What Is Renewable Energy?

What Is Renewable Energy and What Does Its Future Look Like?

What is Renewable Energy?

Renewable energy is electricity generated from natural sources or processes that are biologically replenished. People refer to renewable energy as green or clean energy because its generation does not create harmful waste and pollutants in the same way that coal and natural gas power plants do. However, not all renewable methods are completely eco-friendly. 

Types of renewable energy include:

Thanks to new technology and cost-efficient methods, creating and distributing renewable energy has become easier and cheaper. According to an Energy Information Administration (EIA) report in 2018, renewable energy sources accounted for 11 percent of domestic energy use and about 17 percent of energy production.


Due to the use of natural resources, renewable energy is less impactful on the environment than traditional energy generation methods. For example, coal production creates greenhouse gas emissions but wind and solar energy production do not. Thus, the implementation of renewable energy reduces air pollution. 

Also, implementing renewable energy technologies allows the U.S. to produce energy locally. The more renewable energy we generate and consume, the less we rely on imported fossil fuels to produce energy. Therefore, renewable energy users contribute to U.S. energy independence.

Texas and Renewable Energy

Texas currently produces more electricity than any other state because of its size, diverse climate, and abundance of natural resources. According to a Dallas Morning Morning News report, Texas reduced the country's coal-burning energy production in 2018 by nearly 33 percent. 

Meanwhile, The Lone Star State also led the U.S. in renewable energy creation because of the amount of wind and solar production. In terms of wind energy, Texas would rank fifth globally if it was an independent country.

How Do "Green" Electricity Plans Work?

Many people believe only renewable electricity enters their home or business when enrolled in a renewable energy plan. But that's not how it works. Since the grid mixes all energy together, regardless of the source -- solar, wind, coal, nuclear and natural gas, among others -- there's really no way to purchase electricity from a particular source, especially a source that is exclusively green.

So what does that mean for people who want to support renewable energy? The Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) measures the output each renewable energy source generates. A renewable energy credit (REC) is created for every megawatt-hour of electricity (which equals 1,000 kWh) renewable energy suppliers generate.

When consumers enroll in a "green" energy plan, retail providers must purchase and retire the requisite number of RECs to cover their electricity consumption. Because of the additional cost of RECs, green plan customers should expect to pay a little more each month. 

For example, let's say a homeowner uses 24 megawatt-hours in a year while enrolled in a 100% green plan. Their retail electricity provider is obligated to retire 24 RECs for that homeowner.


Consumer Impact

Fortunately for many Texans, deregulation, and wind energy generation have led to some of the nation's cheapest electricity. Thanks to wind energy, which often displaces higher-priced energy production, energy prices ultimately reduce in real-time. 

According to a 2019 EIA report, the residential average for electricity in Texas was 11.8 cents per kilowatt-hour -- 2.21 cents cheaper than the national average. The Texas average includes consumers with green plans, as is still drastically lower than consumers pay in other parts of the U.S. For example, Massachusetts and California have paid 21.54 and 19.86 cents per kilowatt-hour, respectively.

The Future Looks Bright

EIA expects the U.S. to increase renewable energy generation -- principally wind and solar -- from 408 billion kilowatt-hours (kWh) in 2019 to 466 billion kWh in 2020. In a recent EIA forecast, Texas will account for 22 percent of U.S. non-hydro power renewable generation in 2020. 

As previously stated, Texas already leads the country in traditional energy and wind energy generation, but might soon lead in solar energy as well. The Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) says Texas's increasing electricity demand can be answered with additional solar infrastructure. 

Currently, today's electricity infrastructure cannot rely on 100 percent renewable energy. With that said, we can be more proactive moving forward. Fortunately for the environment, society is increasingly becoming more aware of mankind's environmental impact. As the trend continues, we will implement more and more renewable energy methods in lieu of harsh generation methods like coal and natural gas. 

renewable energy infographic

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