There is one forecast of which you can already be sure: someday renewable energy will be the only way for people to satisfy their energy needs.
There’s no denying it, the energy horizon is changing. Coal and oil are on their way out. They have to be. They are too expensive, they will eventually run out and they are proving to be horrible for the planet. And while some global governments are being sluggish in this transition, citizens are beginning to demand change. They are buying electric cars and installing solar panels on their roofs. But the potential of renewable energy goes far beyond transportation and domicile power:
1. Nuclear Power
France has the cheapest electricity in Europe. They also have the cleanest air of any industrialized country. Why? Because of nuclear power. And the rest of the world is slowly catching on to this exciting opportunity. Around the world, every 17 days, during the 1980s, a new nuclear reactor was started up. That number has increased to every five days, with over 440 nuclear power reactors currently in operation globally. 31 countries have jumped on the bandwagon, with France, Japan and The United States accounting for over half of the nuclear electricity generated.
And the real beauty of nuclear power is that its waste can be reprocessed, creating more energy and reducing the volume of the waste—both by significant amounts. Reprocessing the remaining plutonium and uranium can reduce its volume by more than 90 percent and up to 95 percent of the elements can be recovered for reuse. But not only does this type of energy production create minimum waste, it also decreases dependence on foreign oil and reduces carbon emissions. The only risk that will need to be addressed is the potential for radioactive contamination and the storage of nuclear waste.
2. Solar Power
The sun has proven to be an incredible provider of electricity and because of that, along with the decrease in solar energy component costs, this type of renewable energy is escalating in popularity.
The concept has been around for a while and has had its ups and downs. Research and development of the method skyrocketed in the 1970s and early 1980s because of the 1973 oil crisis. But when oil prices began to fall, the interest in solar energy followed it. Growth in the sector remained at a measly 15 percent annually for the next decade. But there has been a change in the tides.
Since 2010 the cost of solar modules has come down by about three-quarters and in many markets it costs no more to generate electricity with solar than with traditional, non-renewable methods. Whether through community solar programs, solar leasing, or solar financing, businesses and individuals are beginning to power their homes and businesses with the sun. Sales are increasing so rapidly that solar panel sales will likely become automated.
Biomass is one of the lesser known sources of renewable energy, yet it is making an enormous impact on electricity use, oil dependence and landfill space preservation. The largest biomass power plant in North America, the New Hope Power Partnership is able to significantly reduce landfill use in Floridian urban communities by recycling both wood waste and sugar cane. The plant has also managed to reduce the country’s dependence on oil by over a million barrels every year. And when you look at all of the biomass power generation in The United States, it manages to produce about 0.5 percent, or 15 million megawatt-hours, of the entire country’s electricity supply.
Biomass manages to do this by utilizing both living and recently dead biological matter for either industrial production or fuel. In other words, plant and animal matter are used to generate heat, chemicals and fibers.
4. Wind Power
Between 2005 and 2008 the worldwide use of wind power for electricity doubled, reaching roughly 1.5 percent. This number is only growing, and at a rapid pace. Europe, with its offshore wind farms, is leading the world in wind power development. And countries like Denmark are showing the world how easy it can be to power large portions of a country with the renewable form of energy.
Until now, most wind farms were large in scale, providing entire communities with electricity. This was ideal, especially for more isolated areas. But recently, production of residential units have started hitting the market, offering to power everything from a single large appliance to an entire home. And in The United States, wind energy is leading the way for new electricity sources—in some areas of the country, it is even free for local residents. The form is growing with such ferocity that it will likely become commonplace for real estate agents to begin marketing land for wind farm creation.
Globally, hydroelectricity is the most widely used renewable energy form, roughly 20 percent of the world’s electricity—and it makes up an astounding 63 percent of the electricity from renewable sources. In the U.S. alone, hydropower generates 7 percent of the country’s electricity. And even with the problem of droughts, hydroelectricity is still seen as the perfect solution to smoothing out intermittent inputs for alternative renewable sources of energy, as well as delivering to the grid a clean base load of electricity. And the real benefit is that once its constructed, a hydroelectric plant produces no direct waste and it has no environmental impact, either on fish or their ecosystem. Additionally, the plants themselves can be so visually attractive that it wouldn’t be a surprise for them to show up on digital displays in offices and homes. This is one form of renewable energy that Americans can expect to see much more of because, according to the Department of Energy, the nation’s streams and rivers could double the current hydropower capacity.