The alternative energy industry is rapidly growing in the United States. Recent studies show that more than 17% of all electricity generated now comes from a renewable energy source. While there is no one form of alternative energy production that can be utilized in all areas of the country, each form of energy generation has its own areas of most effective application. So, let’s take a look at various alternative energy types and see how their respective industries are trending in 2020 along with various new applications that could help to expand their usage.
- Offshore Wind Will Continue To Grow In Scale
- The Size Of Wind Turbines Continues To Grow
- Hydroelectric Energy Remains Largest Alternative Energy Contributor
- The Pumped Storage Industry Is Seeing Increased Investment
- Electrolysis Is An Increasingly Popular Means Of Producing Hydrogen
- Renewable Energy Is Becoming More Cost Effective To Extract Hydrogen
- Community Solar Is Becoming Increasingly Popular
- Solar Industry Sees Double Digit Growth Year Over Year
- Strongest Alternative Energy Incentives
- Lobbying Efforts To Extend The Federal Investment Tax Credit
Offshore Wind Will Continue To Grow In Scale
While many parts of Europe have jumped ahead of the United States in regards to deploying offshore wind energy generation, the US is seeking to bridge this gap in 2020. Currently, Maryland, Massachusetts, Rhode Island New York and New Jersey all have policies outlining their plans to expand offshore wind in their respective states. Currently, there are twelve different leases in the United States for utility scale offshore wind turbine projects which would represent an additional 15 gigawatts of renewable power.
The Size Of Wind Turbines Continues To Grow
Over the course of renewable and alternative energy history, wind turbines have slowly but surely grown in average size year over year. The main reason for this is because the amount of energy a wind turbine can generate is directly related to the cross sectional area of the blades themselves. In 1995, the average wind turbine was only roughly 80 meters in height and were rated for roughly 1.5 Megawatts. Today, the largest wind turbines tower over previous iterations standing an impressive 160 meters above the ground. These behemoth wind turbines can generate up to 4.2 Megawatts each, more than two and a half times more energy than older models while only doubling the height.
Hydroelectric Energy Remains Largest Alternative Energy Contributor
Of all the renewable energy generation types, hydroelectric power remains the single largest contributor. This is largely because of the immense kinetic energy associated with fast moving rivers and other water supplies. This trend is expected to continue in 2020 and well into the future. Despite this, other forms of energy generation, such as solar and wind, are carving out their own respectable power generation statistics in areas that don’t have access to plentiful hydroelectric potential.
The Pumped Storage Industry Is Seeing Increased Investment
While more traditional forms of electricity generation comes from running generators along swift rivers, the pumped energy storage industry is gaining more investment. So how does pumped hydroelectric energy storage work? Typically, water is stored in a reservoir of some type and allowed to drain out using only gravity. This falling water turns generators which generates electricity when electricity is most expensive during the day. Then, at night, when energy is cheaper to purchase, electric pumps are used to refill the reservoir so that the process can repeat the following day.
Electrolysis Is An Increasingly Popular Means Of Producing Hydrogen
The efficiency of producing hydrogen for energy production has greatly increased recently thanks to the growing popularity of electrolysis. Electrolysis is a process by which water is broken down into its individual chemical components, two parts hydrogen and one part oxygen. This process is done by passing water through a membrane and utilizing an electric current to separate the two elements. As this process become more efficient, more hydrogen can be extracted while using less electricity. This is good both for the bottom line of the operating business and better for the alternative energy industry as a whole.
Renewable Energy Is Becoming More Cost Effective To Extract Hydrogen
While some hydrogen occurs naturally, more often, it needs to be extracted from either water or the air around us. This issue is exacerbated by the fact that hydrogen is being increasingly utilized in the transportation industry. To collect this additional hydrogen, renewable energy is being used to do so. This is because once renewable energy generation systems are in place, they are extremely cheap to operate. Unlike fossil fuel fired power plants, renewable energy power generators are able to get their fuel for free. This means that once the initial investment into the project is recovered, all future power generation can be viewed as “free”. This simple fact has led hydrogen based companies to heavily invest in these more sustainable technologies.
Community Solar Is Becoming Increasingly Popular
While the solar industry is becoming more established, the community solar industry is still quite young. Community solar is different from typical solar in that there are usually many off-takers of the renewable energy generated. Usually, many customers will subscribe to a particular portion of a large solar array being constructed sometime miles away from the home or business that will end up using the energy. The biggest benefit to this is that homes that may not be in a great place for solar generation, such as under the shade of trees or homes that only have a north facing roof, can now access solar generation. In total, twenty states and Washington D.C. have programs seeking to expand the community solar market.
Solar Industry Sees Double Digit Growth Year Over Year
Solar generated electricity is becoming an increasingly popular choice for both residential and commercial customers. This is largely due to the quickly declining prices of solar components such as solar modules, inverters, and racking. The improved economics, paired with the increasingly positive societal views on solar, are helping the industry to expand rapidly. In fact, within the past year, the solar industry is estimated to have grown more than 20%. Many of the largest solar installation in the country operate under a Power Purchase Agreement (PPA) where a third party investor owns the solar system and sells the power generated to an off-taker for an agreed upon price. This model allows businesses and homeowners to receive the benefits of solar power without having to make the large initial investment in the equipment and installation.
Strongest Alternative Energy Incentives
Well into 2019, the Renewable Energy Credit (REC) market continued to be one of the most effective forms of financial incentives. In the solar industry, solar renewable energy credits (SREC) provide payments to solar owners to help improve their total return on investment and shorten the time to recoup their initial investment. Strong SREC markets in New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Maryland, and Washington D.C. are driving major installations. Additionally, other programs, such as the SMART program in Massachusetts which bolsters the solar industry, as well as extended carbon pricing programs in California which seeks to reduce all forms of fossil fuel consumption, have shown promise across the country.
Lobbying Efforts To Extend The Federal Investment Tax Credit
The Federal Investment Tax Credit (ITC) is one of the largest alternative energy incentive programs in not just the United States, but the entire world. The Federal ITC applies to various renewable and alternative energy industries in the form of a percentage tax credit to help lower the total cost of both equipment to generate renewable energy and the cost of labor required to get it installed. One of the biggest lobbying efforts currently surrounds the solar industry’s ITC. Congressional members and industry leaders alike are asking for the current 30% solar ITC to be extended so that the technologies can continue to be more cost effective which many proponents of the extension argue promote job growth. Currently, the fastest growing career in the United States is that of solar panel installer.
The alternative energy industry is showing no signs of slowing down. As more laws are passed which are designed to promote renewable energy development, more and more businesses and homeowners are seeing that it makes financial sense to make the switch to energy generation sources which emit little to no carbon. In fact, eight states have already passed legislation mandating that one hundred percent of their energy generation come from renewable resources by a particular date. A ninth state, Colorado, has passed an official bill stating that they have a goal of 100% renewable energy by 2040 but are not legally obligated to do so. Clearly, the alternative energy production industry is trending upwards and will continue to grow well into the foreseeable future.