Switching to renewable energy is one of the best ways to save money on your electricity bills while also helping the planet. Thanks to an increased focus on renewable energy generation around the world, we now have the technology to harness energy from the sun, the wind, and even the ocean. Read on to learn more about these renewable energies and the potential each has to improve sustainability around the world.
Solar power is now affordable and practical for residential use, and it has huge potential due to the sun’s plentiful energy supply. In fact, if solar panels were installed on just 0.6 percent of the land in the U.S., they could generate enough power to run the entire country. America currently boasts 40 GW of installed capacity, and the industry shows no signs of slowing its growth. That’s good news, as increased reliance on solar power supports economic prosperity, sustainability, and job creation.
Solar panels have dropped in price by more than 60 percent since 2010, while solar electric systems have fallen in price by 50 percent. The installed price of solar electricity systems are currently around $3 per watt, before installation costs and rebates.
Solar officially became cheaper than fossil fuels in several countries last year, but it’s not without its own set of roadblocks. The biggest challenges the solar industry faces are grid integration and market barriers. The U.S. is fairly dependent on its non-renewable energy grid system, and oil companies and other lobbyists have passed legislation in certain states that makes it harder for the solar industry to thrive. Increased awareness of the benefits of solar will likely help with this problem, but there’s still a way to go before solar power can reach its full potential nationwide.
Wind power converts the kinetic energy from wind into usable electricity that is green and renewable. The potential of wind power is defined using “wind-power density classes,” which run from class one (the lowest) to class seven. In the U.S., there are many areas with a wind-power density class of four or above, highlighting wind power’s potential for the nation.
As with other renewable energy types, wind power has decreased in cost for the last several years—down as much as 40 percent since 2008—and the cost will likely continue to fall. Most of the costs associated with wind power come from initial installation, which includes prepping an area for turbines, and the actual cost of machinery.
While 2016 was a solid growth year for wind power, the future of the technology will depend heavily on supportive legislation. The U.S. Department of Energy found that wind could play a pivotal role in the future of the country’s energy use, but further development for efficiency is necessary for wider adoption.
Like wind power, wave power also relies on kinetic energy, though the energy is carried and transferred through water instead of air. These systems generally have a lot of potential, but adoption currently lags significantly behind solar and wind.
Wave power is not a fully developed industry, and a lot of investment will need to happen before it becomes more productive globally. However, just last year, the U.S. government invested several million dollars into a wave test facility to help expedite the commercialization of wave energy systems—a project that could help substantially decrease costs in the coming years.
If the U.S. maximized its ability to harness energy from waves, it could theoretically produce around 65 percent of its 2015 electricity generation using wave power. The biggest stumbling block to that goal is fine-tuning the technology enough to make wave power affordable and practical for mass use.
As fossil fuels continue to damage the planet and deplete in availability, the world must become more reliant on renewable energy. Technology is advancing rapidly as awareness increases, so the future looks good for solar, wind, and wave power.