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The Future of Renewables

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Karen Marcus's picture
Freelance Energy and Technology Researcher and Writer Final Draft Communications, LLC

In addition to serving as an Energy Central Community Manager, Karen Marcus has 25 years of experience as a content developer within the energy and technology industries. She has worked with...

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  • Jul 15, 2022
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The growth of renewable energy is robust and is expected to continue its climb over the next few years. In a recent post, the World Economic Forum (WEF) states that a record amount of renewable capacity was installed in 2021 and, in a recent report, the International Energy Agency (IEA) predicts that record will be surpassed by the end of 2022, pushing the needle from 295 GW to 300 GW by the end of the year.

A large contributor to this trend is China, whose renewable development is being supported by large-scale projects and substantial government subsidies this year. The U.S., on the other hand, according to the IEA report, faces “uncertainty over new incentives for both wind and solar PV,” as well as challenges due to new trade policies on solar PV and other factors.

Another important regional contributor noted by the IEA is the European Union, whose generation is expected to climb to 180 TWh by 2023, significantly reducing its dependence on Russian gas, a goal made more urgent by the turmoil caused by the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

Solar

According to the IEA report, “Solar PV is forecast to account for 60% of the increase in global renewable capacity this year with the commissioning of 190 GW, a 25% gain from last year.” And “solar PV is forecast to break another record in 2023, reaching almost 200 GW.”

On the national level, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Solar Energy Technologies Office (SETO) in conjunction with the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) recently published the Solar Futures Study, which finds that solar could account for as much as 40% of the nation’s electricity supply by 2035. This outcome requires growth in solar deployment of four times its current rate during the intervening years.

Onshore Wind

Wind has been a critical part of the renewable energy landscape and that trend is expected to continue, with some predicting 2022 will be another record-breaking year for deployments, following a similar pattern in 2020 and 2021. Despite expected price increases, the Energy Information Administration (EIA) has stated that it expects 17% of new U.S. power grid capacity to be based on wind in 2022. Experts see the trend continuing for the next few years as well, with onshore wind expected to provide 31.4% of U.S. energy by 2050.

Hydropower

Hydropower is one of the largest sources of renewable power worldwide, but it comes with downsides. Emissions from hydropower plants are comparable to fossil fuel plants, according to some studies. Other problems include negative impacts on ecosystems and the displacement of local populations. Some don’t even consider hydropower “renewable” for these reasons.

Hydropower has been in use for centuries, but can it continue into a sustainable future? Despite its problems, according to a recent article appearing on Energy Monitor, “Electricity production from hydro … is expected to remain the largest source of renewable power for decades.” The IEA projects that hydropower will increase by 50% by 2040.  The Energy Monitor states that China is the world’s leader in hydro generation, followed by Canada, Brazil, the U.S., Russia, India, and Norway.

Geothermal

Another renewable power source — that, like hydropower, gets less attention than solar and wind in the U.S. — is geothermal power. Yet, according to a separate Energy Monitor article, one expert “estimates that 0.1% of the Earth’s heat could supply humanity’s total energy needs for two million years.” Some regions of the world that have high volcanic activity are already taking advantage of geothermal power.  

But, despite its potential, limited negative impact, 24/7 availability, and low operational costs, geothermal is growing less quickly than other renewable sources. One reason is that, as its source is underground, it’s less visible to the general public. Still, a recent DOE report “supports the conclusions that extensive geothermal energy deployment by 2050 is feasible and that increased deployment of geothermal energy could provide broad, direct benefits to the United States.”

Despite challenges from economic, logistical, human health, environmental, political, and other causes, renewables will continue to become an ever-larger portion of the energy mix in the coming years.

What are your thoughts on the future of renewables? Please share in the comments.

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