than hook them up to coal-fired power plants, it will be using decentralized solar power. Biomass, wind power, and a variety of small-scale hydropower projects are also in the mix. Currently there are 395 Indian villages powered through solar, with an additional 205 to be completed by the end of the year. Detailed reports to deploy solar to at the remaining villages are being drawn up. Further renewable energy development in Orissa includes 118 MW of biomass plants, with 20 MW of that to be completed soon. Two wind power projects, 150 MW in size are in the works, with surveys for 22 more locations underway. Micro, mini and small-scale hydropower projects are also planned for deliver an additional 300 MW. Proponents say the project is an example of how places that have little electricity infrastructure and low demand can have fewer hurdles to clear in employing clean power.[15]

September 2010: Renewable energy standard bill introduced, includes "clean coal" and nuclear

On September 21, 2010, U.S. Senator Jeff Bingaman (D-NM) and Tom Udall (D-NM) introduced bipartisan legislation to create a national renewable electricity standard (RES), S.3813 -- Renewable Electricity Promotion Act of 2010. Under the proposal, electric utilities would be required to produce at least 11 percent of their power from wind power and solar power, as well as other sources of energy; the remaining 4 percent could be achieved through energy efficiency improvements. The total of 15 percent would have to be met by 2021.[16]

The bill's definition of renewable energy includes biomass power generation, landfill natural gas, coalbed methane, waste-to-energy, and "another renewable energy source based on innovative technology," presumably carbon capture and storage (Section 12). The bill allows states to include nuclear energy and "advanced coal technologies for carbon capture and sequestration" in their RES (p. 20), and lets the Secretary of Energy approve federal loans for "any project deemed appropriate" (p. 30).[17]

States that have a higher RESs would not be affected by the bill. But states that have no RES or a lower one would have to comply with the 15 percent RES. Utilities selling less than 4 million MW-hr per year are exempt. The bill has 24 sponsors, from both parties, many from states in the U.S. Midwest where many wind farms are being located.[16]


2011 IPCC report: renewables can meet 80% world energy needs

A 2011 report by the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, "Special Report on Renewable Energy Sources and Climate Change Mitigation", found that nearly 80 percent of the world‘s energy supply could be met by renewables by mid-century if backed by the right enabling public policies. The findings, from over 120 researchers working with the IPCC, also indicate that renewable energies could lead to cumulative greenhouse gas savings equivalent to 220 to 560 Gigatonnes of carbon dioxide (GtC02eq) between 2010 and 2050.

The six renewable energy technologies reviewed are:

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Related SourceWatch articles


  1. U.S. Department of Energy, "Glossary of Energy-Related Terms", Glossary of Energy-Related Terms, accessed November 2008.
  2. "What is microgeneration?" James Keirstead, September 13, 2005
  3. "Glossary of Biomass Terms," NREL, accessed July 2009.
  4. Mike Ewall, "The Burning Issues with Biomass," Energy Justice, accessed July 2009.
  5. "The Harmful Impacts of Biomass Energy Generation: Undermining the Fight Against Global Warming," Massachusetts Environmental Energy Alliance, accessed July 2009.
  6. “Geothermal” EIA Website, accessed December 2009
  7. Jefferson W. Tester et al.,"The Future of Geothermal Energy - Impact of Enhanced Geothermal Systems (EGS) on the United States in the 21st Century" Idaho Falls: Idaho National Laboratory, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 2006.
  8. Mark Z. Jacobson, "Review of Solutions to Global Warming, Air Pollution, and Energy Security" 2009 report.
  9. Jon Markman,"It's solar power's time to shine" MSN Money, June 5, 2008.
  10. "World Wind Energy Report 2009"(PDF), World Wind Energy Association, February 2010.
  11. 11.0 11.1 11.2 11.3 11.4 Elizabeth Doris, Joyce McLaren, Victoria Healey, and Stephen Hockett "State of the States 2009: Renewable Energy Development and the Role of Policy" NREL, October 2009.
  12. "Who got us into this energy mess?" Climate Progress, July 8, 2008.
  13. "Wind in power: 2013 European Statistics," EWEA, Feb 2014.
  14. 14.0 14.1 "Germany targets switch to 100% renewables for its electricity by 2050" The Guardian, July 7, 2010.
  15. Matthew McDermott, "Techo-Leapfrogging At Its Best: 2,000 Indian Villages Skip Fossil Fuels, Get First Electricity From Solar" Treehugger, Sep. 22, 2010.
  16. 16.0 16.1 "New renewable electricity standard bill introduced in U.S. Senate" Composites World, Sep. 27, 2010.
  17. "Renewable Electricity Promotion Act of 2010" Library of Congress, Sep. 21, 2010.

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