The Most Efficient Renewable Energy Sources (Our Top 5 You Should Know)

You ask yourself, “What are the most efficient renewable energy sources available today?” Our top five list will break down, rank, and detail the most relevant benefits that make each of these technologies essential. Starting with the wind, let’s see what the future holds, shall we?

1. Wind

When you ask, “Which renewable energy source is the most efficient?” the wind power is currently at the top of the mountain. The Natural Resources Defense Council recently said this regarding wind energy:

US solar and wind generation is breaking records and integrating into the national power grid without compromising reliability.

That said, wind power is an exceptionally efficient renewable energy source and a rapidly growing segment of renewable energy. It’s sustainable plus “essentially zero carbon, zero pollution and zero water consumption”. (2) For a great visual of the innovations underway, check out this neat video from Tech Vision:

The advantages and disadvantages of wind energy can vary depending on location, but there is significant potential for this source to provide a considerable amount of energy using both onshore turbines and offshore units.

2. Geothermal energy

Geothermal energy is one of the cleanest and most efficient renewable energy sources available, operating 24/7 and emitting little or no greenhouse gases. This type of renewable energy source is not only highly efficient, but has a small footprint and requires no external fuel source.

Geothermal energy is available in most parts of the world, and these power plants have an availability of 90% or more (compared to coal at around 75%) (3).

There are many advantages and disadvantages of geothermal energy, but geothermal resources bring hot water to the surface. This can be useful in a variety of applications such as direct use, electricity, and electric heating and cooling in homes.

3. Hydroelectric

Hydroelectric power is an alternative source of energy that comes from moving water to generate electricity. Classically, it is a question of using dams which make it possible to control the flow of water. Many existing dams in the United States could be retrofitted to produce hydroelectric power, reducing initial costs, but building new dams is expensive and time-consuming.

David Pimentel, reporter for BioScience said:

In the United States, hydroelectric power plants produce approximately 989 billion kWh (1 kWh = 860 kilocalories [kcal] = 3.6 megajoules), or 11% of the country’s electricity, each year at a cost of $0.02 per kWh.

Globally, the maintenance costs of hydroelectric dams are relatively low, such that hydroelectric power currently accounts for approximately 6.5% of total energy production worldwide (4). That said, new emerging technologies called hydrokinetics that harness the energy of ocean currents and changing tides can increase the impact of the hydropower industry around the world.

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4. Solar

Many ask, “Why is solar energy important?” Solar energy is an unlimited form of energy and one of the most efficient energy sources available to just about everyone on the planet.

This carbon-free energy creates a very small amount of pollution during the manufacture of the solar panels, but does not release contaminants into the environment as it generates energy (5).

Solar power is becoming more affordable for residential and commercial applications, and new technologies are enabling higher efficiency rates. When you ask, “What is the most efficient renewable energy source?” solar should be mentioned in conversation.

5. Biomass

Renewable biomass energy can come from many different sources and often uses plants, gases or other materials that would otherwise be wasted. Landfill gas, ethanol and biodiesel are common forms of biomass that are burned as an energy source. In 2019, biomass accounted for 43% of energy consumption in the United States (6).

Currently, wood is the most widely used form of biomass energy. Woody plants, grasses, food crops and algae are also popular.

The advantages and disadvantages of biomass energy vary depending on the material used, but these elements can produce energy that would otherwise require fossil fuels which can harm the environment more and are not as efficient (7).

Read more: Renewable Energy – The Only Clean Alternatives That Matter

FAQs

  • Generally speaking, renewable energy is important because it helps reduce our greenhouse gas emissions, reduce our reliance on fossil fuels, and create a more sustainable future for all creatures to thrive. On the other hand, non-renewable forms of energy often cause pollution that harms the environment, health problems for humans including increased healthcare costs, and their continued use is unsustainable.

    To examine this question in more detail, you can consult our guide: Why is renewable energy important? Our top 10 reasons to know

  • A geothermal resource is a reservoir of very hot water deep below the surface. These reservoirs are mined using wells to release hot water and steam used for power generation.

    A famous location for geothermal energy includes Iceland, where they have several different geothermal resources spread across the country (8).

  • US states that are leading the way in wind energy are Kansas, Iowa, Oklahoma and Texas. In a recent study by the U.S. Energy Information Administration, these states provided more than half of wind power generation in the United States (9).

  • There are many pros and cons of nuclear power to consider, but nuclear power is an efficient low-carbon energy source that accounts for about 10% of the world’s electricity (ten). Some reactors only produce electricity, while others produce isotopes for medical use or for industrial applications.

    However, the natural resources, time, and lives lost to catastrophic nuclear failures like Chernobyl and Fukushima are more than enough to discourage its future viability as an efficient renewable energy source. To discuss this in more detail, you can consult our complete guide on the question “Is nuclear energy renewable?” »

    1. Renewable energy: the clean facts. Retrieved from: https://www.nrdc.org/stories/renewable-energy-clean-facts
    2. Wind Vision: A New Era for Wind Energy in the United States. Retrieved from: https://www.energy.gov/eere/wind/downloads/wind-vision-new-era-wind-power-united-states
    3. Geothermal FAQs. Retrieved from: https://www.energy.gov/eere/geothermal/geothermal-faqs#benefits_of_using_geothermal_energy
    4. Renewable energy. Retrieved from: https://academic.oup.com/bioscience/article/52/12/1111/223002
    5. Renewable energy. Retrieved from: https://www.ucsusa.org/energy/renewable-energy
    6. Renewable energy explained. Retrieved from: https://www.eia.gov/energyexplained/renewable-sources/
    7. Basics of biomass energy. Retrieved from: https://www.nrel.gov/research/re-biomass.html
    8. Geothermal energy. Retrieved from: https://nea.is/geothermal/
    9. Four states account for more than half of wind power generation in the United States. Retrieved from: https://www.eia.gov/todayinenergy/detail.php?id=39772
    10. Nuclear energy today. Retrieved from: https://www.world-nuclear.org/information-library/current-and-future-generation/nuclear-power-in-the-world-today.aspx

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