One common misconception about renewable energy is that it represents a distant future. But renewable resources already account for a significant portion of electricity generated in the world. In fact, according to the United States Energy Information Administration, by 2020, 23.7% of electric generation in the world will come from renewable resources. Technological advances and government incentives are making it easier and more affordable than ever to harness renewable and alternative energy.
What Is the Difference Between a Renewable Resource and a Non-renewable Resource?
A renewable resource is a resource that can be replenished or replaced more quickly than it is used. For energy purposes, sunlight, wind, and geothermal energy serve as renewable resources because you cannot use them in a way that reduces the supply.
Non-renewable resources, in contrast, become depleted through extraction and use. Oil, for example, forms over billions of years, so it is impossible to replace it over a short time.
What Are Examples of Renewable Resources Being Used Today?
The earth provides many renewable resources that people use every day. As scientists learn more and inventors develop more efficient technologies, the options for renewable energy continue to grow. Some of the most common include:
- solar energy developed through solar panels that harness heat and irradiation in sunlight and convert it into electricity
- wind energy converted from wind to generate power
- geothermal energy derived from the earth's more consistent temperature, or from underground steam or hot water reservoirs
- bioenergy derived from plants and organic materials and converted into energy
Each of these has the advantage of being completely renewable, clean forms of energy, with new methods of conversion and applications for their use developed every day.
What Are Direct Uses for Solar Energy?
The most common uses of solar power come in home or business installations. Solar photovoltaic (or PV) systems use irradiation to generate electricity for a home, while solar thermal energy primarily heats water in a home. The cost of these systems varies by location and company offering the installation, but tax credits and incentives available make solar an affordable investment for many people.
In addition, because some people may either not have an ideal placement available for panels or may want to pool resources, community and shared solar development is increasing as well. This has further spurred growth in the industry and in national use of solar energy.
What Are Direct Uses for Wind Energy?
Wind turbines, the modern descendant of windmills, serve as the most visible example of using wind energy for many people. You may have seen wind farms in person or in pictures. The blades rotate and capture wind, generating electricity and storing it in batteries.
In addition, wind energy can be used directly to power ships, cars, or even water pumps. Because wind is completely renewable, companies and inventors continue to find new ways to generate energy from it.
What Are Direct Uses for Geothermal Energy?
Geothermal energy uses the earth's temperature, or steam or hot water reservoirs to heat and cool. In homes, businesses, and communities, geothermal energy provides such direct uses as heating homes, growing plants in greenhouses, or even melting snow and ice on roads and sidewalks.
In regards to heating/cooling and residential systems, because the ground absorbs nearly half the solar energy the planet receives, there is a more constant and moderate temperature below the surface year-round. Modern residential geothermal systems take advantage of that consistency, and are able to heat and cool more efficiently throughout the year without the effort above-ground heat pump systems face during more extreme temperatures. This effectively and markedly reduces the annual costs of heating and cooling a home, and heating for hot water.
What Are Direct Uses for Bioenergy?
Bioenergy comes from living or recently-living organic material. Using biofuels such as ethanol to power vehicles provides one of the best-known direct uses. Many businesses also burn dry biomass to generate heat and power for their on-site operations. Because plants grow relatively quickly, their supply can be replenished much more quickly than fossil fuels and other non-renewable resources.
What Are the Top Benefits of Renewable Resources and Alternative Energy?
Renewable and alternative energy sources provide benefits to the planet and to individual users. On the broadest scale, they allow relatively clean generation of energy compared with the burning of coal or oil. In addition, using renewable resources helps avoid depleting or damaging the earth in the way that extracting non-renewable resources does. The environmental benefits can be extraordinary.
In addition, when you use renewable resources to generate heat or electricity, you gain a measure of energy independence. When you install solar panels, for instance, you depend less on the local electric company for your home or business. You not only achieve cost savings over time, but you gain the ability to maintain energy in your home even if something goes wrong with the utility companies.
What Tax Breaks and Incentives Are Available in the U.S. for Alternative Energy Installation in 2018?
Installing the necessary equipment to use alternative energy does come with up-front costs. But while you may find the initial price tag imposing, the long-term benefits often allow significant savings in the long run.
And in the U.S., tax credits cut significantly into the up-front costs too. If you install and place in service a solar electric or water-heating system by the end of 2019, the tax credit comes in at 30%. That credit is currently scheduled to begin decreasing beginning in 2020. While Congress has extended that schedule in the past, there are no guarantees that it will do so again. If you are interested in solar power, it makes sense to get a quote on installation soon to maximize your potential savings.
Renewable energy resources represent the future of energy generation in this country and in the world--but they represent the present as well. The more quickly consumers and businesses develop their uses of renewable energy, the greater the good and the independence they can achieve in doing so.