Renewable energy is energy that is collected from resources that do not deplete and are naturally replenished on a human timescale. Renewable energy installations reached record-breaking levels in 2021 and, despite rising material costs, they are expected to rise 8% in 2022. In response to the Russian invasion of Ukraine, many countries are expected to minimize their dependence on fossil fuels and expand their capacity for new renewable installations.
There are five major sources of renewable energy; solar energy, geothermal energy, wind energy, biomass, and hydropower. The world has been powered by some form of renewable energy throughout most of human history.
Solar energy has two primary benefits. The first is that solar systems do not produce air pollutants or carbon dioxide. Additionally, buildings and homes with solar panels have minimal effect on the environment.
Solar energy is measured in gigawatts (GW) and photovoltaic (PV). Photovoltaic converts sunlight into electric energy.
Solar energy has its challenges, with the biggest being the lack of consistant sunlight. The amount of sun varies by time of day, seasons of the year, weather, and location.
China, the European Union, the United States, Vietnam, and Japan have the largest solar energy capacity in the world. In recent years, China has committed to drastically increasing its solar power to produce electricity in an effort to curb the severe air pollution crisis in the country.
Geothermal energy is produced using the earth’s internal heat energy to create steam through a series of wells and is fed to power plants to generate electricity. The market for geothermal electricity is expected to reach $8.46 billion by 2026. The recent growth has largely been due to operational changes made by companies recovering from the impact of COVID-19 policies.
In the past year, Indonesia saw the biggest increase in geothermal energy capacity by adding 143 megawatts (MW) with the addition of 2 new plants. Indonesia is still second to the United States, who leads the world with a geothermal energy capacity of 3,772 megawatts. The Phillipines, Turkey, and New Zealand make up the rest of the top 5 geothermal countries in 2022.
Wind energy is typically used to generate electricity. In the past, windmills powered water pumps throughout the United States and supplied water to livestock. It is estimated that 10% of the world used wind energy in 2021. China currently leads the world in in wind energy installations, possessing over a quarter of the world’s capacity. The latest figures show China with an installed wind capacity of 342 gigawatts (GW).
Biomass is renewable energy derived from plants and animals. Sources for biomass energy can include firewood, wood pellets, corn, soybeans, animal manure and more. These resources are usually burned to create biomass energy.
Biomass energy is the primary source for activities like cooking and heating in African countries. Kenya and Niger use biomass energy for approximately 89% of their heating and cooking. However, biomass energy can cause a range of health and environmental issues because of the smoked produced in burning the resources. Deforestation is also a concern as it results in less diversity of flora and fauna in a region, as well as the negative impact is has on climate change.
Hydropower relies on the stages of the water cycle to maintain its status as a renewable energy source. In simplest terms, hydropower is created by moving water. It was one of the first renewable sources used to create electricity.
Hydropower capacity is expected to surpass 1200GW in 2022 and investments will climb to $36.3 billion. Research suggests that hydropwer will solidify its position as the most popular renewable energy source in the coming decade.
China is the world leader in total installed hydropower capacity, boasting over 340 GW, with Brazil in second place with 112 GW. The U.S., Canada, and Russia round out the top-five list for hydropower generation globally.
Top 10 Countries Using Renewable Energy
The 10 countries using the largest percentage of renewable energy are: