The rise of renewable technologies globally is worth strong consideration for utilities and other businesses that want to cut costs and greenhouse gases. Solar and wind renewables hit 10% of global energy sources in 2020, which is double the output of five years earlier.
With a third of its energy resources coming from renewables, the E.U. has been leading the way. And in the U.S., the use of renewables has risen to 10%.
The term "renewables" specifically refers to solar, wind, biofuels, geothermal and hydropower, among others. In the past decade, renewables have been the only category of energy that has experienced double-digit growth globally. In 2009, 8.2 exajoules of renewable were consumed, and that number quadrupled to 29.0 exajoules in 2019.
Analysis of Renewable Energy Industry Trends
The development of renewable technologies that deliver clean and sustainable energy is one of the most watched trends amongst the investment community.
Here are the types of the clean energy sources that are gaining the most momentum:
- Solar - Solar photovoltaic (PV) energy is a fast-growing form of renewable energy, although hydropower currently still tops the list. In terms of "levelized cost of energy" (LCOE), hydro is still more cost-effective, but the declining price of solar panels is making the biggest waves with investors.
- Thanks to government subsidies, solar PV is more cost-effective than fossil fuel power in certain countries. Output of solar power by utility plants began to skyrocket in 2016 from 7,501 to 14,762 MW. Meanwhile, residential and commercial solar have steadily grown since federal tax credits and subsidies were initiated by Congress in the mid-2000s.
- Wind - Windmills are in the same league of LCOEs as solar and hydro. Wind power actually represents the top source of new energy used by utilities, according to the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA) in 2019. Onshore wind sources have the potential to reach 100 GW of electric output in the coming decade.
- Biopower - Also known as "biomass energy", this growing and flexible form of renewables includes ethanol, biodiesel, and recycled wood. This sector of renewables, however, has not seen as much growth as solar and wind but still ranks third in terms of investment capital. Nearly half of all biomass energy consumption comes from wood and wood waste, such as pulp and paper. Production of ethanol in the U.S. is expected to reach 40 million gallons per day by 2050.
- Geothermal - Although it was discovered thousands of years ago, this type of renewable energy is on the rise in the United States. Geothermal energy comes from heat below the Earth's surface. It has traditionally been used for cooking and heating, but now it has an expanding number of multiple applications, including swimming pool heating.
- Hydrothermal power, a form of geothermal energy, is driven by steam and hot water, which is commonly used throughout America's west coast, Alaska, and Hawaii. Geothermal usage is expected to quadruple in the U.S. to 65.6 billion kWh by 2050.
- Hydropower - Energy from waterways also goes back centuries, although its modern American usage peaked in 1997 at 356 TWh per year. By 2019 hydropower had declined to 290 TWh per year. On a global scale, hydropower is overwhelmingly the top source of renewable energy, as its leading producers include China, Brazil, Canada, the United States, and Russia.
The increasing use of renewable technologies is helping electric utilities achieve exponentially more efficient operations. All levels of government down to municipalities have begun to embrace renewable energy as a step toward sustainability. Legislation across the nation is leading to more eco-friendly policies as greener energy becomes an increasingly more viable financial and environmental solution.Over 100 cities around the world are now powered by 70% renewable energy. The road is steadily being paved to further transition away from fossil fuels and towards solar, wind and other renewables to someday provide 100% of a city's electric power.