In regards to renewable energy, the U.S. is a country full of opposites and contrasts. It possesses an immense amount of renewable resources, yet it also relies heavily on oil and natural gas to power its economy. The country gave us the people behind some of the most important inventions in renewable technology: John B. Goodenough’s Li-ion battery, Charles F. Brush’s wind turbine or Russell Ohl’s solar cell. Yet it is time for stricter climate change policies which do not support the coal industry in order to create a sustainable and clean future of energy.
The U.S. is a country rich in diversity, and we’re not just talking about the ethnic origins of its people. For better or worse, there is a broad spectrum of opinions, ideas and the individuals behind them. On one side of the country, we have California, a state that has recently made plans to be powered solely by renewable energy. On the other is oil and gas-rich Ohio, a state that ranked second-to-last in terms of renewable energy production. Politicians and ordinary people alike hold a variety of opinions on renewables and climate change, ranging from total denial to some of the most progressive ideas in the world.
Renewables are therefore a mixed bag in the U.S., but that is slowly tilting towards more sustainable methods of generating green energy despite some recent political setbacks. According to the Energy Information Administration’s (EIA) August 2018 report, renewable energy sources accounted for 19.867% of the country’s electric generation during the first half of 2018. Just 7 years ago, it constituted just 11.7% of the country’s electric generation. To rise by one percent each year is an astounding achievement given the country’s size, its dependence on oil and natural gas, and the scale of its national economy.
Most (6.6% projected for 2018) of this renewable energy is produced by hydroelectric plants. The U.S. is the fourth largest producer of hydroelectricity in the world (7.3% of total global output). The country has a wealth of dammable rivers, with perhaps the most famous dam in the world being the Hoover Dam. Completed in 1936, it has since become an icon of not just hydroelectricity, but also of the country itself.
However, wind may overcome hydroelectricity in the upcoming years. The first wind turbine was built by an Ohio-based engineer. In 1888, Charles F. Brush built a 60-foot tower with a 56-foot rotor that could generate about 12kW of electricity. Wind has since become a major component of renewable energy in the U.S., ranking second in total output generated (5.55%). Texas is the country’s leading state in wind power, boasting 3-times as much capacity (22,000MW) as does second place Oklahoma (7,500MW) and showing no signs of slowing down as it plans to add more turbines to utilize the rolling winds that sweep the 2nd largest U.S. state.
Solar power concludes the top three sources of green energy. With over 58.3 GW of installed capacity, the U.S. drew 1.3% of the country's total solar energy supply in 2017, up from 0.9% the previous year. It is the most rapidly growing segment of renewable energy, the reasons behind it being its affordability, the amount of government support and excellent solar conditions through a large part of the country.
There are other sources of renewable energy, including geothermal energy, biomass, and wave energy. The Geysers geothermal plant in Northern California is the largest of its kind in the world. Wave energy is slowly edging out of its research phase and becoming a commercially viable way of producing energy in states such as Hawaii.
There clearly is much potential for renewables in the U.S. and its people have shown interest and enthusiasm in sustainable energy. In our next article about the U.S., we will talk about the challenges of renewable energy. Keep an eye on our blog.
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