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Renewable energy has a presence on both the American and the global stages with lots of room for growth. Perhaps unexpectedly, the pandemic did not slow renewable energy down. Instead, the public health crisis that seemed to stop the world in many ways actually accelerated the transition to renewables and away from fossil fuels. 

Part of that growth might be credited to Corporate and Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) investment funds, which have clearly demonstrated that adopting renewables is good business, according to Duke Energy

2020 was the year that renewable energy generation established itself as the cheapest, at-scale, proven energy option available, exceeding coal-fired energy production, also according to Duke Energy. 

And that was before the Biden administration announced its ambitious goals for renewables and alternative energy. 

Renewable energy is anticipated to keep growing in 2021, especially considering the Biden administration’s stated goals of (1) achieving a 100% clean energy economy and (2) reaching net-zero emissions no later than 2050. To achieve this, the Biden administration has resubmitted the US to the Paris climate agreement as well as implemented executive orders to move the country away from reliance on oil and gas and toward renewables.

These policies include lowering or eliminating existing subsidies on fossil fuels as well as funding renewable sector investments designed to help spur job growth in both the solar and wind industries.

Alternative energy is becoming the norm and, now more than ever, is clearly the future. Here are the alternative energy sources that all investors should consider. 

What Is Sustainable Energy?

Alternative and renewable energy is energy that is generated by natural resources that readily replenish: the warmth of the sun, the blow of the wind, the movement of water, and the heat inside the earth to name a few. These resources do not generate greenhouse emissions. 

During the first five months of 2020 alone, renewable energy provided 25.3% of electricity in the US. That is more than a sliver of the energy pie, and it’s growing. 

The 7 types of renewable energy include solar, wind energy, hydroelectric, ocean, geothermal, biomass, and hydrogen. According to Duke Energy, the leading commercial renewable energy sources (ranked by market share and growth) include: wind, hydropower, solar, geothermal, and other technologies bolstering the renewable transition.  

Wind 

Wind and solar are expected to supply 70% of new power plant capacity built in 2021. Wind energy, unlike some other renewable resources, is available nationwide. It has the potential to be a viable source of renewable electricity in every state by 2050, according to the Wind Vision Report published by the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy. 

In the case of wind power, new (gigantic) turbines are providing more promise than ever. G.E.’s latest wind turbines have a rotor with a turning diameter longer than two football fields. Compared to the largest turbines currently in service, they generate about one third more power. Compared to the first machines of their kind installed offshore in Denmark in 1991, they generate 30 times as much power. As wind energy infrastructure improves and becomes more widespread, wind energy will no doubt grow its market share. 

Hydropower

Hydropower uses moving water to generate electricity. Hydropower accounts for 52% of the nation’s renewable electricity generation and 7% of total electricity generation, according to the National Hydropower Association. While hydropower infrastructure tends to be dated (think dams, etc.), its power generation capacity is still very relevant. Even more, hybrid hydropower/solar plants (where floating solar panels are installed on the water of reservoirs, etc. that power dams) are becoming increasingly popular. 

Solar 

Despite the pandemic-induced economic downturn, solar installations increased in 2020. Solar generation is expected to account for 48% of US renewable generation by 2050, which would make it the fastest growing renewable power source, according to the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions. 

No doubt, President Biden’s policies will further expand the industry. His initiatives to spur the industry include a review of Section 201 solar tariffs, countervailing duties, and anti-dumping laws by the International Trade Commission. If these tariffs are reduced or repealed, it could have an enormous impact on the development of solar energy. 

It is also expected that tax credits and low interest financing available in the down economy will make solar energy installation more accessible both commercially and residentially in the year to come. 

Geothermal

Geothermal energy, or heat from the earth, can be extracted by drilling deep wells to warm underground water sources. While geothermal energy lags behind wind and solar, it has enormous potential, with the U.S. leading in geothermal energy production. 

Although geothermal energy might not seem as “front page” as renewables like solar and wind, it is getting investment attention. Breakthrough Energy Ventures, an investment firm that funds technologies that seek to limit carbon emissions (with backers including Jeff Bezos and Bill Gates) notably back geothermal technologies. Companies that have received investment include Dandelion Energy, which installs geothermal-powered heating and cooling systems for residential homes. 

Other Technologies

There are a host of other industries that will support the transition to a more renewable-based economy. These include effective energy storage (capturing and storing energy to use it at another time), fuel cells (which generate power with fuel), increased energy efficiency that reduces the need for energy generation), and electrification. 

There was a time when commercializing renewable energy seemed as far off as a flying car. But, that’s no longer the case. As more industries adopt renewable infrastructure, more companies strive to be green, and more consumers and investors demand both, the alternative energy industry will become increasingly mainstream. 

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