Renewable energies are sources of clean, inexhaustible and increasingly competitive energy. They differ from fossil fuels principally in their diversity, abundance and potential for use anywhere on the planet, but above all in that they produce neither greenhouse gases – which cause climate change – nor polluting emissions. Their costs are also falling and at a sustainable rate, whereas the general cost trend for fossil fuels is in the opposite direction in spite of their present volatility.
Growth in clean energies is unstoppable, as reflected in statistics produced in 2015 by the International Energy Agency (IEA): they represented nearly half of all new electricity generation capacity installed in 2014, when they constituted the second biggest source of electricity worldwide, behind coal.
According to the IEA, world electricity demand will have increased by 70% by 2040 – its share of final energy use rising from 18 to 24% during the same period – driven mainly by the emerging economies of India, China, Africa, the Middle East and South-East Asia.
Clean energy development is vital for combating climate change and limiting its most devastating effects. 2014 was the warmest year on record. The Earth’s temperature has risen by an average 0.85 °C since the end of the 19th Century, states National Geographic in its special November 2015 issue on climate change.
Meanwhile, some 1.1 billion inhabitants (17% of the world population) do not have access to electricity. Equally, 2.7 billion people (38% of the population) use conventional biomass for cooking, heating and lighting in their homes – at serious risk to their health.
As such, one of the objectives established by the United Nations is to achieve to access to electricity for everyone by 2030, an ambitious target considering that, by then, according to the IEA’s estimates, 800 million people will have no access to an electricity supply if current trends continue.
Renewable energies received important backing from the international community through the Paris Accord signed at the World Climate Summit held in the French capital in December 2015.
The agreement, which will enter into force in 2020, establishes, for the first time in history, a binding global objective. Nearly 200 signatory countries pledged to reduce their emissions so that the average temperature of the planet at the end of the current century remains “well below” 2 °C, the limit above which climate change will have more catastrophic effects. The aim is to try to keep it to 1.5 °C.
Likewise, the transition to an energy system based on renewable technologies will have very positive economic consequences. According to the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), doubling the renewable energy share in the world energy mix, to 36% by 2030, will result in additional global growth of 1.1% by that year (equivalent to 1.3 trillion dollars), a increase in wellbeing of 3.7% and in employment in the sector of up to more than 24 million people, compared to 9.2 million today.
TYPES OF RENEWABLE ENERGY
Renewable energies include:
- Wind energy: the energy obtained from the wind
- Solar energy: the energy obtained from the sun. The main technologies here are solar photovoltaic (using the light from the sun) and solar thermal (using the sun’s heat)
- Hydraulic or hydroelectric energy: energy obtained from rivers and other freshwater currents
- Biomass and biogas: energy extracted from organic material
- Geothermal energy: heat energy from inside the Earth
- Tidal energy: energy obtained from the tides
- Wave energy: energy obtained from ocean waves
- Bioethanol: organic fuel suitable for vehicles and obtained from fermentation of vegetation
- Biodiesel: organic fuel for vehicles, among other applications, obtained from vegetable oils
MAIN ADVANTAGES OF CLEAN ENERGIES:
- The indispensable partner in the fight against climate change. Renewables do not emit greenhouse gases in energy generation processes, making them the cleanest, most viable solution to prevent environmental degradation.
Inexhaustible. Compared to conventional energy sources such as coal, gas, oil and nuclear – reserves of which are finite – clean energies are just as available as the sun from which they originate and adapt to natural cycles, hence their name “renewables”. This makes them an essential element in a sustainable energy system that allows development today without risking that of future generations.
- Reducing energy dependence: the indigenous nature of clean sources gives local economies an advantage and brings meaning to the term “energy independence”. Dependence on fossil fuel imports results in subordination to the economic and political short-term goals of the supplier country, which can compromise the security of energy supply. Everywhere in the world there is a renewable resource – whether that be the wind, sun, water or organic material – available for producing energy sustainably.
- Increasingly competitive. The main renewable technologies – such as wind and solar photovoltaic – are drastically reducing their costs, such that they are fully competitive with conventional sources in a growing number of locations. Economies of scale and innovation are already resulting in renewable energies becoming the most sustainable solution, not only environmentally but also economically, for powering the world.
- Benefiting from a favorable political horizon. Decisions adopted at COP21 have shone the spotlight firmly on renewable energies. The international community has understood its obligation to firm up the transition towards a low-carbon economy in order to guarantee a sustainable future for the planet. International consensus in favor of the “de-carbonization” of the economy constitutes a very favorable framework for the promotion of clean energy technologies.