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Renewable energy explained  

What is renewable energy?

Renewable energy is energy from sources that are naturally replenishing but flow-limited; renewable resources are virtually inexhaustible in duration but limited in the amount of energy that is available per unit of time.

The major types of renewable energy sources are

U.S. energy consumption by energy source, 2018 total = 101.3 quadrillion British thermal units (Btu) total = 11.5 quadrillion Btu 2% - geothermal 6% - solar 21% - wind 4% - biomass waste 21% - biofuels 19% - wood 25% - hydroelectric biomasss 45% renewable energy 11% nuclear electric power 8% coal 13% natural gas 31% petroleum 36% Note: Sum of components may not equal 100% because of independent rounding. Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration, Monthly Energy Review, Table 1.3 and 10.1, April 2019, preliminary data

What role does renewable energy play in the United States?

Until the mid-1800s, wood was the source of nearly all of the nation's energy needs for heating, cooking, and lighting. From the late 1800’s until today, fossil fuels—coal, petroleum, and natural gas—have been the major sources of energy. Hydropower and solid biomass were the most used renewable energy resources until the 1990s. Since then, the shares of U.S. energy consumption from biofuels, solar, and wind energy have increased.

In 2018, renewable energy provided about 11.5 quadrillion British thermal units (Btu)—1 quadrillion is the number 1 followed by 15 zeros—equal to 11% of total U.S. energy consumption. The electric power sector accounted for about 56% of total U.S. renewable energy consumption in 2018, and about 17% of total U.S. electricity generation was from renewable energy sources.

Renewable energy plays an important role in reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Using renewable energy can reduce the use of fossil fuels, which are major sources of U.S. carbon dioxide emissions.

The consumption of biofuels and other nonhydroelectric renewable energy sources in the United States more than doubled from 2000 to 2018, mainly because of state and federal government requirements and incentives to use renewable energy. The U.S. Energy Information Administration projects that U.S. renewable energy consumption will continue to increase through 2050.

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Last updated: June 27, 2019