Alternative Energy Sources: What You Need to Know

Green energy is chosen by states, cities, businesses, and citizens. We tell how renewable sources are moving from the category of alternatives to the main ones, how they are developing in Russia and the world, and what the future holds for them.

What are alternative energy sources

Renewable energy comes from sustainable sources such as hydro, wind, solar, geothermal, biomass, and tidal energy. Unlike fossil fuels such as oil, natural gas, coal and uranium ore, these energy sources are inexhaustible, which is why they are called renewable energy. In 2019 alone, renewable energy facilities with a total capacity of 200 GW were installed worldwide.

The share of energy sources in global consumption

(Photo: REN21)

Full Renewable Energy Report 2020 in PDF format (see page 32)

Types of alternative energy sources

1. Solar energy

The sun is the main source of energy on Earth, because about 173 pW (or 173 million gigawatts) of solar energy hits our planet every year, which is more than 10,000 times more than global energy needs. PV modules located on the rooftop or in open areas convert sunlight into electrical energy using a semiconductor – mainly silicon. Solar collectors generate heat for heating and hot water production, as well as for air conditioning.

Solar panels can generate power in cloudy weather, and even in snowfall. For maximum efficiency, they should be installed at a certain angle – the further away from the equator, the greater the angle of installation of the panels.

2. Wind energy

Using the wind as a driving force is an old tradition. Windmills were used for flour milling and milling) and as a pumping or raising water station. Modern wind turbines generate electricity from wind energy. First, they convert the kinetic energy of the wind into mechanical energy of the rotor, and then into electrical energy.

Wind energy is one of the fastest growing renewable energy technologies. According to the latest data from IRENA, over the past two decades, global onshore and offshore wind power generation capacity has grown nearly 75 times, from 7.5 GW in 1997 to about 564 GW by 2018.

3. Hydro power

Even in ancient Egypt and the Roman Empire, water power was used to power working machinery, including mills. In the Middle Ages, water mills were used in Europe in sawmills, pulp and paper. Since the end of the 19th century, hydropower has been actively used to generate electricity.

4. Geothermal energy

Geothermal energy uses the Earth’s heat to produce electricity. The temperature of the Earth’s interior allows heating of the upper layers of the earth and underground reservoirs. They extract geothermal energy from the soil with the help of small wells – this does not require large investments. It is especially effective in areas where hot springs are located near the surface of the earth’s crust.

5. Vital energy

Bioenergy is global. Heat, electricity, and fuel can be produced from solid, liquid, and gaseous biomass. At the same time, plant and animal waste is used as renewable raw materials.

6. Tidal energy

Tides and waves are another way to get energy. They make the generator rotate, which is responsible for generating electricity. Thus, to generate electricity, wave power plants use hydrodynamic energy, i.e. energy, pressure drop, and temperature difference between sea waves. Research in this area is still ongoing, but experts have already calculated that only the coast of Europe is capable of generating power annually in excess of 280 TWh, which is half of Germany’s energy consumption.

How different countries in the world implement energy transformation plans

Countries around the world have set themselves ambitious goals for the transition to renewable energy. The goals are also made part of the Paris Agreement – by 2030, carbon-neutral solutions can be competitive in sectors that account for more than 70% of global emissions. It is planned to do this through the energy transition – the process of replacing the coal economy with renewable energy. In 2020, despite the pandemic and economic recession, many cities, countries and businesses continue to announce or implement decarbonization plans.

India is expected to make the largest contribution to the development of renewable energy in 2021. A number of wind and solar energy projects are scheduled to be launched here.

The European Union also expects a jump in capacity growth in 2021. Here, even in the context of the pandemic, they do not forget the Green Deal, the largest correction of the economic course in the history of the European Union. The goal of the project is to create a carbon-neutral space in the European Union by 2030. To this end, it is planned to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 40% from the 1990 level and to increase the share of energy from renewable sources to 32% in the total energy consumption structure. According to the European Commission, it will be possible to achieve these goals with the help of annual investments in the amount of 260 billion euros, and the share of renewable energy in the energy system of the European Union is constantly increasing. Thus, about 40% of electricity in the first half of 2020 in the European Union was produced from renewable sources.

Meanwhile, the leaders in investments in renewable energy development are China, the United States, Japan and the United Kingdom. Since BloombergNEF began tracking this data, global investment in wind, solar, biofuels, biomass, waste, and small-scale hydropower has increased almost by volume. On an annual basis, investment in clean energy has grown from $33 billion to more than $300 billion in 20 years.

China has become the largest producer of renewable energy equipment in ten years. First of all, we are talking about solar panels. Seven of the world’s 10 largest solar cell manufacturers are Chinese. In general, the development of technologies has reduced the cost of building new renewable energy facilities. This makes China’s plans to become carbon neutral by 2060.

Green Economy Betting on the Sun and Coal: Two Faces of China’s Energy

US President Joe Biden is also expected to take serious steps toward the energy transition. He not only brought the country back into the Paris Agreement, but also announced that he intends to achieve net-zero greenhouse gas emissions and transition to 100% green energy by 2050.

Japan, South Korea, New Zealand and the United Kingdom also plan to use RES only by 2050. The year 2020 was already the greenest year for the UK’s electricity grid since the Industrial Revolution. The country was able to do without coal for 67 days. Britain plans to abandon conventional energy sources by 2025.

Renewable energy sources are actively developing in Spain – according to forecasts, the solar energy sector in the country alone will grow at about twice the speed of growth in Germany.

In 2020, Scotland gets 97% of its electricity from renewable sources. With the help of the produced “green” energy, it was possible to satisfy the electrical needs of more than 7 million households. Scotland plans to become carbon neutral by 2030.

The same year was chosen as the time to completely abandon traditional energy for Austria, and Saudi Arabia planned to receive 50% of its electricity from renewable energy sources by 2030.

National goals for the share of renewable energy sources among energy sources

National goals for the share of renewable energy sources among energy sources

(Photo: REN21)

Full Renewables Report 2020 in PDF format (see page 57)

Geothermal energy in Reykjavik and solar panels for Berlin

Individual cities around the world are also striving to become climate neutral. According to the CDP, out of more than 570 cities in the world for which statistics are kept, more than 100 get at least 70% of their electricity from renewable sources – water, geothermal, solar and wind energy.

The list includes cities such as Auckland, Nairobi, Oslo, Seattle, Vancouver, Reykjavik, Porto, Basel, Bogota, among others.

For example, Burlington (Vermont, USA) already gets 100% of its electricity from wind, solar, water and biomass. All of Reykjavik’s electricity comes from hydroelectric and geothermal sources. By 2040, all public and private transportation in the capital should be free of fossil fuels.

100% of the energy from renewable sources is supplied to Basel, Switzerland by its own energy supply company. Most of the electricity comes from hydroelectricity and 10% from wind. In May 2017, Switzerland voted to phase out nuclear power in favor of renewable energy.

The capitals of the world also do not stand aside. For example, the Berlin Senate approved the action plan for the development of solar energy in the German capital “Masterplan Solarcity”. According to the city’s overall development strategy, Berlin should become climate neutral by 2050. At the end of 2018, solar power plants were operating in Berlin, which covered 0.7% of electricity consumption; By 2050, 25% of the city’s energy consumption will be provided by solar energy.

“We encourage the expansion of renewable energy in Berlin. There are two bills currently under consideration by the capital’s Senate. The Solar Law requires homeowners to install solar systems on their rooftops. A bill from the Environmental and Climate Administration will make the use of solar energy in public buildings mandatory as early as 2023. This will significantly reduce carbon dioxide emissions.2 In Berlin,” said Zielke Goebel, head of the Green faction in the Berlin Senate.

How business creates a positive image by investing in renewable energy

Businesses all over the world are also creating strategies and setting green goals that they want to achieve within a certain time frame. There was awareness: we need to act responsibly and set an environmentally friendly example for consumers. Of course, the use of renewable energy sources not only helps to create a positive corporate image, but also reduces electricity costs.

Global labor market in the renewable energy sector by energy source

Full Renewable Energy Report 2019 in PDF format (see page 47)

Therefore, the new Facebook servers, as well as General Motors, will get power from a solar plant. It is being built in Kentucky as part of an extensive Green Invest program.

IKEA aims to produce more electricity from renewable sources than it consumes by 2030. There are 920,000 solar panels in stores in 14 countries, as well as more than 530 wind turbines. Ingka, the parent company of IKEA, has invested about $2.8 billion in several renewable energy projects and now has 1.7 gigawatts of capacity. It will also continue to invest in building wind farms and solar power plants.

Chemical concern BASF will gradually switch to renewables, and is also planning to invest in wind farms.

Intel is powered by wind, solar, water and biomass. Since 2012, Intel has invested $185 million in 2,000 energy-saving projects, and 100% of the electricity the company consumes in the United States and the European Union comes from renewable sources.

Apple also aims to become carbon neutral. It has acquired several solar farms, providing sustainable power for its data centers. Since 2018, all of Apple’s retail stores, offices, and data centers have been powered by 100% renewable energy.

Microsoft uses more than 1.3 billion kWh of green energy annually in software development, data center operations, and manufacturing. The company has pledged to reduce carbon emissions by 75% by 2030.

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