Renewable energy is one of the hot topics in today’s world. Renewable energy heavily influence geo politics and local politics. Some discussions about this topic tend to confuse people. That uncertainty misleads our society and disturbs the progress of renewable energy. They need to know the expectations of renewable energy and how it works in reality.
What is the meaning of renewable energy?
According to United Nations, Renewable energy is energy derived from natural sources that are replenished at a higher rate than they are consumed. The wind is available in many areas. Unless a season changes it won’t disappear. It carries energy at a higher rate than we convert for our uses. So, the wind can consider a renewable energy source.
Fossil fuels like crude oil and natural gases are the results of millions of year’s procedures. We can not say whether they will create again even in millions of years. The rate we consume fossil fuels is very high so they are non-renewable energy sources.
What are the goals of renewable energy?
Earth’s climate has been changing rapidly since the first industrial revolution. The average temperature on earth is increasing at a very high rate of a natural change. A small change in these variables affects life on earth significantly. That includes humans. Slowing down or reversing this change is a priority now. One action for that is adopt to renewable energy.
Non-renewable energy sources do not replenish at a higher rate than the consumption rate. This leads to a point where they can not supply the demand. Experts predict that coal will only last 40 years more. If we fully rely on non-renewable sources, the human civilization will collapse non-renewable energy is no more available.
Adopting renewable energy can save money. Putting installation and maintenance costs aside, most renewable energy sources are free. People who spend a lot of money on fossil fuels for transportation can save a lot of money by converting electricity or alternate fuel like hydrogen. Oil importing countries can spend that money on other development projects.
Renewable energy expectations become reality
Some expectations of renewable energy become reality even if we are not fully converted.
The initial cost was a major problem when solar panels were first introduced in 1954. A single solar cell was $76 in 1977. But now a single solar cell is only 50 cents. It is lower than we expected. Many households have solar panels installed on their rooftops. Solar panels last a long time and maintenance cost is minimum for household use.
A decent electric car was beyond the buying power of an average person 10 years ago. Electric vehicle manufacturers release new products every year. The competition benefits the consumer. EV batteries last long now. Tesla provides supercharge stations for their vehicle for free. It looks like we can get rid of internal combustion engine cars soon.
The very fast growth of renewable energy
Over the past few years, renewable energy sources had very fast growth. Solar and wind energy is only 1.7% of total energy consumption in 2010. In 2020 they recorded 8.7%. The international energy agency predicts we can generate 550 TWh of electricity from renewable sources in 2020. But we achieve the goal in 2018. Therefore, we can assume that renewable energy is exponential rather than linear.
This is what percentage of total electricity generation is renewable in the world’s most populated countries,
- China – 29.8%
- India – 13%
- European union – 37.5%
- United status – 20.1%
- Indinesia – 12%
- Pakistan – 36%
The total capacity of renewable energy could be even higher. 139 countries in the world are planning to go 100% green in 2050.
Renewable energy created many jobs
People were concerned about what will happen to the coal and petroleum workforce if we converted to renewable energy. But there was potential for new jobs to emerge. The latest statistics show the situation is better now.
4 million people work in the sustainable energy sector in the US outperforming coal and petroleum combined. Supportive policies from the government, large investments, and most importantly the demand for green energy made that happen.
The renewable energy industry has several areas of employment. They can be in the generation of renewable energy, energy storage and advanced grid, energy efficiency, or Advanced vehicles and transportation. Renewable energy generation is the largest employer with a 777,000 workforce. To compare, only 160 000 coal workers are in the US workforce now.
Positive news about new jobs in this industry hears from many countries. WRI report from India predicts 1 million more jobs in near future. This movement is very good for workers since they have much working environment than coal workers do. Countries also train coal workers to do jobs in renewable energy so we can be sure the green energy movement will not increase unemployment.
More investments by governments and corporations
Some people in the industry believe that large oil companies discouraged the progress of renewable energy. Fossil fuel is the major income of several countries. But despite the resistance, investments in renewable energy sources are increasing.
Large oil companies like BP, Shell, Chevron, Total, Eni, and Exxon have invested in large to small-scale renewable energy projects. BP acquired a 43% stake in Europe’s largest solar power project developer Lightsource for $200 million. They also want to expand the chargemaster’s 6,500 charging points network with their fuel stations. It looks like big oil companies are trying to be energy form for their sustainability in the future.
Governments are changing policies to fight climate change due to ongoing pressure from scientists, environmental activists, and people. China is leading in production and investments. Biden administration tried to do many projects inside the US.
Technologies are very efficient now
Scientists and engineers worked hard to find more efficient power generation methods. First solar panels were about 6% efficient in converting solar energy to electricity. But today’s solar panel can keep 15% to 22% efficiency depending on the other factors.
Most renewable energy generation methods are still new. So, there is more room for improvement. A wind turbine has 20% – 40% efficiency. Engineers are working on improving that. One idea is to make vertical-axis wind turbines that are far more efficient than traditional energy.
One way to solve efficiency issues is to minimize losses in the transmission. Electricity should be generated at the same time it has been used. So, there are some areas we can change to use energy sources more precisely.
Renewable energy expectations conflicts with reality
Not all expectations of renewable energy became reality. There were many difficulties in getting things done.
Carbon dioxide emissions are still high
Despite various attempts to reduce the total carbon emission, we are still on an uptrend curve. We see temporary reductions only in recessions and pandemics. After those are finished, greenhouse gas emission is boosted again.
Don’t get me wrong. Renewable energy is one of the best ways to overcome climate change. But we can’t succeed if it is only an alternative energy source while fossil fuels and other non-renewable energy sources are still the majority.
Green energy is growing at unexpectedly high rates but not enough for serious climate impact. Technologies are still not enough for the majority of people so they are consuming what they are familiar with. One of the situations that renewable Energy expectations did not become reality.
Not that green
Some renewable energy sources are not 100% environment friendly. Wind does not emit any carbon dioxide. But it dominates the air. The wind is interconnecting with life on earth. Wind turbines are not affecting the weather but they can harm the birds. Bird migration paths are often the best areas to install wind turbines. But doing such things lead to more trouble.
1.17 million birds are killed by wind turbines in the US each year. That number is in no way negligible. Hydropower is also harming biodiversity. Freshwater dolphins are critically endangered right now because of dams created to generate hydroelectricity.
Electricity must be stored to use in a vehicle. Batteries are the technology to do that. Batteries were invented in 1800. But it became usable for EVs recently. EVs are powered by lithium-ion batteries. Lithium demand was 317,517 metric tons in 2020. Global lithium reserves are 14 million tons or more.
Our dependence on lithium for batteries has consequences. Any resource extraction from the ground is harmful to the planet on different scales. Communities around lithium mines suffer from low water resources. At least 2.2 million liters of water go to produce one ton of lithium.
Forecasts about lithium wars have been done by some experts. Lithium prices are roughly 400% higher over the past year. Chile has the world’s largest lithium reserves. China is the materials refinement and battery production leader. With the demand for EVs, lithium can be like oil in the future. Which is not good.
So many failed and abundant projects
Normandy solar road, Medicine Hat solar facility, Saudi mega solar plant, and India’s canceled auction are great disappointments of solar power. There were big talks about installing solar panels in the Sahara desert and powering most of the continent. But it didn’t work well.
Why does solar energy fail sometimes? Some of these projects failed because lack of proper planning and long-term government support. The full generation capacity of solar panels can be only achieved when the right factors are available. Night, bad weather makes them less productive. People need more consistent energy sources.
Biofuels could not live up to expectations
Alternative fuels extracted from plants can replace gasoline or diesel. This idea was popular back then and people thought it will be the future of transportation. But biofuels couldn’t replace fossil fuels.
Plants suck up carbon as they grow. So carbon emission by vehicles is equivalent to the carbon absorption by plants. Ethanol is a popular biofuel made from sugar in corn or sugar cane. One difficulty of this process is the required large area of crop to keep up with demand. It is a costly process and we may have to sacrifice some cultivation areas of food. It can result in a food shortage.
Future of renewable energy
The future of renewable energy is bright with a total of 1200GW electricity capacity (Equivalent to the US capacity) by 2024. Solar energy alone will be able to provide 600GW electricity capacity (doubles the Japan capacity). Installation and maintenance costs of solar energy will be 35% cheaper. Onshore Wind Energy Capacity has estimated a 57% increase. 9% increment for hydroelectric capacity and 28% increment for geothermal Capacity by 2024.
The internet of things is a cool concept introduced by Wendell Brown. It describes a system in which every people, process, data, and thing are connected. Smart homes are one application of the internet of things. Many devices are smart nowadays. So, the information we can get from a device is wide ranged.
It has a very useful application for renewable energy. There is an issue with the consistency of renewable sources. Solar panels are worthless at night and very weak on cloudy days. The wind is also not consistent. If we connected all sources to the internet of things information about each other can be interchanged. Based on that internet of things decide what sources should be used at the time for the best result.
If we can assure people’s privacy in these things, the internet of things will be a very useful feature for the industry.
What an individual can do
As a citizen of wherever you live, you have a responsibility to take the right actions to fight climate change. You are the single most important thing to make a change. Renewable energy technologies become cheaper every year. You can use suitable technologies for your area and power up your house or business places.
If you want to buy a new car try an electric vehicle. Check the lifetime of the battery especially. Most modern vehicles’ batteries can last long for many years able to drive many kilometers from a single full charge. The lithium issue won’t be a big problem in the future.
People should take action against those who work against renewable energy. It may be big oil companies or the government. Give attention to candidates who like to do renewable energy projects.
Encourage others to adopt renewable sources for their basic energy needs. Local communities can do a much better job. Texas is a state full of wind throughout the year. There are over 150 wind farms in Texas, which have a total nameplate capacity of over 30,000 MW. 3.2% of houses in us have solar panels installed. All those are great accomplishments. But we can do far better.
I hope you learned something new. Statistics mentioned here can be changed over time. While scientists and engineers say there is very little space for improvement in fossil fuels, we will be able to see major upgrades for renewable energy. Stay with us. We got you covered for future news.