How Successful Is Renewable Energy?

Renewable energy comes from naturally replenishing sources like sunlight, wind, water, and geothermal heat. It provides clean power without carbon emissions that contribute to climate change. With concerns about energy security and environmental sustainability growing, renewable energy has taken on increasing importance. This article will examine the growth, cost-competitiveness, environmental benefits, job creation potential, challenges, policy support, public opinion, and business adoption of renewable energy. It will analyze how successful renewable energy is today and what is needed for it to play an even greater role in the future.

Growth of Renewable Energy

Renewable energy capacity and usage has grown substantially in recent years. According to research, the share of renewable energy in global power capacity grew from 34% in 2013 to over 45% in 2021. Renewable power capacity specifically saw a net increase of over 2500 gigawatts from 2000 to 2021, led by solar and wind power. In 2021, renewables like wind and solar accounted for over 10% of global electricity generation for the first time.

The growth has been significant in developed countries like those in Europe, where countries like Denmark, Portugal and Spain now get 20-50% of their electricity from renewable sources. Developing countries are also expanding their renewable energy infrastructure, with China and India together accounting for 2/3 of global renewable energy growth from 2015-2021. Overall, experts predict strong continued growth in renewable power generation globally, with some estimates seeing it doubling in capacity again by 2030.

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Cost Reductions

The costs of renewable energy technologies, especially solar and wind, have decreased dramatically in the past decade. According to the MIT Utility of the Future report, the costs of utility-scale solar PV decreased by 50-80% between 2009 and 2016 [1]. The cost of wind energy also fell during the same period. These cost reductions for solar and wind are enabling increased adoption of renewable energy. The CSUS EOP report shows that the levelized cost of energy for solar PV fell from around $359 per MWh in 2009 to $46 per MWh in 2019 [2]. The dramatic decrease in costs for solar and wind technologies is making renewable energy more economically competitive with fossil fuel energy sources.

Environmental Benefits

The growth of renewable energy has significantly reduced greenhouse gas emissions and air pollution. According to research by Penn State University, renewable energy technologies like solar, wind, and hydropower produce little to no global warming emissions during their operations ( For example, a 2021 study found that increased wind and solar energy in the United States avoided over 300 million metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions in 2019 alone ( Another study in 2022 analyzed the climate impacts of different renewable energy technologies and determined they have a much lower carbon footprint compared to fossil fuels ( The renewable energy shift is a major reason why U.S. power sector emissions decreased by over 25% between 2007 and 2019.

Job Creation

The renewable energy sector has seen significant job growth in recent years. According to a report by IRENA, the number of renewable energy jobs worldwide grew from 11.5 million in 2019 to 12.7 million in 2021, an increase of over 10% [1]. This growth occurred even as the COVID-19 pandemic caused disruptions across the economy.

In the United States specifically, renewable energy job growth has been robust. An analysis by Rhodium Group forecasts that investments proposed in the Build Back Better legislation could create over 9 million cumulative job-years in construction, manufacturing, and other sectors related to renewable energy and electrification. This includes over 800,000 direct construction and manufacturing jobs for things like solar panels, wind turbines, and electric vehicles [2].

The recently passed Inflation Reduction Act is also expected to spur significant renewable energy job creation, with some estimates forecasting over 1 million new jobs in solar, wind, storage, critical minerals, and manufacturing [3]. The growth of the renewable energy sector is providing new employment opportunities across a wide range of occupations and skill levels.


While renewable energy has seen tremendous growth, there remain challenges to full adoption and integration into energy grids. One key challenge is intermittency – solar and wind generation fluctuate based on weather conditions and time of day. This can create instability in energy grids that rely on steady supply and demand (IPCC).

Energy storage can help mitigate intermittency, but storage technology must improve to fully address the large-scale needs of national grids. Developing affordable and scalable grid-level storage remains an obstacle (Energy5).

Transmission infrastructure also needs upgrading to handle the influx of renewables. Congestion and bottlenecks can occur when transmitting renewable power from source to demand centers. Building out transmission is essential but costly and complex, especially to remotely located generation sites like offshore wind farms (Katraouzos).

Policy Support

Policies that create incentives for renewable energy development are critical in driving adoption ( Over 180 countries have adopted some form of renewable energy policy, with the most impactful being feed-in tariffs, renewable portfolio standards (RPS), and tax credits (Daszkiewicz, 2020). Feed-in tariffs guarantee renewable electricity generators fixed payments per kWh, providing long-term revenue certainty. RPS policies require utilities to source a percentage of their electricity from renewables. Tax credits reduce project costs and help level the playing field with conventional energy. According to a Yale study, policy support was the number one driver of bipartisan public approval of renewable energy (Yale Climate Communications, 2020). Well-designed policies create stable market conditions for investment in renewable power.

Public Opinion

Surveys show strong public support for renewable energy in the United States and Europe. According to a 2018 poll by the Pew Research Center, 65% of U.S. adults favor expanding renewable energy production from wind turbine farms, and 77% favor more solar panel farms [1]. Additionally, a 2017 cross-national analysis of surveys found over two-thirds public support for renewable energy across European countries. The Eurobarometer survey showed around 90% public approval of EU-level targets to increase renewables use [2]. High public approval for renewable energy and policies that support it indicates broad alignment between public opinion and pro-renewables government policies.



Corporate Adoption of Renewable Energy

In recent years, many major corporations have made commitments to transition to 100% renewable energy. This reflects growing recognition of the environmental and economic benefits of clean energy sources like wind and solar power. Some examples of corporate renewable energy commitments include:

  • Google – Has matched 100% of its global electricity consumption with renewable energy since 2017. The company is now aiming to operate entirely on carbon-free energy by 2030. Source
  • Amazon – Has a commitment to power its global infrastructure with 100% renewable energy by 2025. It is currently the largest corporate purchaser of renewable energy globally. Source
  • Apple – Has transitioned to 100% renewable energy across its global operations, including data centers, offices, and retail stores. The company is now focused on bringing more renewable energy to local utility grids. Source

The transition to renewable energy by major corporations is being driven by declining costs, environmental concerns, and pressure from customers and investors. As more large companies make 100% renewable commitments, it creates more demand and accelerates the growth of clean energy. Overall, corporate renewable energy adoption is making a significant contribution to reducing global carbon emissions.


In summary, renewable energy has seen substantial growth and cost reductions in recent years, leading to increased environmental benefits, job creation, and public and corporate adoption. However, challenges remain in terms of policy support, grid integration, energy storage, and continued fossil fuel dependence. Significant progress has been made, but further growth of renewables is needed to fully transition our energy systems and economies. Solutions exist to overcome these remaining hurdles through comprehensive policy frameworks, public and private investment, technological innovation, and public education and engagement. With determined, collaborative efforts across sectors, a thriving renewable energy future is within reach.

Key factors for realizing this future include setting ambitious renewable energy targets, streamlining permitting and grid access, funding R&D, implementing carbon pricing, and phasing out fossil fuel subsidies. Additionally, developing regional grids, microgrids and energy storage can facilitate higher penetrations of renewables. Continued progress will require policymakers, businesses, and communities working together to scale renewables, electrify end uses like transport, improve efficiency, and support a flexible, resilient energy system.

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