Renewable Energy comes from sources that are replenished over time, such as sunlight and wind. It also includes fuels derived from living, or recently dead, organisms like wood, waste biomass and biodiesel. Renewables are rapidly replacing fossil fuels as the world’s energy source of choice, and they do so with less environmental impact.
While renewables are becoming increasingly popular and widely available, there are many misconceptions about what constitutes a “renewable” source of energy. For example, some people use the term to refer to solar power or wind power that is produced from plants, which are not truly renewable. Others confuse it with energy that is generated from solar panels on home rooftops, which is not technically renewable but may offer a way for homeowners to save money on their electric bills.
The most commonly known types of renewables are wind, hydro and solar. Wind energy uses large, rotating turbines to convert the kinetic energy of wind into electricity, often in remote areas with high winds. This energy is transmitted across transmission lines to centralized plants where it is converted to lower voltage, then delivered through distribution lines to homes and businesses.
Hydropower harnesses the kinetic and potential energy of flowing water to generate electricity. It is the largest renewable energy source for electricity in the United States, and can be produced on a small or large scale. Dams are the most familiar type of hydroelectric infrastructure, but run-of-river hydropower does not require a dam. These forms of hydroelectricity are also renewable and environmentally friendly, although they depend on stable rainfall patterns and can be impacted by climate-induced droughts and ecosystem changes.
Photovoltaic (PV) cells are made from silicon and other materials that transform sunlight into electricity. They can be installed on the rooftops of individual buildings, in community projects that power entire neighborhoods or even on a massive scale such as a floating solar farm. Solar energy is one of the fastest-growing electricity sources in the United States, and it contributes nearly 3 percent of all U.S. electricity generation in 2022.
Non-renewables, on the other hand, come from resources that will not be renewed over our lifetimes or in many lifetimes. They include fossil fuels like coal, natural gas and oil. They also include some forms of nuclear energy. Fossil fuels are a valuable resource because they are easy to extract and can be transported easily. However, burning fossil fuels releases harmful greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, contributing to global warming.
As the world strives to reduce its reliance on these non-renewable fuels, new technologies are being developed that can produce the same benefits without harming the environment. The global community has recognized that it is essential to develop a diverse portfolio of renewables and clean energy technology. For instance, ENERGY STAR offers information on federal and state tax credits for homeowners who install renewable energy systems to improve their home’s efficiency. Similarly, businesses with sustainability goals are driving the development of renewables like wind and solar.