Is Capable of
Meeting Our Energy Needs
Despite having public support and advantages over other energy sources, renewable technologies have been repeatedly characterized as unable to meet our energy needs. People have been presented only a choice between conventional fossil fuels and nuclear power. This, however, is a false choice. Renewable energy can reliably generate as much energy as conventional fuels, and can do so without producing carbon emissions or radioactive waste.
Renewable energy – which includes solar, wind, advanced hydro, certain types of biomass and geothermal energy1 – has the potential to replace conventional fossil fuels and nuclear power. While nonhydro renewables presently provide just 2.3% of electricity in the U.S., it is technically and economically feasible for a diverse mix of existing renewable technologies to completely meet our energy needs. In fact, as much as 20% of U.S. electricity could
immediately come from non-hydro renewable energy sources
without any negative effects to the stability or reliability of the electrical grid. Over the longer term, improvements to the grid can be made, and renewable technologies could supply increasingly higher percentages. Examining possible implementation and
growth rates for different technologies, a 2004 report from the European Renewable Energy Council concluded that renewable
energy could meet baseload power needs, 2 and in fact, could provide 50% of the world's primary energy by 2040.3 Similar
studies from Shell Oil have explored scenarios in which one third to one half of the world’s energy can come from renewables by 2050.4 Importantly, renewable energy technologies produce virtually no greenhouse gas emissions and can effectively address climate change. If unchecked, the disruption of the earth’s atmosphere poses the greatest threat to humankind in our lifetimes. Continuing to fill the atmosphere with greenhouse gases will melt the ice sheets, raise sea levels, bring extreme weather patterns, disrupt food production, and destroy whole ecosystems. Hundreds of millions of people may be left without food, shelter or clean water,
causing political and social upheaval. According to a study by Japan’s Ministry for the Environment, renewable energy combined with efficiency measures could reduce greenhouse gas emissions to a level consistent with goals of global climate stabilization – a 70% reduction by 2050.5 With minimal initial capital costs and short deployment times, renewable technologies could address global climate change more quickly than nuclear power, and without the production of radioactive waste or other significant types of pollution.
advanced hydro, and some biomass and geothermal energy could completely meet U.S. electricity needs.6 According to a recent National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) analysis, the
entire U.S. electricity demand could technically be met by
renewable energy resources by 20207. In the longer term, the potential of domestic renewable resources is more than 85 times current U.S. energy use. 8
Researchers at Stanford University recently evaluated the potential of wind power globally. After analyzing more than 8,000 windspeed measurements, the researchers concluded that wind at specific locations could generate more than enough energy to meet world demands.9 Of the sites measured, over 13% had mean annual wind speeds strong enough for economic power generation (speeds greater than 6.9 meters per second at 80 meters). These candidate sites are found in every region of the world, both inland and offshore. The researchers concluded that global wind could have generated about 72 terawatts (TW) in 2000. This is equivalent to 208 trillion kilowatt hours (kWh)—about one and a half times current annual world energy use.
HOW MUCH RENEWABLE ENERGY IS THERE?
Wind Turbine, Maryland Energy Agency
In the near to medium term, the combination of wind, solar,
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