Renewable energy sources are becoming increasingly popular energy option for many countries, and U.S. is no exception. Renewable energy sources do not only ensure diversified energy portfolio that can ease pressure on nation's energy supply but they also provide us with an environmentally acceptable energy option. Currently dominant fossil fuels release harmful greenhouse gas emissions when burned, and increased greenhouse gas emissions are mostly to blame for climate change problem. By using more renewable energy sources we would significantly improve environmental condition of our planet, and reduce the climate change impact. But sadly, on global scale renewable energy sources are still negligible compared to fossil fuels, and many energy experts predict that fossil fuels look likely to remain dominant energy sources through this entire century.
The latest data shows that renewable energy sources accounted for 11,1 percent of energy produced in United States. The most important renewable energy sources in United States are hydropower, wind power, solar power, geothermal power and biomass.
Hydropower is renewable energy source that has long tradition in United States. Currently, around 7 percent of nation's total power is produced by hydroelectric plants. Hydroelectric plants do not necessarily have to have a large dam, for instance in recent times we can see some hydroelectric power plants that just use a small canal to channel the river water through a turbine. Hydropower can sometimes have negative environmental impact but current regulations and policies are trying to make this negative environmental impact minimal. Hydropower, beside being one of the most cost-competitive renewable energy sources can also provide some other important benefits beside generating electricity like irrigation, recreation, water supply, etc.
The lately most talked about renewable energy source is definitely wind power. States like Texas, Iowa and California are the biggest reason why United States is the global leader in installed wind power capacity with just over 35,000 megawatts (MW) of installed capacity. Wind energy sector is the world's fastest growing renewable energy sector, and U.S. is definitely following this trend. The installed U.S. wind power capacity has more than doubled in the past three years, and the growth continued even with the recession in 2009. Texas convincingly leads the way in installed wind power capacity with 8,797 MW, with second-ranked Iowa far behind with 3,053 MW. Texas is also the home to the world's largest wind farm, namely the Roscoe Wind Farm with the capacity of 780 MW. At the end of the 2009 wind power in the U.S. provided enough electricity to satisfy the need of around 9 million homes. With the current growth in wind industry even the U.S. goal to generate 20% of the nation’s electricity by 2030 from wind energy doesn't look unreachable.
Though many states are offering significant incentives for solar energy systems, and though solar power is the largest available renewable energy source for the United States, solar power still satisfies less than 1% of total U.S. energy needs. Still, there were also some positive movements in U.S. solar energy industry. For instance, in 2008 U.S. solar energy capacity increased by 17% compared to 2007, and domestic PV manufacturing capacity in the same period increased by 65%. Some studies have even concluded that if the current trend is about to continue in years to come then solar power's contribution could grow to respectable 10% of the nation's power needs by 2025. The sunny state of California is the leading U.S. state in installed solar power capacity with the capacity of over 500 megawatts. California is also the home to the largest solar power plant in the world, namely the 354 MW SEGS thermal power plant.
The first thing that should be mentioned about U.S. geothermal energy is that U.S. is the world leader in both installed capacity of geothermal energy as well as in the generation of electricity from geothermal energy. Geothermal power has half of century old history in United States with the first geothermal power plant opened at The Geysers in California, back in 1960. Geothermal power is the third largest source of renewable electricity in the U.S. behind hydropower and biomass. Geothermal power plants are concentrated in the West, and most geothermal power is generated using steam or hot water from underground. Geothermal energy currently meets less than 1% of U.S. power needs though some studies have showed that just western states have the potential to provide over 20 percent of national electricity needs.
Biomass power currently provides about 4% of the energy used in the United States, meaning that biomass is the second largest source of renewable electricity in United States, behind the hydropower. Biomass does not only play the important role as a renewable energy source but can be also considered as an vital part of U.S. waste management infrastructure. The largest biomass energy resource is still wood, followed by waste. Wood and wood waste today provide around 2% of the U.S. energy. Biomass power has great potential because it has origin in plant sources meaning that it can potentially be produced almost anywhere in the United States.
Renewable energy sources in United States definitely have what it takes to replace fossil fuels in years to come but in order to do so they will need not only more research and development, but also the continuing government and state incentives. Cost-competitiveness and long tradition (that resulted in powerful fossil fuel lobbies) are the two main reasons why fossil fuels are still the preferred energy option on global scale. Renewable energy future is definitely a reachable goal for United States, but it will require lot more effort from U.S. government. National renewable energy policy looks to be good thing to start with...