Renewable Energy Explained – What is renewable energy?

Onyx Power and Gas Consulting continues a weekly series of an overall view of energy, starting from the basics of what energy is to a detailed analysis of energy on a global scale including renewable energy sources.  This series of news articles should provide a complete course on energy…enjoy, check out archives and come back each week for additional information on how all sorts of energy sources impact our daily lives.

Unlike fossil fuels, which are exhaustible, renewable energy sources regenerate and can be sustained indefinitely.

Pie chart showing: Total=95 quadrillion BTU; Petroleum 36%; Natural Gas 27%; Coal 18%; Nuclear Electic power 8%; Renewable Energy 9%. Total Renewable Energy=9 quadrillion BTU; Hydropower 30%; Biofuels 22%;  Wood 22%; Wind 15%; Biomass waste 5%; Geothermal 3%; Solar 2%. Note: Sum of components may not equal 100 percent due to independent rounding. Source: EIA, Monthly Energy Review, Table 1.3 and 10.1 (April 2013), preliminary 2012 data.

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The five renewable sources used most often are:

What role does renewable energy play in the United States?

The use of renewable energy is not new. More than 150 years ago, wood, which is one form of biomass, supplied up to 90% of our energy needs. As the use of coal, petroleum, and natural gas expanded, the United States became less reliant on wood as an energy source. Today, we are looking again at renewable sources to find new ways to use them to help meet our energy needs.

In 2012, consumption of renewable sources in the United States totaled about 9 quadrillion Btu — 1 quadrillion is the number 1 followed by 15 zeros — or about 9% of all energy used nationally. About 12% of U.S. electricity was generated from renewable sources in 2012.

Over half of renewable energy goes to producing electricity. The next largest use of renewable energy is biomass (wood and waste) for the production of heat and steam for industrial purposes and for space heating, mostly in homes. Biomass also includes biofuels, such as ethanol and biodiesel, used for transportation.

Renewable energy plays an important role in the supply of energy. When renewable energy sources are used, the demand for fossil fuels is reduced. Unlike fossil fuels, non-biomass renewable sources of energy (hydropower, geothermal, wind, and solar) do not directly emit greenhouse gases.

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Why don’t we use more renewable energy?

In the past, renewable energy has generally been more expensive to produce and use than fossil fuels. Renewable resources are often located in remote areas, and it is expensive to build power lines to the cities where the electricity they produce is needed. The use of renewable sources is also limited by the fact that they are not always available — cloudy days reduce solar power; calm days reduce wind power; and droughts reduce the water available for hydropower.

The production and use of renewable fuels has grown more quickly in recent years as a result of higher prices for oil and natural gas, and a number of state and federal government incentives for renewable energy. The use of renewable fuels is expected to continue to grow over the next 30 years, although EIA projects that we will still rely on non-renewable fuels to meet most of our energy needs.

How do we measure renewable energy?

Each of the energy sources we use is measured, purchased, and sold in a different form. Many units of measurement are used to measure the energy we use.  Learn more about converting energy units in the Units and Calculators section.

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One Response to Renewable Energy Explained – What is renewable energy?

  1. Doug Fellows says:

    Thank you for carefully explaining what is renewable energy and other sources that we can find around us.

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