Renewable energy refers to energy sources that are naturally replenished and therefore, have the potential to be used indefinitely. These sources include solar, wind, hydropower, geothermal, and biomass. In contrast, non-renewable sources such as fossil fuels (coal, oil, and natural gas) are finite. This means they will eventually be depleted.
Benefits of renewable energy
The use of renewable energy has numerous benefits. One of the significant advantages is the potential to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and mitigate negative impacts of climate change. Unlike fossil fuels, renewable sources do not produce carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions when generating electricity.
Another advantage of renewables is its potential to reduce our reliance on fossil fuels. These are subject to price fluctuations and may be contingent upon political instability in certain regions. Renewable energy sources are also typically more widely distributed than fossil fuels. This means, they are more widely available in different geographies. A wind turbine can be built virtually anywhere across the globe. This global distribution is not reliant on the availability of raw materials or natural sources. It can help reduce the risk or energy disruptions. In turn, the independence of energy production can increase the energy security of nations.
In addition to the environmental and security benefits, renewable energy can also have economic benefits. The cost of these technologies has decreased significantly in recent years. While it still incurs a high CAPEX, it has become more affordable and competitive with traditional energy sources long term. The use of renewable energy can also create job opportunities and stimulate economic growth in areas it is deployed.
Challenges of renewable energy
There are, of course, challenges to the widespread adoption of renewable energy. One of the main challenges is the need for significant upfront investments in infrastructure and technology. The upfront investment is referred to as the CAPEX. It is an initial investment to cover the costs of building up the renewable energy plant.
There are also technical challenges associated with the integration of renewable energy into the grid. In particular, the intermittent nature of some sources makes it challenging to supply constant energy through the grid. Intermittency refers to the interrupted nature of some renewables. For instance, solar PVs cannot generate electricity when the sun is not shining. Similarly, if there is no wind, or wind is too strong, wind turbines do not generate electricity. Nonetheless, some solutions are making their way to counter the issues of intermittency. Primarily, storage facilities are being developed to help the grid with issues of supply.
Despite these challenges, the transition to renewable energy is well underway and gaining momentum. More and more countries and companies are making commitments to transitioning to renewable energy and investing in the necessary infrastructure. The International Energy Agency’s Renewables 2022 report has predicted significant growth to the renewables sector. In its main forecast, global energy capacity is set to increase by 75% (2,400GW) by 2027. In its accelerated forecast, it predicts capacity could reach an additional 25% (3,000GW). As the technology continues to improve and costs continue to decline, it is likely that renewable energy will play an increasingly important role in meeting our energy needs in the future.