Renewable energy continues to grow in popularity all across the United States. There are many reasons why U.S. wants more energy coming from renewables: to cut dependence on foreign fuel import, create more jobs, tackle climate change, and lead global clean energy race.
Renewable energy sources are still negligible in comparison to fossil fuels, not only in United States but on the global level too. Many energy analysts predict that fossil fuels will likely remain dominant energy sources throughout this entire century.
In 2010 renewable energy sources accounted for 11.1 percent of total energy generation in United States. The list featuring the most important renewable energy sources in United States includes hydropower, wind power, solar power, geothermal power and biomass.
Hydropower is very reliable renewable energy source that has a very long tradition in United States. Hydropower provides around 7 percent of nation's total power generation. Hydroelectric plants are not always very large energy projects, for instance in recent times we can see the huge rise in small and micro-hydro systems. Hydropower isn't connected with harmful greenhouse gas emissions though it can also have negative environmental impact if not taking into consideration an impact to nearby ecosystems. Hydropower's advantages over other renewable energy sources are cost-competitiveness and reliability. Hydroelectric power plants can also be used for purposes other than generating electricity such as irrigation, recreation, water supply, etc.
Wind power is together with solar power the fastest growing renewable energy sector in the country with states like Texas, Iowa and California leading the way. U.S. is no longer a global leader in installed wind energy capacity (behind China) but nonetheless U.S. wind power capacity continues to grow rapidly. At the end of 2009 wind power in the U.S. generated enough electricity to satisfy the need of around 9 million homes. U.S. has also started making plans to start development of its offshore wind energy sector in order to further improve its wind power capacity.
Solar energy has the biggest potential of all other renewable energy sources but even despite this excellent prospect it satisfies less than 1% of total U.S. energy needs. This is mostly because solar power is still connected with relatively high costs, even despite the continuous decline in solar panel prices. California is the nation's solar energy leader followed by New Jersey. Many energy analysts expect that in few years time U.S. will lead the way as the world's largest photovoltaic market (the current leader is Germany.)
U.S. still leads the world in installed geothermal power capacity. Geothermal energy development in United States started with the California's Geysers, back in 1960. The U.S. geothermal power plants are concentrated in the West (particularly in California). Geothermal energy currently meets less than 1% of U.S. power. The U.S. geothermal energy potential is far bigger as there were several studies that showed that western states alone have enough geothermal resources to provide over 20 percent of national electricity needs.
Biomass is still a rather controversial renewable energy option, mostly because of ongoing fuel vs. food debate. Biomass accounts for around 4% of the energy used in the United States, and is therefore the second largest source of renewable electricity in United States, behind the hydropower. Wood is still the dominate source of biomass, followed by waste. Biomass can come from the variety of sources and can potentially be produced almost anywhere in the United States which gives her edge over some other renewable energy options. However, biomass production needs sustainability because otherwise it could not only lead to deforestation but also to food shortages and higher food prices.
It is very good for U.S. to have a variety of different renewable energy sources at its disposal. The U.S. renewable energy industry still hasn't matured enough to end the dominance of fossil fuels but nonetheless there are many reasons for optimism. Bigger funds and more research will no doubt make renewable energy sources cheaper and more efficient in years to come which should be enough to make transition to renewable energy, even despite the powerful fossil fuel lobbies.