Renewable resources are those natural resources that will gradually be able to replenish themselves despite some depletion. The era of renewable resources and alternative energy has arrived. It’s cheaper now than ever before to generate electricity from renewable resources, catapulting them from fringe options to the fastest-growing energy resources in the country. These renewable resources include alcohol, water, methane gas, natural oils, and thermal generation. In 2017, renewables set a record in the U.S. by generating 15% of all electricity, predominantly due to hydropower, solar, and wind. What are some other examples of renewable energy? We’ll go down the list.
Though there are a number of popular technologies that generate renewable energy, such as solar and wind power, there are also simple everyday resources that are considered renewables. Renewable generation is often solely tied to images of solar panels and wind turbines when renewables span far beyond these products. One can think of renewable energy in terms of the various natural events that create it and common beneficial outputs (renewable commodities) that exist only because of renewables. Here is our top 5 list for each category:
Examples of renewable resources
Alcohol – can be used to generate biofuel
Water – serves as a drinking source but also as a hydropower necessity
Methane gas – when methane occurs naturally in an environment (such as in manure), it can generate biogas
Natural oils (palm oil, vegetable oil, sunflower oil, and soybean oil) can all be used to make biodiesel
Thermal generation – such as solar thermal or geothermal heat pumps
List of examples of renewable commodities
Major grains such as wheat, rice, and corn
Leather and meats supplied by animals
Fruits and vegetables
Paper, furniture, and oxygen are all supplied by trees
Bio-based chemicals such as butanol and acetone
According to the Department of Energy, the costs of clean energy technologies like residential and utility-sized solar, land-based wind, and LED light bulbs have fallen by anywhere from 40 to 90 percent in the United States since 2008. The U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) declared back in 2015 that domestic energy use has “the highest renewable energy share since the 1930s when wood was a much larger contributor to domestic energy supply.”
It’s an exciting time for advocates of renewable energy resources. Bloomberg’s forward-looking analysis of how the global energy market could shift in 2018 and beyond declares:
Renewables are no longer “alternative energy.” Solar power is competitive with fossil electricity in more and more places every year—watch China, India, and Chile in 2018. Global demand for the sun reached a new high this year, and solar is that rare thing that liberals and many free-market conservatives in the U.S. can agree to love.
The practical implications of cost-competitive renewable energy are even more exciting. California academics at The Solutions Project recently found that, with the right incentives, the world could run entirely on electricity from renewable resources by the year 2050. In the United States, that means a lot of solar:
Utility solar plants would generate 25 percent of electricity
15.4 percent of electricity would come from rooftop solar (commercial and residential)
7.3 percent of electricity would be generated by concentrated solar power (CSP) plants
The takeaway is that we can source nearly half of U.S. electricity from the sun! Other examples of renewable resources, such as wind energy, geothermal heat, and water (in the form of wave energy and hydropower), would make up the rest.
Researchers aren’t the only ones who see significant opportunities in renewable resources. Even the CEO of Royal Dutch Shell, one of the largest oil companies in the world, has predicted “without hesitation” that “in years to come, solar will be the dominant backbone of our energy system.”
With goods like fruits, meats, grains, and leather being products of a renewable generating world, it may be hard to believe that renewable resources are often categorized as “alternative” energy sources. Though solar power has undoubtedly reached a high growth phase, there must be a transformation in how people view renewable energy. In 2019, renewables were dominating new electricity sources added; in some time, it’s expected that fossil fuels will take on an association for being “alternative” energy once renewables have acquired norm status. There are a lot of financial and technological changes taking place in the energy industry across the world, and technology and policy improvements will significantly affect the eventual outcome. To achieve global energy generation with 100 percent renewable resources, energy subsidies must evolve to match the times.
Estimates vary, but by every measure, subsidies for fossil fuels have historically been significantly higher than subsidies for renewable resources like solar. And with U.S. federal investment tax credits for renewable resources like the solar ITC scheduled to decrease over the next few years, many are calling for the government to reevaluate its energy incentives.
The International Energy Agency highlighted the disparity between fossil fuel and renewable resource subsidies in its 2014 World Energy Outlook, stating that the $550 billion a year that fossil fuels receive globally in subsidies are holding back investment in cleaner forms of energy. By comparison, renewable resources like solar, wind, and biofuels receive approximately $120 billion in annual incentives worldwide. This disparity grows even more significant when you consider the external cost of environmental and health effects associated with fossil fuels.
Subsidies are most important in the early stages of growth for new energy sources, and the oil and gas industries have historically received much higher subsidies than examples of renewable resources. In the United States, the oil and gas industry has benefitted from average tax expenditures of $4.86 billion annually between 1918 and 2009. By comparison, the renewable sector averaged just $0.37 billion per year between 1994 and 2009.
The good news is that those numbers are starting to change. Currently, annual subsidies for energy generated by renewable resources are actually higher than subsidies for fossil fuels. According to the Congressional Budget Office, almost three-quarters of tax preferences for power in 2015 were for renewable energy and energy efficiency.
The important thing is to maintain that positive renewable energy momentum. Most tax preferences related to fossil fuels are permanent features of the tax code. In contrast, many preferences for renewable resources are temporary and must be extended. In 2015, the renewable energy industry lost $6 billion in tax revenue because of preferences that expired at the end of 2014.
Solar power has the potential to power half of the country – be a part of the revolution today! Learn how much you could save with solar and how to be a proactive solar buyer with our:
Three Tips for Solar Shoppers
1. Homeowners who get multiple quotes save 10% or more
As with any big ticket purchase, shopping for a solar panel installation takes a lot of research and consideration, including a thorough review of the companies in your area. A recent report by the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) recommended that consumers compare as many solar options as possible to avoid paying inflated prices offered by the large installers in the solar industry.
To find the smaller contractors that typically offer lower prices, you’ll need to use an installer network like EnergySage. When you register your property on our Solar Marketplace, you'll receive free quotes from vetted installers local to you. Homeowners who get three or more quotes can expect to save $5,000 to $10,000 on their solar panel installation.
2. The biggest installers typically don’t offer the best price
The bigger isn’t always better mantra is one of the main reasons we strongly encourage homeowners to consider all their solar options, not just the brands large enough to pay for the most advertising. A recent report by the U.S. government found that large installers are $2,000 to $5,000 more expensive than small solar companies. If you have offers from some of the big installers in solar, compare those bids with quotes from local installers to ensure you don’t overpay for solar.
3. Comparing all your equipment options is just as important
National-scale installers don’t just offer higher prices – they also tend to have fewer solar equipment options, which can significantly impact your system’s electricity production. Collecting a diverse array of solar bids allows you to compare costs and savings based on the different equipment packages available to you.
There are multiple variables to consider when seeking out the best solar panels on the market. While certain panels will have higher efficiency ratings than others, investing in top-of-the-line solar equipment doesn’t always result in higher savings. The only way to find your property's “sweet spot” is to evaluate quotes with varying equipment and financing offers.
For any homeowner in the early stage of shopping for solar that would like a ballpark estimate for an installation, try our Solar Calculator, which offers upfront cost and long-term savings estimates based on your location and roof type. For those looking to get quotes from local contractors today, check out our quote comparison platform.