Renewable energy (RE), often referred to as clean energy, comes from natural sources or processes that are constantly replenished. For example, sunlight or wind keep shining and blowing, even if their availability depends on time and weather. Different technologies are in operation producing renewable energy which is at the heart of a global energy transition. RE is the new blood (electrons) coursing through the arteries of copper transmission lines around the world.
Humans have built a civilization dependent on fossil-based resources for fuel(s) for heat, power, transportation, etc. Global markets, industries and economies are based on these commodities and resources that are traded daily across borders nationally and internationally. Some of the largest companies in the world are producing, pumping and transporting millions of barrels, billions of gallons, megatons of coal, millions of MMBTUs of natural gas and billions of cubic feet of cryogenic LNG around the world 24/7/365. Every day, billions of dollars exchange hands, banks and institutions based on carbon-related products that make this world go around. Moving away from these well established resources will take decades, $$trillions in investment and global alliances to realign the markets and suppliers to ensure energy reliability, resiliency and dependency. And like any transition the world has gone through that required a new way of living - change will not come easy.
The governments warn, the scientific communities advise, and the atmospheric experts agree - the time to act is now. We have abused our planet to the point that we can no longer ignore our detrimental impact on the environment. The more we ignore, the bigger the chore. And right now, that "chore" is enormous as the world changes from one power-paradigm to another. On the to-do-immediately list: cutback the use of our natural resources, curb increasing CO2/methane/GHG emissions on a global scale, and implement new strategies for massive RE and clean energy projects like hydrogen.
- Solar energy from the sun
- Geothermal energy from heat inside the earth
- Wind energy
- Biomass from plants
- Hydropower from flowing water
The five different types of RE has its own unique set of dynamics and operations.
Each has its own O&M and costs per kWhs.
- The Solar Industry uses solar thermal mirrors to generate high temperatures to heat up solar towers that create steam that turns turbines that generate electricity. The largest solar thermal plant in the world is outside Las Vegas - Ivanpah. Other solar thermal systems absorb heat that heats water for homes and buildings. Solar photovoltaic panels (rooftop type)absorb light the sun and generate electricity. In 2019, just over 2% of global electricity came from solar.
- Geothermal energy is a clean and reliable source of energy that keeps on giving long after the sun sets and the winds die. Like all REs geothermal is geographic dependent. Not all countries can produce geothermal energy to meet growing energy demand due to the lack of underground geothermal fields. As a source of renewable energy for both power and heating, geothermal has the potential to meet 3-5% of global demand by 2050. With economic incentives, it is estimated that by 2100 it will be possible to meet 10% of global demand.
- Wind Turbines have been around since the 1500s - developed for energy in the late 1800s. They became popular in Denmark in the 1970s. Vestas (a Danish company) is one of the largest global supplier of wind turbines. Wind power accounts for 6% of the global energy supply. The largest wind turbines have a capacity of up to 15MW and a 222 meter rotor diameter. Wind turbines are either land based or offshore based. The largest wind turbines are offshore to be able to absorb more wind speeds generated at large bodies of water due to less friction and interruption of wind flow on land.
- Biomass is renewable organic material that comes from plants and animals. It has been around since the dawning of man - burning wood. Biomass continues to be an important fuel in many countries, especially for cooking and heating in developing countries. The use of biomass fuels for transportation and for electricity generation is increasing in many developed countries as a means of avoiding carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuel use. In 2020, biomass provided nearly 5 quadrillion British thermal units (Btu) and about 5% of total primary energy use in the United States.
- Hydroelectric energy is a form of renewable energy that uses the power of moving water to generate electricity - is a form of energy that harnesses the power of water in motion - such as water flowing over a waterfall or through a hydroelectric dam to generate electricity. There are three different types of hydroelectric plants: impoundment - a dam is used to control the flow of water; a diversion facility - it uses a series of canals to channel flowing river water towards the generator-powering turbines; and a pump-storage facility. This plant stores energy by pumping water uphill from a pool of water at a lower elevation to a reservoir located at a higher elevation.
The cost issue
There are many factors in the dynamic equation of energy to consider. There are many different resources of studies made throughout the years that either correlate or have unmatching variances in pricing structures. The objective of this cost section is to compare the different costs and prices of the different resources of energy. The EIA has completed the most recent cost study across all the different industries and technologies. We shall defer to that study.