Renewable energy is the energy that is derived from a limitless source, in contrast to fossil fuels derived from a finite source. Types of renewables include solar energy (power from the Sun), wind energy, tidal energy (power from the seas) and geothermal energy (power in the form of heat from within the Earth). Energy can be called renewable if it can neither run out nor be easily replaced (like slow-growing trees).
Renewables are great for our energy portfolio because they are inexhaustible and won't pollute the planet for us or those of future generations by emitting toxic chemicals and gases. While some regions and countries in the past have grown wealthy and benefitted from their proximity to coal, gas, and oil reserves, not all places have access fossil fuels, which has made economic development difficult in some areas. However, nearly every town has access to sunlight, wind, and the geothermal power from the Earth, so harnessing these sources of renewable energy could be a great democratizing force, offering affordable and plentiful power to every corner of the globe.
Prices for fossil fuels are skyrocketing as existing stockpiles are consumed, which is leading companies to use more expensive and hazardous extraction processes to recover these limited resources. Additionally, conflicts around the world have constrained supply flows of oil and gas causing frequent price spikes. Renewable energy sources do not face these same problems. Limitless sources like solar power and wind will never suffer from spills, leaks, resource exhaustion, or contaminate land. Renewables can be deployed nearly everywhere and without the need for expensive power lines distributing the energy since they are capable of delivering power directly to the end consumer. Arguably the best part about renewables is that prices continue to drop and abundant, clean energy will continue to be the more economic option going forward.
Alternative energy sources are here to stay. They have become an irreplaceable part of our energy portfolio. This is evidenced by the World Bank halting funding to coal-fired power plants around the world as it seeks to stop funding dirty energy and bring about more clean power. Even giant utilities like Xcel Energy are recognizing the financial benefits of renewable energy.
Check out these recent quotes from Xcel's management:
Based on generation needs, the most reliable and most cost-effective resources happen to be solar and wind. We are not taking on solar because we have to, but because it is cost-effective and economical.Xcel Spokesperson Michelle Aguayo
This is the first time that we've seen, purely on a price basis, that the solar projects made the cut - without considering carbon costs or the need to comply with a renewable energy standard - strictly on an economic basis.Xcel CEO David Eves
When compared to coal, prices of clean energy sources have plummeted. Wind prices have halved since 2009, while the cost of solar panels has decreased 80% since 2008. More than 50,000 megawatts of clean energy have been brought online in America since 2010 as the prices of alternative energies have continued to go down and the product has become more accessible. This has offset roughly same amount of coal-fired power that has been shut down across the country as we transition to 100% clean and renewable power. But the U.S. has not yet reached its full potential. Germany receives about the same level of solar irradiance as Alaska, yet it still manages to lead the world in solar capacity. In October 2013, Germany managed to power nearly 60% of the country from solar and wind energy, giving proof that renewable energy can, and will, play a vital role in generating electricity in the future.