EME 444
Global Energy Enterprise

Renewable Energy for Electricity


About Renewable Energy Sources

Biomass, the subject of the first part of this lesson, is a widely used renewable energy source. As you learned earlier in the lesson, it constitutes nearly 10% of global TPES according to the IEA's 2019 Key World Energy Statistics and a little under 5% of U.S. TPES, according to Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. As we have learned, it is processed in many different ways to produce a wide range of outputs for many kinds of applications, including heat for cooking, space heating and warming water; heat for industrial purposes; heat for electricity production; syngas; ethanol and biodiesel for transportation, and even methane for natural gas applications.

Other widely used renewable energy sources--hydro, wind and solar--are used almost exclusively for electricity generation. Energy from the sun is also used in solar hot water applications and other solar heating applications, including passive solar. But, its most common application is for electricity generation.

For the remainder of this lesson, and the following lesson, we will be considering renewable energy sources used to generate electricity: hydropower, then wind and solar (in the next lesson).

Renewable Energy for Electricity Generation

In their most recent International Energy Outlook (2021) with global electricity projections, the EIA reports that renewable energy is the fastest-growing source of electricity generation (not just capacity!) in the IEO2021 Reference case through 2050 (see Figure 8.6). They report that:

Globally, incremental electricity generation comes largely from renewable resources, beginning in 2025. As renewables—particularly solar and wind—become cost-competitive, the IEO2021 Reference case projects that all post-2020 electricity generation growth in OECD regions will come from those sources and that they will displace an increasing share of existing non-renewable, mostly fossil fuel-based, sources. In non-OECD regions, we project that electricity generation from renewable sources account for about 90% of generation increases from 2020 to 2050. Because electricity generation grows at almost twice the rate in non-OECD regions than in OECD regions in the Reference case, the non-OECD regions add over two times the generation from renewable sources compared with the OECD regions.

This projected growth in renewables is uncertain and may largely depend on changes to regulatory policies and market rules, large and cost-effective supply chains to support renewable installations, and a sufficient amount of conventional generation technologies or storage to back intermittent renewable capacity.

Renewable electricity generation grew in 2020 despite the Covid-based economic downturn. In their Global Energy Review 2021, the IEA noted the following:

Renewable energy use increased 3% in 2020 as demand for all other fuels declined. The primary driver was an almost 7% growth in electricity generation from renewable sources. Long-term contracts, priority access to the grid, and continuous installation of new plants underpinned renewables growth despite lower electricity demand, supply chain challenges, and construction delays in many parts of the world. Accordingly, the share of renewables in global electricity generation jumped to 29% in 2020, up from 27% in 2019. Bioenergy use in industry grew 3%, but was largely offset by a decline in biofuels as lower oil demand also reduced the use of blended biofuels.
Renewable electricity generation in 2021 is set to expand by more than 8% to reach 8 300 TWh, the fastest year-on-year growth since the 1970s. Solar PV and wind are set to contribute two-thirds of renewables growth. China alone should account for almost half of the global increase in renewable electricity in 2021, followed by the United States, the European Union and India.

 World Net Electricity Generation by fuel. See link in caption for approximate numbers.

Figure 8.6: World Net Electricity Generation by fuel, 2020 - 2050 (trillion kilowatt hours)
Click link to expand for a text description of Figure 8.6
World net electricity generation from renewable power by fuel, 2020-0 (trillion kilowatthours, approximate)
Fuel Type 2020 2025 2030 2035 2040 2050
other 1.1 1.1 1 1 1 1.1
Nuclear 2.5 2.6 3 3.1 3.2 3.1
Natural Gas 6.5 7 7.2 72 7.1 7.2
Coal 8.1 7.7 7 7.8 7.9 8
wind 1.9 3 3.2 4.2 5.1 6.8
solar 0.9 1.95 3.2 5.1 6 10.1
Credit: U.S. Energy Information Administration, International Energy Outlook 2021

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