Renewable energy is energy which comes from natural resources such as sunlight, wind, rain, tides, and geothermal heat, which are renewable (naturally replenished). About 16% of global final energy consumption comes from renewables, with 10% coming from traditional biomass, which is mainly used for heating, and 3.4% from hydroelectricity. New renewables (small hydro, modern biomass, wind, solar, geothermal, and biofuels) accounted for another 2.8% and are growing rapidly.
Wind power is growing at the rate of 30% annually, with a worldwide installed capacity of 282,482 megawatts (MW) at the end of 2012, and is widely used in Europe, Asia, and the United States. At the end of 2013 the photovoltaic (PV) capacity worldwide was 138,900 MW, and PV power stations are popular in Germany and Italy and growing rapidly in China. Solar thermal power stations operate in the USA and Spain, and the largest of these is the 354 MW SEGS power plant in the Mojave Desert. The world's largest geothermal power installation is The Geysers in California, with a rated capacity of 750 MW. Brazil has one of the largest renewable energy programs in the world, involving production of ethanol fuel from sugar cane, and ethanol now provides 18% of the country's automotive fuel. Ethanol fuel is also widely available in the USA.
While many renewable energy projects are large-scale, renewable technologies are also suited to rural and remote areas, where energy is often crucial in human development. As of 2011, small solar PV systems provide electricity to a few million households, and micro-hydro configured into mini-grids serves many more. Over 44 million households use biogas made in household-scale digesters for lighting and/or cooking, and more than 166 million households rely on a new generation of more-efficient biomass cookstoves. United Nation's Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has said that renewable energy has the ability to lift the poorest nations to new levels of prosperity.
Climate change concerns, coupled with high oil prices, peak oil, and increasing government support, are driving increasing renewable energy legislation, incentives and commercialization. New government spending, regulation and policies helped the industry weather the global financial crisis better than many other sectors. According to a 2011 projection by the International Energy Agency, solar power generators may produce most of the world’s electricity within 50 years.
Growth of wind and solar power
The incentive to use 100% renewable energy has been created by global warming and other ecological as well as economic concerns. Renewable energy use has grown much faster than anyone anticipated. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has said that there are few fundamental technological limits to integrating a portfolio of renewable energy technologies to meet most of total global energy demand. Mark Z. Jacobson says producing all new energy with wind power, solar power, and hydropower by 2030 is feasible and existing energy supply arrangements could be replaced by 2050. Barriers to implementing the renewable energy plan are seen to be "primarily social and political, not technological or economic". Jacobson says that energy costs with a wind, solar, water system should be similar to today's energy costs. Critics of the "100% renewable energy" approach include Vaclav Smil and James E. Hansen.
Jeremy Leggett, a geologist by training, began his career as a consultant for the oil industry, while teaching at the Royal School of Mines. He later became an environmental campaigner for Greenpeace, before evolving into a social entrepreneur and author.
Jeremy Leggett is currently executive chairman of Solarcentury the UK’s largest independent solar electric company. He also serves as a founding director of the world's first private equity fund for renewable energy. From 2002 to 2006, Leggett was a member of the UK Government Renewables advisory board. He was the recipient of the President's Award of the Geological Society, and in 1987 the Geological Society's Lyell Fund.
In his 2009 book, The Solar Century, Leggett is critical of nuclear power, saying that investing in nuclear power would mean less money for other initiatives involving energy conservation, energy efficiency, and renewable energy. Leggett also states that carbon capture and storage has a "substantial timing problem" as it will take fifteen to twenty years to introduce the technology.
- July 15, 2014: The 138MW Jeffreys Bay wind farm in South Africa is inaugurated (REM).
- June 27, 2014: In the first quarter of 2014 a fifth of UK's electricity was from renewables (The Guardian).
- June 22, 2014: 72% of Australians support the 20% by 2020 renewable energy target despite government considering abolishing it. (The Guardian)
- June 20, 2014: Electricity production from solar energy in Germany reaches a record peak matching 50% of national demand on June 9. (Phys.org)
- June 19, 2014: Report shows that 22% of global electricity production in 2013 was from renewables. (Wall Street Journal)
- June 6, 2014: A 100MW solar plant in Chile, the largest in Latin America, is inaugurated. (abc27)
- May 12, 2014: IRENA report shows 14% global employment growth in the renewables sector in 2013, lead by China. (The Guardian)
- April 22, 2014: Apple announces that 94% of its buildings and 100% of its data centres are now powered by renewable energy. (The Guardian)
- April 13, 2014: According to the UN's Fifth IPCC Report the most realistic option for the future is to triple the use of renewable energy. (The Guardian)
- April 10, 2014: IKEA buys 98-MW Hoopeston wind farm to achieve its goal of producing more renewable energy than it consumes by 2020. (REW)
- "Renewable energy provides 18 percent of total net electricity generation worldwide. Renewable energy generators are spread across the globe, and wind power alone already provides a significant share of electricity in some regions: for example, 14 percent in the U.S. state of Iowa, 40 percent in the northern German state of Schleswig-Holstein, and 20 percent in the nation of Denmark. Some countries get most of their power from renewables, including Iceland (100 percent), Brazil (85 percent), Austria (62 percent), New Zealand (65 percent), and Sweden (54 percent)."
- "Solar hot water provides an important contribution to meeting hot water needs in many countries, most importantly in China, which now has fully 70 percent of the global total (180 GWth)... Worldwide, total installed solar water heating systems meet a portion of the water heating needs of over 70 million households. The use of biomass for heating continues to grow as well. Notable is Sweden, where national use of biomass energy has surpassed that of oil. Direct geothermal for heating is also growing rapidly."
- "Renewable biofuels are meanwhile making inroads in the transportation fuels market and are beginning to have a measurable impact on demand for petroleum fuels, contributing to a decline in oil consumption in the United States in particular starting in 2006... The 93 billion liters of biofuels produced worldwide in 2009 displaced the equivalent of an estimated 68 billion liters of gasoline, equal to about 5 percent of world gasoline production."
– Christopher Flavin in REN21 (2010). Renewables 2010 Global Status Report p. 53.
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