Can Alternative Energy Power The World?


Can alternative energy power the world?

Alternative energy sources refer to renewable energy derived from natural processes like sunlight, wind, rainfall, waves, and geothermal heat that can be replenished at a faster rate than they are consumed ( They are presented as alternatives to conventional energy sources like fossil fuels that are nonrenewable and release greenhouse gases that contribute to climate change.

Alternative energy sources are needed to replace fossil fuels because reserves of oil, coal, and natural gas are being depleted much faster than new ones are formed. Reliance on fossil fuels also increases air pollution and emits large amounts of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, accelerating global warming. Transitioning to renewable energy sources like solar, wind, and hydropower can help mitigate climate change and provide sustainable energy for the growing global population.

Current World Energy Usage

According to Our World in Data, globally we get the largest amount of our energy from oil at 31%, followed by coal at 27%, natural gas at 24%, hydroelectric power at 7%, nuclear energy at 4%, and renewables at 6%. Fossil fuels (oil, coal, and natural gas) make up over 80% of global energy consumption while renewables only account for 6%.

The share of energy consumption from renewables is increasing, however. As of 2019, renewables accounted for 11% of total final energy consumption globally, according to the International Energy Agency. This represents a 1% increase from 2018 and the largest growth in consumption of renewables like solar, wind, hydropower, and bioenergy in over 5 years.

Pros of Alternative Energy

Alternative energy has several benefits and advantages over traditional fossil fuels. Some of the biggest pros of renewable energy include reduced pollution and emissions, energy independence, and sustainability.

Compared to coal and natural gas, renewable energy sources release much lower amounts of greenhouse gasses like carbon dioxide (CO2), methane, and nitrous oxide into the atmosphere when converted into usable energy. For example, according to the Union of Concerned Scientists, the average emission rates for utility-scale solar photovoltaic energy is up to 15 times lower than a natural gas power plant.

Because alternative energy draws on naturally replenished resources like sunlight, wind, water, plants, and heat from the earth, they allow countries to rely on domestic energy production rather than imported fossil fuels. This can improve a nation’s energy security and resilience. The EPA notes that locally-generated renewable electricity creates jobs, keeps energy dollars in the community, and reduces exposure to global fuel price spikes.

Finally, most forms of alternative energy are considered renewable and sustainable. Unlike coal, oil, and natural gas, we won’t run out of wind, solar, hydro, tidal, geothermal, or biomass fuels. The United Nations states that these renewable resources are readily available globally and will last for millions of years with proper management.

Cons of Alternative Energy

While renewable energy sources like solar and wind offer environmental benefits, they also have some downsides compared to conventional sources like coal and natural gas. One major disadvantage is the higher upfront costs associated with building renewable power plants and infrastructure.

According to Energysage, “The main reason why renewable energy systems cost more money up front is because fossil fuels (oil, gas, and coal) get lots of support subsidies from the government.”


The technologies and materials needed to build solar panels, wind turbines, and other renewable systems can be quite expensive at the outset. This means the payback period to recoup these initial investments is longer compared to conventional power plants.

In addition, renewable sources like wind and solar produce intermittent power that depends on weather conditions. The sun isn’t always shining and the wind isn’t always blowing, so energy output fluctuates. This intermittency requires grid modifications and energy storage solutions to smooth out the power delivery and match supply with demand.

Solar Energy Potential

Solar energy has immense potential to meet global energy needs. According to the Global Solar Atlas, solar resources are abundant across much of the world. The Global Photovoltaic Power Potential by Country study by the World Bank found that the technical potential of solar PV in terms of land area needed is about 280,000 km2 to power the entire world. This is only about 0.2% of global land area. In total, 93% of the global population lives in countries that have an average daily solar PV potential between 3.0 and 5.0 kWh/kWp.

Some of the most suitable areas for solar power are located in deserts and arid regions closer to the equator, such as the Sahara Desert in North Africa, deserts in the Middle East, Australia, parts of India, and the American Southwest. However, solar potential exists to some degree across most regions. Even northern European countries like Germany have substantial solar resources once capacity factors are considered. Solar power costs have also plummeted over 90% in the last decade, making it the cheapest source of electricity in many parts of the world.

Wind Energy Potential

Wind energy has enormous potential to generate electricity globally. According to the International Energy Agency (IEA), the best offshore wind sites could provide almost 36,000 terawatt-hours (TWh) per year, which is more than the current global electricity demand (Wind – IEA). A PNAS study found that global onshore wind potential at 90 meter turbine heights could provide over 800,000 TWh annually if turbines were restricted to non-forested, non-urban areas (Global potential for wind-generated electricity). This is over 20 times the global electricity consumption.

The potential wind energy capacity on land is spread across most continents. Europe, North America, Asia, Africa, Australia all have substantial onshore wind resources. Key factors for suitable wind farm locations are average wind speed, land availability and access to transmission infrastructure. Offshore wind farms are increasingly being built to take advantage of stronger wind resources. Floating wind turbines allow offshore wind farms to be placed further out at sea.

The levelized cost of energy for new wind power projects is competitive with fossil fuels, ranging from $30-60 per MWh on average. Wind turbine technology and scale have improved significantly, leading to high capacity factors and falling costs.

Other Renewables Potential

Beyond solar and wind power, there are several other renewable energy sources that have potential to contribute significantly to the world’s energy supply according to the Global Atlas by the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA).

Geothermal energy taps into the natural heat within the earth’s crust to generate electricity. As of 2022, geothermal provides about 0.4% of global electricity generation, but the IRENA estimates the potential for geothermal is about 200 times greater than current capacity (IEA). With further exploration and technology improvements, geothermal could play a much bigger role.

Tidal and wave energy harness the power of ocean tides and waves. These sources remain largely untapped globally, but have significant potential with at least 300 TWh per year of feasible generation according to IRENA estimates. Tidal barrage facilities already generate electricity in France, Canada, China, and South Korea.

Existing hydropower provides about 16% of global electricity supply. While most major river systems are already dammed in developed countries, IRENA analysis shows substantial remaining potential in Africa, Asia, and Latin America. Sustainable small-scale hydropower development could continue to grow in the coming decades.

Lastly, liquid biofuels derived from crop plants provide around 3% of global road transport fuel demand today. Sustainable advanced biofuels from wastes and residues could grow to displace around 10% of fossil jet fuel and diesel demand for trucks, ships, and planes by 2030 according to IEA projections.

Energy Storage Solutions

Storing energy is crucial for enabling wider adoption of renewable energy sources like solar and wind power. Renewable energy often produces electricity intermittently, so energy storage allows excess electricity to be captured and discharged when needed (National Grid). There are several promising storage technologies for renewable energy:

Batteries – Batteries like lithium-ion are a popular storage method. They offer high efficiency and fast response times to store and discharge electricity on demand. Battery storage can rapidly stabilize grids and provide backup power (RGBSI).

Pumped hydro – Pumped hydro facilities pump water uphill into reservoirs when electricity supply exceeds demand. Then when extra power is needed, water is released downhill through turbines to generate hydroelectricity (AltEnergy).

Hydrogen – Excess renewable electricity can be used to produce hydrogen via electrolysis. The hydrogen can then be stored and converted back into electricity in fuel cells when required. Hydrogen provides long-term seasonal storage (AltEnergy).

Policy and Infrastructure Needed

Transitioning to renewable energy on a global scale will require substantial policy changes and infrastructure investments by governments worldwide. According to Brookings, streamlining the permitting process for renewable projects and transmission lines can accelerate the transition. Governments can provide incentives like tax credits, grants, and rebates to make renewable power more financially viable. Upgrading electric grids with technologies like smart meters and energy storage will also be critical to manage the intermittency of renewables and ensure reliable power delivery.

Policy support like renewable portfolio standards that mandate utilities to procure renewable electricity can drive market demand. Governments can also implement carbon pricing programs and phase out fossil fuel subsidies to account for their externality costs and level the playing field. According to C3 Controls, building codes can be updated to promote onsite renewable generation. Overall, a combination of incentives, strategic investments, and updated regulations will be needed to enable renewable energy to power the world.


In conclusion, the research shows that renewable energy sources have great potential to replace fossil fuels and power the world’s future energy needs. However, there are still challenges around scaling up renewable energy production and infrastructure. Solar and wind power show the most promise currently, but continued innovation into energy storage and transmission will be needed. Transitioning the world to 100% renewable energy is feasible but will require substantial policy shifts, infrastructure investment, technological advances, and changes in consumer behavior. With strong commitment from governments, businesses, and citizens, a cleaner energy future powered by renewables can be achieved globally.

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