The era of renewable resources and alternative energy has arrived. It’s cheaper now than ever before to generate electricity from solar, wind, hydropower and other examples of renewable resources, catapulting them from fringe options to the fastest-growing energy resources in the country. In the first nine months of 2015, 62 percent of new electricity in the United States came from sources of alternative energy. Of that, almost 15 percent came from solar power! What are some other examples of renewable energy? We’ll go down the list.
10 Common Examples of Renewable Resources and Commodities
Though there are a number of popular technologies that generate renewable energy such as solar and wind power, there are also simple everyday resources that are considered renewables. In a sense, the concept of renewable generation is often solely tied to images of solar panels and wind turbines when in reality renewables span far beyond these two products. One can think of renewable energy in terms of the various natural occurring events that create it as well as common beneficial outputs (renewable commodities) that exist only because of renewables. Here is our top 5 list for each category:
List of Examples of Renewable Resources
- Alcohol – can be used to generate bio fuel
- Water – serves as a drinking source but also as a hydropower necessity
- Methane gas – when methane occurs naturally in an environment (such as in manure) it can generate biogas
- Natural oils (palm oil, vegetable oil, sunflower oil and soybean oil) can all be used to make biodiesel
- Thermal generation – such as solar thermal or geothermal heat pumps
List of Examples of Renewable Commodities
- Major grains such as Wheat, Rice and Corn
- Leather and meats supplied by animals
- Fruits and vegetables
- Paper, furniture and oxygen all supplied by trees
- Bio based chemicals such as butanol and acetone
Examples of renewable resources competing on a global scale
According to the Department of Energy, the costs of clean energy technologies like residential and utility-sized solar, land-based wind, and LED light bulbs have fallen by anywhere from 40 to 90 percent in the United States since 2008. The U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) declared this year that domestic energy use in 2015 has “the highest renewable energy share since the 1930s, when wood was a much larger contributor to domestic energy supply.”
It’s an exciting time for advocates of renewable energy resources. Bloomberg’s forward-looking analysis on how the global energy market could shift in 2016 declares:
Renewables are no longer “alternative energy.” Solar power is competitive with fossil electricity in more and more places every year—watch China, India, and Chile in 2016. Global demand for the sun reached a new high this year, and solar is that rare thing that liberals and many free-market conservatives in the U.S. can agree to love.
The practical implications of cost-competitive renewable energy are even more exciting. California academics at The Solutions Project recently found that, with the right incentives, the world could run entirely on electricity from renewable resources by the year 2050. In the United States, that means a lot of solar:
- 24 percent of electricity would be generated by utility solar plants
- 15 percent of electricity would come from rooftop solar (commercial and residential)
- 7 percent of electricity would be generated by concentrated solar power (CSP) plants
The takeaway – we have an opportunity to source nearly half of U.S. electricity from the sun! Other examples of renewable resources, such as wind energy, geothermal heat, and water (in the form of both wave energy and hydropower) would make up the rest.
Researchers aren’t the only ones who see big opportunities in renewable resources. Even the CEO of Royal Dutch Shell, one of the largest oil companies in the world, has predicted “without hesitation” that “in years to come, solar will be the dominant backbone of our energy system.”
Should renewable resources still be considered “alternative energy”?
With goods like fruits, meats, grains and leather being products of a renewable generating world, it may be hard to believe that renewable resources are often categorized as “alternative” energy sources. Though solar power has certainly reached a high growth phase, there will need to be a transformation in terms of how people view renewable energy. In 2016, renewables are dominating in terms of percentage of new electricity sources added; in some time it’s expected that fossil fuels will take on an association for being “alternative” energy once renewables have acquired norm status. There are a lot of financial and technological changes taking place in the energy industry across the world, and technology and policy improvements will have a large effect on the eventual outcome. To achieve global energy generation with 100 percent renewable resources, energy subsidies will have to evolve to match the times.
Estimates vary, but by every measure, subsidies for fossil fuels have historically been significantly higher than subsidies for renewable resources like solar. And with U.S. federal investment tax credits for renewable resources like the solar ITC scheduled to decrease dramatically or disappear at the end of 2016, many are calling for the government to reevaluate its energy incentives. (Update: On December 18, 2015, Congress extended the solar tax credit for homeowners through 2021. Learn more about the extension.)
The International Energy Agency highlighted the disparity between fossil fuel and renewable resource subsidies in its 2014 World Energy Outlook, stating that the $550 billion a year that fossil fuels receive globally in subsidies are holding back investment in cleaner forms of energy. By comparison, renewable resources like solar, wind, and biofuels receive approximately $120 billion in annual incentives across the world. When you take into account the external cost of environmental and health effects associated with fossil fuels, this disparity grows even bigger.
Subsidies are most important in the early stages of growth for new sources of energy, and the oil and gas industries have historically received much higher subsidies than examples of renewable resources. In the United States, the oil and gas industry has benefitted from tax expenditures of $4.86 billion per year on average between 1918 and 2009. By comparison, the renewables resources industry has averaged just $0.37 billion per year between 1994 and 2009.
The good news is that those numbers are starting to change. Currently, annual subsidies for energy generated by renewable resources are actually higher than subsidies for fossil fuels: according to the Congressional Budget Office, almost three-quarters of tax preferences for energy in 2015 were for renewable energy and energy efficiency.
The important thing is to maintain that positive renewable energy momentum. Most tax preferences related to fossil fuels are permanent features of the tax code. In contrast, many preferences for renewable resources are temporary, and need to be extended. In 2015, the renewable energy industry lost $6 billion in tax revenue because of preferences that expired at the end of 2014.
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