Is There A Renewable Alternative To Oil?

Is there a renewable alternative to oil?

Finding alternatives to oil is extremely important for several reasons. First, the burning of oil products like gasoline and diesel releases greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide that contribute significantly to climate change. The latest IPCC report stresses the urgent need to transition away from fossil fuels to limit global warming to 1.5°C and avoid catastrophic climate impacts. Second, extracting, transporting, and burning oil leads to air and water pollution that harms human health and ecosystems. Pollution from fossil fuels contributes to over 8 million deaths per year globally. Finally, moving away from oil bolsters energy security by relying on renewable sources that cannot be depleted and are not concentrated in certain geographical regions. Diversifying energy sources provides insurance against supply disruptions and price volatility. The renewable energy transition promises to mitigate climate change, reduce pollution, and strengthen energy security if successfully implemented.

Solar Energy

Solar energy is one of the most promising renewable energy sources. It harnesses the sun’s energy using photovoltaic (PV) panels or solar thermal collectors to generate electricity or heat (1). PV panels convert sunlight directly into electricity using semiconducting materials, while solar thermal collectors use sunlight to heat water or air (2).

The solar energy industry has experienced exponential growth in recent years. According to the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA), the U.S. solar market grew 43% in 2020, reaching over 97 gigawatts (GW) of total installed capacity (3). Globally, solar PV installations are expected to reach over 160 GW in 2021 and continue growing at a rate of 20% annually through 2025 (4).

The declining costs of solar panels, favorable policies, and increased awareness of solar’s environmental benefits are driving this rapid growth. The Levelized Cost of Energy (LCOE) for utility-scale solar PV dropped by 82% between 2010 and 2020, making it competitive with conventional energy sources (5). With further technological improvements and economies of scale, solar is poised to become an increasingly dominant electricity source worldwide.







Wind Energy

Wind power capacity in the United States totals over 146 gigawatts (GW) as of 2022, providing over 9% of total U.S. electricity generation (Wind Power Facts and Statistics | ACP). Installed wind capacity has grown rapidly in recent decades, from just 6 GW in 2000 to over 132 GW by 2021 (U.S. Installed and Potential Wind Power Capacity and Generation |

Both onshore and offshore wind farms contribute to wind capacity in the U.S. Onshore wind is more mature and accounts for most installed capacity so far. However, offshore wind capacity is growing quickly, with over 42 GW in the development pipeline (Wind Power Facts and Statistics | ACP). Offshore wind farms can harness stronger and more consistent winds, but require more complex infrastructure.

The intermittent nature of wind creates challenges in integrating high levels of wind capacity. Capacity factors for wind farms range from 25-45%, meaning they only generate electricity around a third of the time on average. Predicting wind availability and compensating for fluctuations requires grid flexibility from dispatchable sources like hydro or gas plants (Wind – IEA).


Hydropower accounts for the majority of renewable electricity worldwide today. According to the IEA, hydropower generation reached 4,300 TWh in 2022, supplying over 16% of global electricity. However, hydropower growth is limited, as most major river systems have already been developed. The 2022 Hydropower Status Report notes that while 26 GW were added in 2021, growth rates have slowed. Overall potential is restricted due to ecological impacts, regulations, and suitable site availability. While hydropower will continue providing clean baseload power, its growth prospects are more limited than other renewables.

Geothermal Energy

Geothermal energy utilizes heat from the Earth’s core to generate electricity and provide heating and cooling. With geothermal power plants, wells are drilled into underground reservoirs to tap steam and very hot water that drives turbines connected to electricity generators. Geothermal energy is considered renewable since the water is replenished by rainfall and the heat is continuously produced inside the earth. According to the Center for Sustainable Systems, the installed geothermal electricity generating capacity in the U.S. was over 3,700 megawatts (MW) in 2021, with the potential capacity estimated over 80,000 MW. Most of the current and potential capacity is located in western states like California, Nevada, Utah and Oregon.

Global electricity generation from geothermal has grown modestly at around 3.5% annually, reaching 17 billion kilowatt-hours (kWh) in 2021 according to IRENA. However, geothermal power potential remains largely untapped worldwide. With the right policies and investments, geothermal capacity is projected to reach 17 gigawatts (GW) by 2026. The growth will be driven by countries such as Turkey, Indonesia and Philippines where geothermal resources are plentiful. To fully realize the potential of geothermal energy, further research and development is needed for areas like enhanced geothermal systems and co-production from oil and gas drilling.



Bioenergy refers to renewable energy derived from biological sources, such as plants and organic waste. It encompasses biomass, biofuels, and biogas.

Biomass energy is produced from organic materials including wood, crops, algae, and municipal solid waste. Common examples are wood chips, pellets, and cogeneration plants that burn waste to produce electricity and heat. According to the Global Bioenergy Statistics 2022, biomass accounted for over 9% of global total final energy consumption in 2020.

Biofuels like ethanol and biodiesel are derived from crops such as corn, sugarcane, and soybeans. In 2022, US ethanol production totaled about 15.4 billion gallons, while biodiesel and renewable diesel production reached 3.1 billion gallons (USDA).

Biogas is produced from anaerobic digestion of organic matter like manure, sewage, and landfill waste. It’s composed mainly of methane and carbon dioxide. Biogas accounted for about 2% of global final energy consumption in 2020 (WBA).

While bioenergy can reduce fossil fuel use, sustainability concerns exist around land use changes and impacts on food production and prices. Proper governance and certification standards can help ensure sustainable practices.

Wave & Tidal

Wave and tidal energy represent newer renewable ocean energy technologies that hold significant potential. Harnessing the kinetic energy from ocean waves and tides could provide a substantial amount of clean electricity globally. According to the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), wave energy alone could generate up to 2,640 terawatt-hours per year, or about 66% of global electricity needs.[1]

However, wave and tidal technologies still face challenges to achieve commercial viability. Extracting energy from the oceans can be difficult given the corrosive saltwater environment. Devices must withstand powerful waves, storms, biofouling from marine organisms, and more. Maintenance and installation costs remain high. Significant investments and technological innovations are still required to improve efficiency, durability, and cost-competitiveness with conventional power generation.[2]

But the enormous resource potential makes wave and tidal worth pursuing. With sustained R&D and strategic government support, these technologies could become major contributors to the global renewable energy mix.


Hydrogen is a promising renewable energy carrier that can be produced through methods like electrolysis using renewable electricity, steam methane reforming using natural gas, and gasification using biomass or coal (IEA, 2021). The most sustainable method is electrolysis powered by renewable energy like solar or wind, known as green hydrogen. This avoids greenhouse gas emissions and reliance on fossil fuels. The cost of producing green hydrogen is currently around $3-8 per kg but expected to fall as electrolyzer costs decrease (GEP, 2023).

A major application for hydrogen is fuel cell electric vehicles, which convert hydrogen to electricity to power the motor. Fuel cell vehicles refuel faster than battery electric vehicles and have longer ranges, but lack sufficient refueling infrastructure currently. Hydrogen can also be blended into natural gas pipelines at low concentrations. Converting natural gas power plants to run on hydrogen could enable deep decarbonization of electricity grids. The versatile nature of hydrogen makes it well-suited for decarbonizing hard-to-electrify sectors like long-haul trucking, shipping, aviation, and heavy industry (ScienceDirect, n.d.).

Batteries & Storage

Energy storage is a critical component for supporting the expanded use of renewable energy sources like solar and wind power. Energy from these intermittent sources needs to be stored for use when the sun isn’t shining or wind isn’t blowing. Batteries are emerging as an important storage solution.

Lithium-ion batteries have become the dominant battery technology for grid-scale energy storage due to their high efficiency and energy density. The U.S. is expected to see major growth in utility-scale lithium-ion storage capacity, from 1.5 gigawatts in 2020 to over 30 gigawatts by 2025 according to EIA projections [1]. New battery chemistries are also being developed to further improve performance and lifespan.

Flow batteries are another promising storage technology, which use liquid electrolytes to store energy in external tanks instead of solid electrodes. This makes them easily scalable to grid levels. Sodium sulfur and flywheel batteries also offer advantages for specific applications. The diversity of emerging storage options will help accelerate the transition to renewable energy.


In summary, the most promising renewable alternatives to oil seem to be solar and wind energy. Solar power has seen exponential growth in recent years due to improvements in photovoltaic panel technology and cost reductions. It has huge potential, especially in sunny regions. Wind power is also increasingly cost-competitive and continues to expand rapidly. Other renewables like hydropower and geothermal energy have more geographic limitations but provide clean baseload power where available.

The outlook for these renewable energy sources is very positive. Projections estimate renewables will account for over 80% of new electricity generation globally through 2030. Key factors driving this growth include further expected cost declines, supportive government policies, and major private investments in renewable energy. If these trends continue, renewables are poised to displace oil and other fossil fuels to a significant degree within the next 10-20 years. This transition will be critical to reducing carbon emissions and avoiding the worst climate change scenarios.

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