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Renewable Energy Sources – Ones to Watch Right Now

What are the top renewable energy sources?

The top 5 commercial renewable energy sources to watch are wind, hydroelectric, solar, geothermal, and hydrogen.

How did the pandemic affect the renewables industry?

While the industry is still dealing with the impact of the pandemic, things are quickly looking up. This is largely because renewables are resilient in lowering electricity demand since they are dispatched before other electricity sources. This year, renewable electricity generation surprisingly increased by almost 3% and renewable energy outpaced coal by providing 23% of US power generation.

How do I track renewable production?

Simplify renewable production tracking with WatchWire’s ability to consolidate all onsite renewable production data (whether it is solar, fuel cell, battery, etc.) across multiple sites and vendors.

At the beginning of 2020, the renewables industry was set to enter a phase of growth driven by increased demand, lowered costs, innovation, and collaboration among stakeholders. Then, COVID-19 hit. The pandemic hurt the industry in Quarter 1 with supply chain disruptions and a drop in installations due to lockdowns.

While the industry is still dealing with the impact of the pandemic, things are quickly looking up. This is largely because renewables are resilient in lowering electricity demand since they are dispatched before other electricity sources. This year, renewable electricity generation surprisingly increased by almost 3% and renewable energy outpaced coal by providing 23% of US power generation. Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) investment funds were behind most of that growth. Corporate power purchase agreements (PPAs) also increased and many companies vowed to switch to 100% renewables use. Meanwhile, the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) published a report in June analyzing cost of renewable power generation from 2010-2019. The cost for utility-scale solar photovoltaic, aka solar PV, power has declined 82% since 2010. This was followed by solar power, which saw a price drop of 47%, and onshore and offshore wind, which declined by 40% and 29%, respectively. The price of lithium-ion battery storage also declined steadily; this has boosted the value of renewables, making intermittent wind and solar sources competitive with traditional energy sources. Grid resiliency will also drive renewable use as utilities and their clients combine renewable microgrids with energy storage.

Clearly, the data shows that the future is bright for renewable energy. If your company is ready to innovate, you can expect to thrive in this new era of renewable growth. In this article, we will cover the 8 most important renewable sources for your company to invest in. The top 5 commercial renewable energy sources to watch are:

  1. Wind
  2. Hydroelectric
  3. Solar
  4. Geothermal
  5. Hydrogen

We’ve also included 4 more minor energy sources that can benefit your company. In the future, they may become major players in the energy industry, so make sure to keep an eye on them.

1. Wind

The Energy Information Administration (EIA) predicted this year that wind would become the number one generation source. Currently, wind provides 7% percent of all U.S. electricity. Wind energy is generated from onshore sites and large offshore towers. However, new technologies are emerging. One is high-altitude devices, which harness the more powerful and consistent winds at high altitudes. Another is Airborne Wind Energy Systems (AWES), which involves airborne wind turbines akin to kites. AWES technology eliminates the need for conventional wind turbines, opening new options for wind power generation sites. Finally, Vortex Bladeless technology uses no blades, getting energy from wind through oscillation without gears, brakes nor oil. The design allows for greener on-site generation.

This being said, wind is an intermittent power source – it does not blow 24/7. Additionally, the best spots for wind farms are often remote and far from areas that need power. Wind power may need to be combined with extensive solar expansion to enable the world to fully move away from natural gas and fossil fuels.

2. Hydroelectric

According to the National Hydropower Association, hydropower accounts for 7% of total electricity generation. The most well-known type of hydroelectric power is generated by dams: water is stored in a reservoir and when released, flows through turbines to generate electricity. In “pumped-storage hydropower,” water is cycled between lower and upper reservoirs to control electricity generation during times of low and peak demand.

We now have the technology to combine hydropower with energy storage, to work in conjunction with solar and wind when the sun is not shining and/or the air is still.

3. Solar

Solar energy generation, such as solar PV, is one of the fastest growing commercial renewable energy resources. The U.S. solar market is expected to hit 3 million installations in 2021 and 4 million installations in 2023. Today, solar generation ranges from tiny, personal solar chargers and garden lights to gigantic solar operations like the 200-MW Holstein Solar project in Texas. Researchers estimate that with all of the advancements in solar technologies, we could achieve 700% energy production improvement by 2050 (or sooner).

Meanwhile, space might be the next hot spot for solar power. There is no place on the Earth (not even in deserts) where the sun shines as intensely as it does in a satellite’s geosynchronous orbit, about 22,000 miles above Earth. In order to capture space solar power, we must have low-cost launch vehicles (like the reusable rockets created by Elon Musk’s Space-X), large solar power satellites (bigger than the International Space Station), and a way to beam the  power back to Earth.

4. Geothermal

Geothermal energy comes from hot water which exists at different temperatures and depths below the Earth’s surface. Deep wells can be drilled into underground reservoirs to bring steam up to the surface. Direct use of geothermal energy includes heating office buildings or manufacturing facilities; growing greenhouse plants; and helping with industrial processes. A major advantage of geothermal power is that it requires no fuel, which means it is immune to fluctuations in fuel cost. However, the cost of drilling is high, as is the financial risk of finding useable geothermal sources.

Thus, the future of geothermal is likely in its byproducts, e.g. the mineral lithium. Lithium is an important part of battery technologies used in battery energy storage systems and electric vehicles. Currently, California is financing a lithium extraction project to create to create new sources of lithium from existing geothermal wells.

5. Hydrogen

Hydrogen is found in organic compounds and hydrocarbons like gasoline, natural gas, methanol, and propane. Hydrogen is high energy but produces almost no emissions when burned. Hydrogen fuel cells convert the potential chemical energy of hydrogen into electricity. However, the commercialization of these fuel cells as a viable source of green energy will probably be limited until costs decline.

There are currently a few hundred hydrogen-powered vehicles operating in the U.S., and that number may rise as the cost of fuel cell production drops. Other practical applications for hydrogen include providing emergency electricity to buildings and remote locations, and boats and other vehicles powered by hydrogen fuel cells.

More Up-and-Coming Energy Sources to Watch

  • Bioenergy comes from biomass and can produce, heat, electricity, or liquid fuels like ethanol and biodiesel. Biomass refers to any organic matter coming from recently living plants or animals. While bioenergy generates roughly the same amount of CO2 as fossil fuels, the plants that are grown as biomass remove an equal amount of CO2 from the atmosphere, so the environmental impact is at equilibrium. If your businesses transport goods or people, you can convert your vehicles to using ethanol or biodiesel. If you run a manufacturing facility, it can be equipped to burn biomass to produce steam for power and heat. Commercial farms can turn waste from livestock into electricity using small, modular systems. Towns can generate electricity from the methane gas created by the anaerobic digestion of organic waste in their landfills.
  • Biogas comes from the anaerobic bacterial degradation of animal and plant wastes. These microorganisms eat all types of waste and then produce methane, aka natural gas, which can then be used to generate electricity. U.S. states like Connecticut are placing significant time and investment to combine solar, wind and biogas at trash dumps to provide a constant source of energy generation.
  • Radiant Energy is energy transmitted in wave motion, specifically electromagnetic wave motion. This natural energy can be generated directly from the environment or from regular electricity by a method known as fractionation. Today, 99% of the cost of normal electricity could be saved using radiant energy. There are a number of pilots of self-running devices that tap radiant energy.
  • Energy Storage involves capturing energy produced at one time and storing it for use at another. It allows us to ensure renewables are not wasted and are always available. Battery energy storage systems (BESS) are the fastest growing and most widely used forms of energy storage, leading to energy resiliency and cost savings when paired with solar and wind. Finally, energy storage may be the key to decreasing problematic wildfires in Western states.

Which Renewable Energy Source is Best for Your Business?

Even in these strange times, the demand for clean energy is continuing to grow. Renewable energy has become mainstream by being affordable and reliable. To learn more about the different procurement options for renewable energy, read our full analysis of the Green Power Market here.

Additionally, simplify renewable production tracking with watchwire’s ability to consolidate all onsite renewable production data (whether it is solar, fuel cell, battery, etc.) across multiple sites and vendors.  Watchwire is vendor agnostic, delivering either a lagged or real-time data integration.  With centralized interval level production, the production can be rolled up by capacity, technology, geography, and/or time period. You can track and report actual production vs. guaranteed/warrantied production in other to true up against contracts. Learn more about watchwire here.