What Do We Mean By Renewable Energy?

Definition of Renewable Energy

What do we mean by renewable energy?

Renewable energy refers to energy sources that are naturally replenished and inexhaustible over time. As the National Geographic explains, “Renewable energy is energy generated from natural processes that are continuously replenished” (https://www.nationalgeographic.org/article/renewable-energy-explained/). This sets renewable energy apart from fossil fuels like coal, oil and natural gas which are finite resources.

The key aspects that define renewable energy are:

  • Inexhaustible – The energy sources regenerate naturally and will never run out.
  • Replenishes naturally – The energy derives from recurring natural flows and cycles like sunlight, wind, water movement, biological processes etc.
  • Sustainable long-term – Renewable resources are able to provide energy on an ongoing basis without getting depleted.

In summary, renewable energy relies on fuel sources that restore themselves over short time scales and do not diminish. This makes renewable energy an sustainable and reliable way to meet energy needs while reducing dependence on finite fossil fuels.

Types of Renewable Energy

There are several major types of renewable energy sources that are used to generate electricity and heat. Here are some of the main ones:

Solar Energy

Solar energy comes directly from the sun and is captured and converted in a few ways. Photovoltaic (PV) panels generate electricity directly from sunlight, while concentrated solar power focuses sunlight with mirrors to drive traditional steam turbines. Solar heating systems use the sun’s thermal energy to provide hot water and space heating. Source

Wind Energy

Wind turbines convert the kinetic energy of wind into mechanical power to spin a generator and produce electricity. Wind farms consist of many individual wind turbines grouped together to produce energy on a large scale. Offshore wind turbines located in coastal waters are increasingly being used. Source


Hydropower harnesses the energy of flowing water to generate electricity using turbines. This includes large-scale hydroelectric dams as well as smaller run-of-the-river projects. Tidal power, a newer technology, captures energy from the ebb and flow of coastal tidal waters. Source

Geothermal Energy

Geothermal energy taps into the natural heat beneath the earth’s surface for heating, cooling, and generating electricity. Technologies range from geothermal heat pumps to conventional steam turbines driven by naturally occurring geysers. Source

Biomass Energy

Biomass converts organic matter like plants, wood, agricultural waste, and garbage into energy through processes like combustion, gasification, pyrolysis, and anaerobic digestion. Biomass can produce electricity, transportation fuels, and heat. Source

Benefits of Renewable Energy

There are several important benefits to using renewable energy sources. First, renewable energy is environmentally friendly and does not produce greenhouse gas emissions like burning fossil fuels does. According to the Union of Concerned Scientists, renewable energy sources like wind, solar, and geothermal produce little to no global warming emissions. This helps mitigate climate change and reduce air pollution.

In addition, renewable energy improves public health by reducing the harmful air pollution generated by fossil fuels that can cause respiratory diseases and other illnesses. The EPA notes that increased use of renewables decreases emission of NOx, SOx, particulates, and mercury from fossil fuels, reducing smog, acid rain, and particle pollution. This leads to decreased rates of asthma, heart disease, and premature death.

Shifting to renewable energy and away from fossil fuels provides substantial public health benefits by improving air quality and reducing pollution-related illnesses. This is a major advantage of transitioning to more sustainable energy sources.

Global Adoption Trends

Renewable energy is being rapidly adopted around the world. According to the International Energy Agency (IEA), renewable electricity capacity is estimated to expand by over 60% between 2019 and 2024. The share of renewables in global electricity generation is expected to reach 30% in 2024, up from 26% in 2019 [1].

Many countries have set ambitious renewable energy targets. For example, the European Union aims for renewable energy to comprise 32% of final energy consumption by 2030. China plans for renewables to meet 25% of its total energy demand by 2030. India has set a target of 175 gigawatts of renewable energy capacity by 2022 [2].

China is leading in total installed renewable energy capacity, followed by the United States, Brazil, India, and Germany. However, some smaller countries like Denmark and Uruguay get a large share of their electricity from renewables, with wind and solar respectively being major sources [3].

Government Initiatives

Governments around the world have implemented various policies and incentives to promote the adoption of renewable energy. According to a report by the Auditor General of Ontario, the provincial government’s renewable energy initiatives have been successful in rapidly increasing renewable energy capacity (https://www.auditor.on.ca/en/content/annualreports/arreports/en11/303en11.pdf). The initiatives included a feed-in tariff program that offered long-term contracts with guaranteed pricing to renewable energy producers. The UK government has also shown substantial progress through initiatives like providing £285 million in annual funding for renewables (https://committees.parliament.uk/writtenevidence/127926/html/).

At a national level, governments promote renewables through tax credits, rebates, performance-based incentives, renewable portfolio standards, and more. These aim to make renewables more affordable and competitive with conventional energy sources. Government policies create frameworks that enable long-term investments into renewable energy infrastructure and technology innovation.

Challenges in Scaling Renewables

There are several key challenges that need to be addressed in order to scale up renewable energy globally (Turning the tide in scaling renewables survey, 2023):

Intermittency: Many renewable energy sources like solar and wind are intermittent – they generate power only when the sun is shining or the wind is blowing. This creates challenges for grid stability and reliability. Large-scale energy storage solutions are needed to smooth out supply and store excess renewable energy for use when there is cloud cover or low wind.

Transmission infrastructure: Renewable energy projects like large solar farms and offshore wind parks are often located far from load centers where energy is consumed. Massive investments are required in high voltage transmission lines to carry renewable power over long distances (Scaling renewables client survey landscape, 2023).

High upfront costs: The upfront capital costs of building large-scale renewable power plants are quite high. Renewables require heavy upfront investment but have minimal ongoing fuel costs. Access to low-cost financing is critical to accelerate renewables deployment.

Governments and companies need to work together to find solutions to these challenges through supportive policies, public-private partnerships and technology innovation in order to realize the full potential of renewable energy.

Comparing Costs

Renewable energy sources are becoming increasingly cost-competitive with conventional fossil fuels like coal, oil, and natural gas. The costs vary based on the technology, location, scale, and policies, but renewables have seen drastic price declines over the past decade.

Solar and wind power are now the cheapest forms of new electricity generation in most major markets, frequently undercutting even the operating costs alone of existing coal and nuclear plants. The global weighted average levelized cost of electricity (LCOE) for utility-scale solar PV declined 85% between 2010 and 2019, while onshore wind fell 56% over the same period.

Factors driving down costs include technology improvements, economies of scale in manufacturing and deployment, and competitive supply chains. The International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) predicts renewable power costs will continue falling through 2050, making them even more cost-effective.

However, cost comparisons can be complex. Fossil fuels receive substantial subsidies in many countries, while costs like pollution and carbon emissions are often externalized. Different energy sources also have varying capacity factors based on resource availability. But the trajectory is clear – with each passing year, renewables become more cost-competitive on an unsubsidized basis across more locations.

Major Companies and Innovations

Some of the leading companies contributing to the growth of renewable energy include Vestas, GE Renewable Energy, Siemens Gamesa Renewable Energy, Enel Green Power, Iberdrola, NextEra Energy Resources, China Energy Investment Corporation, and EDF Energy Renewables.

Vestas is a Danish company and a leading manufacturer of onshore and offshore wind turbines. The company has installed over 140 GW of wind power capacity across 82 countries. Vestas aims to produce zero-waste wind turbines by 2040.

GE Renewable Energy, a division of General Electric, provides wind turbine platforms, hybrid renewables, and grid solutions. The multinational company has installed over 400 GW of renewable energy capacity worldwide.

Siemens Gamesa Renewable Energy, headquartered in Spain, is a leader in the offshore wind turbine market. The company provides over 120 GW of renewable capacity in over 90 countries.

In summary, major corporations in the renewable energy industry are rapidly expanding clean power installations worldwide through continuous innovation and economies of scale.

Future Outlook

The future of renewable energy looks very promising, with projections showing massive growth in capacity and adoption globally. According to Earth.org, solar energy capacity is expected to increase over 200% between 2020 and 2050. Onshore wind capacity could grow 57% in the next 5 years. The International Renewable Energy Agency predicts renewable energy will supply 90% of global electricity by 2050.

Many experts believe renewables will dominate future energy supply. Falling costs and improved technologies are making renewables ever more competitive with fossil fuels. Governments are also setting ambitious renewable targets – the EU aims for renewables to provide 32% of final energy use by 2030. Companies are investing billions into renewable projects and innovations. All signs point to renewables continuing their rapid growth.


As we have seen, renewable energy sources like solar, wind, hydroelectric, geothermal and biomass offer immense potential benefits. They can reduce greenhouse gas emissions, pollution, climate change impacts and dependence on finite fossil fuels. Renewables are seeing massive growth globally, with most countries setting targets to increase renewable generation. Costs for solar and wind have plunged dramatically in recent decades as technology has improved significantly. Future innovations in areas like energy storage and smart grids will further accelerate adoption. While challenges remain, the transition to renewables is well underway worldwide. With the right policies, investments and political will, renewable energy can become a dominant part of our energy mix within a few decades. This will lead to a cleaner, sustainable future and help mitigate the most catastrophic impacts of climate change.

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