Friday, October 12, 2012

Renewable energy sources in United States – Full overview

Fossil fuels still dominate primary energy consumption in United States but the popularity of renewable energy sources continues to grow. According to a latest report from Worldwatch Institute U.S. invested more than $50 billion in renewable energy sources in 2011.

There are various reasons behind this huge investment. Renewable energy sources do not only ensure diversified energy portfolio that can reduce nation's heavy dependence on foreign fuel import but they also provide us with an environmentally acceptable energy option, one that can be quite helpful against climate change. 

Fossil fuels, when burn, release harmful greenhouse gas emissions, which leads to global warming and rapidly growing climate change impact. Using more renewable energy sources instead of solely relying on fossil fuels therefore means improving environmental condition of our planet, and reducing the negative effects of climate change. 

Sadly, if we look at global energy consumption we can see that renewable energy sources are way behind fossil fuels, with many energy experts estimating that fossil fuels will likely remain dominant energy sources for the foreseeable future.

At the end of 2010 renewable energy sources accounted for 11.1 percent of energy produced in United States. The list of most important renewable energy sources in United States includes: hydropower, wind power, solar power, geothermal power and biomass.

Hydropower is renewable energy source that has long tradition in United States. It is currently the most important renewable energy source in the country, with around 7 percent of nation's total power being produced by hydroelectric power plants. Hydroelectric plants aren't necessarily connected with a large dam as in recent times we can see some hydroelectric power plants that just use a small canal to channel the river water through a turbine. Hydropower is not 100% environmentally friendly source of energy but when compared with environmental damage done by fossil fuels, its environmental impact is minimal, especially in correlation with current regulations and new environmental policies Hydropower, beside being reliable and one of the most cost-competitive renewable energy sources, can also provide some other important services beside generating electricity like irrigation, recreation, water supply, etc.

Wind power was for many years the fastest growing renewable energy source in the country, and has only recently being left behind solar power in terms of growth. U.S. was also for many years, global wind energy leader in terms of capacity, but in the last two years it trails China, as it cannot follow China's rapid pace. The U.S. states which lead the way in wind energy development are Texas, Iowa and California. Texas is also the home to the world's largest wind farm, namely the Roscoe Wind Farm with the capacity of 780 MW. At the end of the 2011 wind power in the U.S. provided enough electricity to satisfy the need of almost ten million U.S. homes. The insecurity about the renewal of wind energy tax credit is hurting U.S. wind energy industry but regardless of this wind energy should still remain one of the top renewable energy sources in the country.

Solar power industry is the fastest growing industry in the country with many states offering significant incentives for solar energy systems. The prices of solar panels have fell by more than 40% in the last few years and solar power is more popular than ever before. However, even despite this strong growth, solar power still satisfies less than 1% of total U.S. energy needs. The sunny state of California is the leading U.S. state in installed solar power capacity with the capacity of over 500 megawatts. U.S. is still not the largest photovoltaic market in the world as it trails the leader Germany.

U.S. is the world leader in both installed capacity of geothermal energy as well as in the generation of electricity from geothermal energy. Geothermal power has half of century old history in United States with the first geothermal power plant opened at The Geysers in California, back in 1960. Geothermal power plants are concentrated in the West, and most geothermal power is generated using steam or hot water from underground. Geothermal energy currently meets less than 1% of U.S. power needs though some studies have showed that just western states have the potential to provide over 20 percent of national electricity needs. California leads the way in geothermal capacity, followed by Nevada.

The use of biomass is growing in United States, and currently provides about 4% of the total energy used in the country. Biomass does not only play the important role as a renewable energy source that generates electricity but can be also considered as a vital part of U.S. waste management infrastructure. The largest biomass energy resource in U.S. is still wood, followed by waste. Biomass power has great potential because it has origin in plant sources meaning that it can potentially be produced almost anywhere in the United States (plants can be re-grown time and time again on the same piece of land).

Renewable energy is still to achieve full renaissance in United States. The clean energy industry is still in need of government and state incentives in order to remain competitive with fossil fuels. The clean energy future still looks many years away but it's definitely a reachable goal. However, U.S. will have to significantly improve its renewable energy policy with federal renewable energy standard as the preferred thing to start with.