Developing sources of clean, renewable energy in America will create good jobs, boost local and regional economies, strengthen our national security and help curb global warming. Some of these renewable technologies are already making an important contribution to our domestic energy supply, and employ hundreds of thousands of Americans. Others have tremendous potential to add to our power supply, but will only be truly renewable if they are developed with an eye toward sustainability and environmental protection.
Wind power is an affordable, efficient and abundant source of domestic electricity. It's pollution-free and cost-competitive with energy from new coal- and gas-fired power plants in many regions. In 2011 alone, 3,463 turbines went up across the United States. Today, American wind generates enough electricity to power more than 11 million homes, creates steady income for investors and landowners, and helps provide manufacturing, construction and operations jobs for 75,000 Americans.
The solar industry has already created 100,000 American jobs, and its continued growth could create hundreds of thousands more
In the last few decades, technological leaps and the scaled-up production of solar panels have made solar power dramatically less expensive. What started as a technology used to power satellites, telescopes and other vehicles in outer space is now used in homes, office buildings and warehouses. In some parts of the country, huge solar farms cover acres of land. By the end of the decade, solar energy could become cheaper than conventional electricity in many parts of the country, and the continued growth of the industry could create hundreds of thousands of American jobs.
Biomass Energy and Cellulosic Ethanol
Biomass accounts for half the renewable energy produced in the United States. Our challenge is to make it cleaner than the fossil fuel energy it replaces
Biomass energy comes from plants. It can be used to make liquid biofuels that serve as alternatives to oil, or to produce heat or electricity to power our homes. Biomass accounts for roughly half of all the renewable energy produced in the United States, and we use more of it than any other country in the world. Our challenge is to ensure that we produce biomass energy in ways that reduce global warming pollution, protect the environment, and do not impact the global food market. In other words, biomass energy should do the job better than the fossil fuel energy it replaces.
Biogas comes from animal manure, and is perhaps the ultimate win-win energy source, allowing farmers to produce their own electricity and reduce water contamination, odor pollution, and global warming emissions caused by animal waste. The EPA's AgSTAR program reported in 2010 that about 8,000 U.S. farms could support biogas recovery systems, providing about 1,600 megawatts of energy and reducing emissions of global warming pollution by about 1.8 million metric tons of methane -- the equivalent of taking 6.5 million cars off the road.
Geothermal energy comes from reservoirs of steam and hot water beneath the earth's surface. It is among the least explored sources of renewable energy in the United States. In 2010, geothermal energy produced just over 3,000 megawatts of energy, or less than half a percent of the electricity used in this country. Today nearly 200 geothermal projects, with a total capacity of about 7,800 megawatts, are in various stages of development, largely in the West.
Offshore Wind, Wave and Tidal Energy
Harnessing energy from offshore winds, waves, and tides holds great promise for our nation's clean energy future. Energy production is just one of the valuable resources our oceans and coastal ecosystems provide. We can successfully develop offshore renewable energy by ensuring that energy projects are sited, designed and constructed in a manner that protects our fragile ocean ecosystems.
Hydropower -- energy produced by moving water -- is the largest source of renewable electricity in the United States, accounting for about 6 percent of our electric supply. Over the past century, thousands of important rivers and streams have been dammed to produce hydroelectricity. While water itself is a renewable resource, the natural ecology of rivers is not. As the ecological impacts of damming became more apparent, the growth of hydroelectric power has slowed greatly. The Low Impact Hydropower Institute certifies hydroelectric facilities according to a number of criteria, including wildlife and watershed protection, cultural resource protection, river flow and water quality.
Caution: Non-Renewable Energy Sources that Claim to be Renewable
Proponents of the following technologies and resources often claim that they are renewable, but in fact, they rely on dirty fossil fuel energy or create other pollution hazards during the process of energy extraction:
- Coal waste from coal mining
- Methane gas from coal mines
- Waste-to-Energy (WTE) facilities, i.e. waste incineration
- "Waste heat" recovery from fossil fuels
These are dirty, non-renewable energy sources and are not good alternatives to fossil fuels.