Renewable energy is energy that is collected from renewable resources that are naturally replenished on a human timescale. It includes sources such as sunlight, wind, the movement of water, and geothermal heat. Although most renewable energy sources are sustainable, some are not. For example, some biomass sources are considered unsustainable at current rates of exploitation. Renewable energy often provides energy for electricity generation to a grid, air and water heating/cooling, and stand-alone power systems. Renewable energy technology projects are typically large-scale, but they are also suited to rural and remote areas and developing countries, where energy is often crucial in human development. Renewable energy is often deployed together with further electrification, which has several benefits: electricity can move heat or objects efficiently, and is clean at the point of consumption. In addition, electrification with renewable energy is more efficient and therefore leads to significant reductions in primary energy requirements.
From 2011 to 2021, renewable energy has grown from 20% to 28% of global electricity supply. Fossil energy shrunk from 68% to 62%, and nuclear from 12% to 10%. The share of hydropower decreased from 16% to 15% while power from sun and wind increased from 2% to 10%. Biomass and geothermal energy grew from 2% to 3%. There are 3,146 gigawatts installed in 135 countries, while 156 countries have laws regulating the renewable energy sector. In 2021, China accounted for almost half of the global increase in renewable electricity.
Globally there are over 10 million jobs associated with the renewable energy industries, with solar photovoltaics being the largest renewable employer. Renewable energy systems are rapidly becoming more efficient and cheaper and their share of total energy consumption is increasing, with a large majority of worldwide newly installed electricity capacity being renewable. In most countries, photovoltaic solar or onshore wind are the cheapest new-build electricity.
Many nations around the world already have renewable energy contributing more than 20% of their total energy supply, with some generating over half their electricity from renewables. A few countries generate all their electricity using renewable energy. National renewable energy markets are projected to continue to grow strongly in the 2020s and beyond. Studies have shown that a global transition to 100% renewable energy across all sectors – power, heat, transport and desalination – is feasible and economically viable. Renewable energy resources exist over wide geographical areas, in contrast to fossil fuels, which are concentrated in a limited number of countries. Deployment of renewable energy and energy efficiency technologies is resulting in significant energy security, climate change mitigation, and economic benefits. However renewables are being hindered by hundreds of billions of dollars of fossil fuel subsidies. In international public opinion surveys there is strong support for renewables such as solar power and wind power. But the International Energy Agency said in 2021 that to reach net zero carbon emissions more effort is needed to increase renewables, and called for generation to increase by about 12% a year to 2030.
Renewable energy flows involve natural phenomena such as sunlight, wind, tides, plant growth, and geothermal heat, as the International Energy Agency explains:
Renewable energy is derived from natural processes that are replenished constantly. In its various forms, it derives directly from the sun, or from heat generated deep within the earth. Included in the definition is electricity and heat generated from solar, wind, ocean, hydropower, biomass, geothermal resources, and biofuels and hydrogen derived from renewable resources.
Drivers and benefits
Renewable energy stands in contrast to fossil fuels, which are being used far more quickly than they are being replenished. Renewable energy resources and significant opportunities for energy efficiency exist over wide geographical areas, in contrast to other energy sources, which are concentrated in a limited number of countries. Rapid deployment of renewable energy and energy efficiency, and technological diversification of energy sources, would result in significant energy security and economic benefits. Solar and wind power have got much cheaper. In some cases it will be cheaper to transition to these sources as opposed to continuing to use the current, inefficient, fossil fuels. It would also reduce environmental pollution such as air pollution caused by the burning of fossil fuels, and improve public health, reduce premature mortalities due to pollution and save associated health costs that could amount to trillions of dollars annually. Multiple analyses of decarbonization strategies have found that quantified health benefits can significantly offset the costs of implementing these strategies.
Climate change concerns, coupled with the continuing fall in the costs of some renewable energy equipment, such as wind turbines and solar panels, are driving increased use of renewables. New government spending, regulation and policies helped the industry weather the global financial crisis better than many other sectors. As of 2019, however, according to the International Renewable Energy Agency, renewables overall share in the energy mix (including power, heat and transport) needs to grow six times faster, in order to keep the rise in average global temperatures “well below” 2.0 °C (3.6 °F) during the present century, compared to pre-industrial levels.
A household’s solar panels, and batteries if they have them, can often either be used for just that household or if connected to an electrical grid can be aggregated with millions of others. Over 44 million households use biogas made in household-scale digesters for lighting and/or cooking, and more than 166 million households rely on a new generation of more-efficient biomass cookstoves. According to the research, a nation must reach a certain point in its growth before it can take use of more renewable energy. In our words, its addition changed how crucial input factors (labor and capital) connect to one another, lowering their overall elasticity and increasing the apparent economies of scale. United Nations’ eighth Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has said that renewable energy has the ability to lift the poorest nations to new levels of prosperity. At the national level, at least 30 nations around the world already have renewable energy contributing more than 20% of energy supply. Although many countries have various policy targets for longer-term shares of renewable energy these tend to be only for the power sector, including a 40% target of all electricity generated for the European Union by 2030.
Renewable energy often displaces conventional fuels in four areas: electricity generation, hot water/space heating, transportation, and rural (off-grid) energy services.
More than a quarter of electricity is generated from renewables as of 2021.
Heating and cooling
Solar water heating makes an important contribution to renewable heat in many countries, most notably in China, which now has 70% of the global total (180 GWth). Most of these systems are installed on multi-family apartment buildings and meet a portion of the hot water needs of an estimated 50–60 million households in China. Worldwide, total installed solar water heating systems meet a portion of the water heating needs of over 70 million households. In Sweden, national use of biomass energy has surpassed that of oil. Heat pumps provide both heating and cooling, and also flatten the electric demand curve and are thus an increasing priority Renewable thermal energy is also growing rapidly. About 10% of heating and cooling energy is from renewables.
A bus fueled by biodiesel
One of the efforts to decarbonize transportation is the increased use of electric vehicles (EVs). Despite that and the use of biofuels, such as biojet, less than 4% of transport energy is from renewables. Occasionally hydrogen fuel cells are used for heavy transport.