Oil prices have hiked up since the Russia-Ukraine conflict started, and this gives us one of the thousands of reasons to start thinking about alternative energy sources. Although renewable energy has been on our radar for a long time, it is still not considered the number one energy source in the world.
The discovery of fire is often regarded as one of the most momentous inventions in the history of human civilization, but it was not the only energy source used in the past. The power of the circulating air was certainly used for sailing ships and windmills, and the sun’s light was harnessed to dry food, produce salt from brine dams, and even assist humans to approximate the time. Dams have also a long history of storing water and controlling its use. The power of moving water is not a new concept, as it has been used since 4000 BCE when water wheels were used for agricultural irrigation, milling foods, and supplying drinking water to neighborhoods.
Renewable energy refers to the energies that come from natural resources and are resupplied at the same rate without ever having a risk of running out. For example, solar, wind, hydropower, biomass, and geothermal resources. The most important aspect of renewable energy is that it can be used without releasing harmful pollutants.
Renewable energy’s limitless source of power makes it preferred for numerous health and environmental benefits. However, the disadvantage comes from its unreliability as it requires large energy storage to be fully effective, and the deployment is geographically limited. Additionally, it is enormously dependent on weather.
Renewable energies around the world
According to IEA, the global share of renewable electricity generation in 2020 was 29%. Countries, such as Germany and China, are at the forefront of the transition from fossil fuels to renewable sources. However, for the majority of industrialized countries, the traditional use of fossil fuels still remains the dominant source of energy.
Wind and solar power are the largest rising players, contributing two-thirds of renewable growth. Wind turbines produce active power, which is a rapidly growing energy technology in many parts of the world. China topped the league in 2019 with the 29% share of wind electricity generation. The USA and Germany came second and third, respectively, with 21% and 9%.
Biogas, as well as geothermal power and heat, are other renewable energy technologies that have low global penetration. Hydropower is another significant source, but its use is declining due to environmental constraints identified in many areas with potential hydro resources.
Slow and steady
Although we have been proudly discussing the immense glory of renewable energy sources over fossil fuels, consumption of fossil fuels has not decreased by much. For example, one of the biggest consumers of fossil fuel—the USA’s consumption only fell by 9% in 2020 from 2019, the lowest in 30 years.
Renewable energies are still seen as slow adoption and the reason could be that the culture of greenwashing is still around, or powerful institutions have continued to spend a large percentage of their R&D financing on fission and fusion, in the hopes of gaining short-term industry advantages.
However, the use of renewable energy has also grown over time as traditional energy industries are not fully reimbursing for the negative environmental impacts caused by their products. If funding were dedicated solely to accelerating the transition from the fossil to the renewable era, progress could be made much more quickly. The question everyone is asking though is whether renewable energy technologies will be the main source of future energy supply systems.
How clean is renewable energy?
With the beginning and expansion of the Industrial Revolution, the running out of existing fossil fuels, as well as the high material cost, has resulted in huge demand for energy efficiency. Renewable, green, and sustainable energy emit little to no contaminants or pollutants into the air, soil, and water.
End of 2021, the EU established a law that only energy and heat-production infrastructure emitting less than 100g of CO2/kWh can be considered ‘environmentally sustainable’. This emission threshold is in line with the Paris Agreement and only renewable sources, such as solar, wind, and hydropower meet this criterion.
The need for a shift in the global energy matrix, from one based on fossil fuels to one based on renewable energy, is necessary for long-term development. However, we must consider effective measures. There should also be feasible and cost-effective technological changes for energy harvesting.
One could argue that it will not happen overnight and that this new energy balance will bring new challenges, particularly in the management of electricity grids. Still, without a doubt, even if it has taken far too long, the energy transition is necessary for sustainable energy development, and the share of renewable energy in the energy mix is increasing gradually.