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Energy Sources

Renewable

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Renewable energy sources including biomass, hydropower, geothermal, wind, and solar provide 8% of the energy used in the United States. Most renewable energy goes to producing electricity.

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Renewable Basics

What is renewable energy?

Renewable energy sources can be replenished.

The Role of Renewable Energy Consumption in the Nation's Energy Supply
Pie chart showing U.S. energy consumption by major source in 2016: Total=97.4 quadrillion BTU; Petroleum 37%; Natural Gas 29%; Coal 15%; Nuclear electic power 9%; Renewable energy 10%. Stacked bar chart showing total Renewable Energy=10.2 quadrillion BTU and shares of total renewable energy by type; Hydropower 24%; Biofuels 22%;  Wood 19%; Biomass waste 5%; Wind 21%; Geothermal 2%; Solar 6%. Note: Sum of components may not equal 100 percent because of independent rounding. Source: EIA, Monthly Energy Review, Table 1.3 and 10.1, April 2017), preliminary data
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There are five commonly used renewable energy sources:

What role does renewable energy play in the United States?

Up until the mid-1800s, wood supplied nearly all of of the nation's energy needs. As more consumers began using coal, petroleum, and natural gas, the United States relied less on wood as an energy source. Today, the use of renewable energy sources is increasing, especially biofuels, solar, and wind.

In 2016, about 10% of total U.S. energy consumption was from renewable energy sources (or about 10.2 quadrillion British thermal units (Btu)—1 quadrillion is the number 1 followed by 15 zeros). About 55% of U.S. renewable energy use is by the electric power sector for producing electricity, and about 15% of U.S. electricity generation was from renewable energy sources in 2016.

Renewable energy plays an important role in reducing greenhouse gas emissions. When renewable energy sources are used, the demand for fossil fuels is reduced. Unlike fossil fuels, non-biomass renewable sources of energy (hydropower, geothermal, wind, and solar) do not directly emit greenhouse gases.

The consumption of biofuels and other nonhydroelectric renewable energy sources more than doubled from 2000 to 2016, mainly because of state and federal government mandates and incentives for renewable energy. The U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) projects that the use of renewable energy in the United States will continue to grow through 2040.

Why don't we use more renewable energy?

In general, renewable energy is more expensive to produce and to use than fossil fuel energy. Favorable renewable resources are often located in remote areas, and it can be expensive to build power lines from the renewable energy sources to the cities that need the electricity. In addition, renewable sources are not always available:

  • Clouds reduce electricity from solar power plants.
  • Days with low wind reduce electricity from wind farms.
  • Droughts reduce the water available for hydropower.