Today, we must strive to make sure that electricity generation comes from renewable energy sources.
This kind of electricity is growing fast according to the Renewable Capacity Statistics Report of the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA).
This report highlights the following figures that were presented in 2019 globally:
- By the end of the year, the overall capacity of renewable electricity generation amounted to 2537 GW.
- Renewable energy grew by +7.4% with a new aggregate capacity of 176 GW.
- Renewable capacity in Europe and North America expanded by 35 GW (+6.6%) and 22 GW (+6.0%), respectively.
- In terms of expandability:
- Solar energy continued to lead with an increase of 98GW (+20%).
- Wind energy offers 59GW (+ 10%).
- Hydropower capacity increased by 12 GW (+ 1%).
- Bioenergy increased by 6 GW (+ 5%)” (IRENA, 2020).
The data presented above shows a positive picture in various sectors such as industry, aviation or heavy transport.
Renewable energy still faces challenges such as infrastructure and costs, which currently prevent its use in most industries for renewable electricity generation.
Overview ofrenewable electricity generation and its energy sources
In the November 2020 report, the International Energy Agency (IEA) states that “renewable energy used for electricity management will grow by almost 7% by 2020. Global energy demand is expected to decline by 5%” (IEA, 2020).
As for the European Union, renewable energy capacity is estimated to increase by 2021.
This growth is supported by policies from EU states to achieve the renewable energy target by 2030 and by the EU recovery fund that provides subsidies and low-cost financing (IEA, 2020).
And it is justified by the results of the implementation of solar photovoltaic and wind projects for utilities in France and Germany.
By 2030, the European Commission has set more ambitious targets:
- To increase the share of renewable energy to 27% of total EU consumption by 2030.
- To improve energy efficiency by 30% (Tovar, G., 2018).
The IEA reported that in 2019 the EU produced 287,771 TJ of geothermal energy and 198,046 TJ of solar thermal energy.
Meanwhile, the United States produced 378,236 TJs of geothermal energy and 150,736 TJ of thermal solar energy.
Differences between renewable electricity generation and fossil fuels
Among the main differences we find that renewable electricity generation:
- It is clean energy, it leaves no hazardous waste.
- Doesn’t generate greenhouse gases.
- It is natural and has a reduced ecological footprint, unlimited reserves and high sustainability.
- Of the types of current power plants, only hydroelectric plants use renewable energy.
Non-renewable energies make up about 80% of the world’s energy, and therefore they are more commercial.
Environmental impact of renewable electricity generation
Renewable electricity generation, unlike other energy sources such as coal, natural gas or oil, can only be stored in small quantities. That is why an electricity network for transportation is needed.
Moreover, it is based on inexhaustible sources such as the sun, the wind or the tides. These are clean and sustainable energies.
For this reason, renewable electricity generation contributes to the construction of an electricity network that allows its transportation.
Another positive impact of renewable electricity generation has to do withwind power, which comes from an inexhaustible source and does not pollute as in the case of oil or coal. It also contributes to sustainable development.
Using alternative energies prevents the emission of methane, which is produced by fossil fuels, into the atmosphere.
The fossil fuels value chain is estimated to emit 110 million tons of methane per year in the production and use of natural gas, coal and oil.
Fossil fuels comprise 80% of today’s primary energy demand globally. This percentage represents a large proportion of all methane emissions, a powerful greenhouse gas.
Therefore, the energy system is the source of approximately two-thirds of the global CO2 emissions (Foster S. Ed.). The contrary occurs when alternative energies that have 0% of emissions are used.
Thus, when the switch to a sustainable energy system is made, the carbon footprint will be reduced.
Leading renewable energy sources: global operation and implementation
The following are the main sources of renewable energy that give rise to renewable electricity generation:
There are reservoirs or dams in which water is used to move a hydraulic turbine and thus produce or store electricity.
The countries with the highest capacity for hydraulic generation are China, with 356,403 MW; Brazil, with 109,092 MW; the United States, with 102,769 MW, and Canada, with 81,053 MW (IRENA, 2020).
2. Solar energy
There are two classes:
- Solar-photovoltaic energy: it is generated through solar panels that have integrated photovoltaic cells that directly transform solar energy into electricity.
- Solar-thermal energy: it uses the heat of the sun that has been concentrated in mirrors to heat water and thus generates the steam that moves a turbine that in turn produces electricity.
In the case of solar energy, the countries with the highest generation capacity in the world are China, with 205,493 MW; the United States, with 62,298 MW; Japan, with 61840 MW; Germany, with 48,962 MW, and India, with 35,060 MW (IRENA 2020 ).
3. Wind power
Wind is used to move three-propeller mills that generate mechanical energy that is transferred to copper wires and a turbine, which leads to renewable electricity generation.
Wind energy has grown the most in the last decade worldwide. In Europe, the Spanish company Iberdrola, a world leader in wind energy and one of the top three renewable energy companies in the world, is strengthening its commitment to renewable energies.
In the offshore and onshore wind energy segment, Iberdrola has carried out operations that have enabled it to strengthen markets such as France, the United Kingdom and Poland.
In onshore wind, the group’s portfolio exceeded 16,000 MW at the end of 2020, while offshore it amounted to 19,000 MW; 9,000 MW of them ready for construction.
Finally, according to the data reported by IRENA:
Renewable capacity reached 2537 GW globally at the end of 2019, an increase of 176 GW compared to 2018.
Wind and solar energy accounted for 90% of the world’s renewable capacity in 2019.
It should be remembered that renewable energy sources have a reduced ecological footprint, unlimited reserves and high sustainability. Among the most popular renewable energy sources are hydro, solar and wind power.
Corporate Knights (2020). 2020 Global 100 Ranking.
Foster S. (Ed). United Nations Organization. The Role of Fossil Fuels in a Sustainable Energy System.
International Energy Agency – IEA (2020). Data and Statistics.
International Energy Agency – IEA (2020). Renewables 2020: Analysis and Forecast to 2025.
Interational Renewable Energy Agency – IRENA (2020). Renewable capacity highlights.
International Renewable Energy Agency – IRENA (2020). Renewable Capacity Statistics 2020.
Tovar G. (Ed), (2018). Cedex Digital Magazine. ERDF programming 2014-2020. OT4: Low Carbon Economy.
World Energy Trade (2019). In 2020 Iberdrola will Open the Largest of its Wind Complexes.