What You Need to Know About Renewable Energy

This article is the second in a six-part series that explores how we get our electricity and what we need to know about how renewable — and non-renewable — electric power is generated.

After a century of growth — and destruction — powered by fossil fuels, most of us realize that we need to wean ourselves off this limited and polluting energy source. Despite the politicization of the issue, the energy industry is grudgingly recognizing that fossil fuels are not only environmentally unsustainable, but economically unsustainable. With that realization, we are slowly shifting toward cleaner, renewable sources.

Renewable energy is generated from sources that naturally replenish themselves, like the sun and wind. The most widely used renewable energy sources in the U.S. in 2016 were:

Hydroelectric:2.415 quadrillion Btu
Wind:2.042 quadrillion Btu
Wood biomass:1.980 quadrillion Btu
Ethanol:1.144 quadrillion Btu
Solar:0.624 quadrillion Btu

In 2018, these and other renewable energy sources provided about 10 percent of the United States’ energy needs. It may not seem like very much, but this is the most renewable electric generation since the 1910s, when most homes were heated with wood. Biomass is renewable, but it may not be sustainable. Ethanol is primarily used for vehicle fuel, rather than electricity. That may change in the future with new scientific developments