RENEWABLE ENERGY

noun [ri-noo-uh-buhl en-er-jee]
  1. energy that comes from free and abundant fuel sources that either do not diminish when used or that have the power to replenish themselves
  2. energy that causes few emissions and little pollution
  3. not derived from fossil or nuclear fuel

TYPES


Renewable energy includes solar, wind, biomass and biofuels, hydropower, geothermal, methane capture, and others. Renewables have a wide geographic distribution across the United States, which makes them a good source of income for rural economies.

Learn more about three of the most viable sources of renewable energy: solar, wind, and biomass.

BENEFITS OF RENEWABLES

  • Economic Development: Future economic development depends on making the transition to a new energy economy which is less dependent on fossil fuels, and with new jobs that cannot be exported.
  • Rural Development: Farmers and ranchers can diversify their operations to produce renewable energy. Doing so can create additional income streams for rural communities - providing jobs, increasing the local tax base, and keeping energy dollars more local.
  • Reduced Climate Change: Renewables have a very low environmental impact. They produce very few emissions, so increased use of renewables over fossil fuels can help fight the global warming that leads to climate change.
  • Job Creation: Renewable energy is more labor-intensive than traditional energy, so it generates additional skilled job openings in areas such as facilities construction, installation, maintenance, operations, and construction of transmission lines.
  • Cost-Effectiveness: Renewables are cost-effective energy sources. Prices for wind and solar energy are dropping, while prices of fossil fuels are increasing. Renewables provide valuable alternatives during economic uncertainty.
  • Energy Security: Renewables are local, domestic resources. Increasing our use of renewable energy frees us from our nation's dependence on foreign oil, as well as our dependence on limited quantities of high-carbon fossil fuels.
  • Energy Independence: Renewables increase fuel diversity - the sources of fuel available to us. The more diverse a fuel mix, the less vulnerable its users are to price fluctuations, fuel shortages, or shifts in regulatory practices.
  • Low Carbon Liability: Carbon regulations are increasing, leading to increased prices for energy sources with carbon liabilities, such as fossil fuels.  Renewables have little to no carbon liability.
  • Scalable: Many renewable installations (like wind and solar) can start small, and grow over time. For example, communities can start with a small wind plant, then expand as the demand increases. Gradual growth also helps stagger the lifespan and replacement costs of equipment.

CHALLENGES FOR RENEWABLES


Renewable energy is not a magic solution. Using renewables must be part of a larger strategy to reduce energy consumption in increase energy efficiency. There are some challenges to integrating renewables into our current energy usage.
  • Transmission and Infastructure: Renewables are decentralized models of power generation. By contrast, our nation's energy infrastructure is very centralized, and transmission lines do not always exist in rural areas. Before rural communities can capitalize on their renewable resources, they need improved energy infrastructure.
  • Cost: On average, renewable cost more per kilowatt hour (kWh) to produce than traditional fossil fuel methods. However, that price has already shown a sharp decrease, and is projected to continue decreasing. Over time, increased development of renewables will also drive down the cost of production. Already the price of wind per kWh is competitive with the price coal per kWh.
  • Technology Development: In comparison to fossil fuels, renewables are mostly young technologies, and all in are in different stages of development. Some renewables (like wave power) are just now proving themselves, while others (like wind) are ready for an increased market.
  • Variability: Some renewables, such as wind and solar, provide only intermittent power for electrical generation. The wind does not blow all the time, and the sun does not shine all the time, and so these sources are not always providing energy. The energy grid required stable, dispatchable sources of power in order to maintain base load. As a result the grid can only integrate a certain percentage of renewable sources – for example, up to 20% in the case of wind.