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What are the Most Efficient Renewable Energy Sources? Our Top 5 Ranked

Are you wondering, “What are the most efficient renewable energy sources available today?” Our top five list will break down, rank, and detail the most relevant benefits that make each of these technologies essential. Starting with wind, let’s see what the future holds, shall we?

1. Wind

When you ask, “Which renewable energy source is the most efficient?” wind energy currently sits atop the mountain. The Natural Resources Defense Council recently stated this regarding wind energy:

American solar and wind generation are breaking records and being integrated into the national electricity grid without compromising reliability.

That said, wind energy is an exceptionally efficient renewable energy source and a fast-growing segment of renewable energy. It’s sustainable plus “essentially zero-carbon, zero-pollution and zero-water use.” (2) For a great visual of the current innovations being made, check out this neat video by Tech Vision:

Wind energy pros and cons can vary based on location, but there is significant potential for this source to provide a considerable amount of power using both on-land turbines and offshore units.

2. Geothermal

Geothermal energy is one of the cleanest and most efficient renewable energy sources available that works 24/7 and releases little to no greenhouse gasses. This type of renewable energy source is not only highly efficient but it has a small footprint and requires no external fuel source.

Geothermal is available in most parts globally, and these power plants have 90% or higher availability (compared to coal at about 75%) (3).

There are many geothermal pros and cons, but geothermal resources bring hot water to the surface. That can be useful in a variety of applications such as direct use, electricity, and power heating and cooling in homes.

Pollution that shows the need for More Efficient Renewable Energy Sources

3. Hydro-Electric

Hydro-electric power comes from moving water, and conventionally this involves using dams that help to control water flow. Many existing dams in the United States could get retrofitted to produce hydro-electric power, which lowers the initial costs, but building new dams is expensive and time-consuming.

David Pimentel, a journalist for BioScience stated:

In the United States, hydroelectric plants produce approximately 989 billion kWh (1 kWh = 860 kilocalories [kcal] = 3.6 megajoules), or 11% of the nation’s electricity, each year at a cost of $0.02 per kWh.

Globally, maintenance costs for hydro-electric dams are relatively low, so hydro-electric power currently accounts for around 6.5% of the world’s total energy production (4). There are also new technologies emerging called hydrokinetics that harvest power from ocean currents and the changing tides.

4. Solar

Many ask, “Why is solar energy important?” Solar power is an unlimited form of energy and one of the most efficient energy sources available to just about everyone on the planet. 

This carbon-free power creates a very tiny amount of pollution when the solar panels get manufactured but doesn’t release contaminants into the environment as it generates energy (5).

Solar power is becoming increasingly affordable for both residential and commercial applications, and new technologies allow for higher efficiency rates. When you ask, “What is the most efficient renewable energy source?” solar has to be mentioned in the conversation.

5. Biomass

Biomass renewable energy can come from many different sources and often makes use of plants, gases, or other materials that would otherwise go to waste. Landfill gas, ethanol, and biodiesel are common forms of biomass that get burned as a power source, and in 2019 biomass made up 43% of energy consumption in the United States (6).

Currently, wood is the most widely used form of biomass energy. Woody plants, grasses, food crops, and algae, are popular as well.

Biomass energy pros and cons vary based on the material used, but these items can produce power that would otherwise require fossil fuels that can further harm the environment and aren’t nearly as efficient (7).

FAQs

Renewable energy is important because it helps to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions, reduce our fossil fuel dependence, and create a more sustainable future for all creatures to thrive.

Non-renewable energy forms often cause pollution and health-related issues, including increased healthcare costs. Not to mention the harmful effect that non-renewable energy production has on the environment including plants, insects, animals, and marine life.

A geothermal resource is a reservoir of very hot water deep below the surface. These reservoirs get tapped using wells to release the hot water and steam that gets used for power generation. 

A famous location for geothermal power includes Iceland, where they have several different geothermal resources spread across the country (8).

The US States that are leading the way in wind power are Kansas, Iowa, Oklahoma, and Texas. In a recent study by the U.S. Energy Information Administration, these states provided more than half of the U.S. wind electricity generation (9).

There are many nuclear energy pros and cons to consider, but nuclear energy is an efficient source of low-carbon power that accounts for about 10% of worldwide electricity (10). Some reactors generate only power, while others produce isotopes for medical use or industrial applications.

However, the natural resources, time, and lives lost as a result of catastrophic nuclear failures like Chernobyl, and Fukushima are more than enough to discourage its future viability as an efficient renewable energy source.

  1. Renewable Energy: The Clean Facts. Retrieved from: https://www.nrdc.org/stories/renewable-energy-clean-facts
  2. Wind Vision: A New Era for Wind Power in the United States. Retrieved from: https://www.energy.gov/eere/wind/downloads/wind-vision-new-era-wind-power-united-states
  3. Geothermal FAQs. Retrieved from: https://www.energy.gov/eere/geothermal/geothermal-faqs#benefits_of_using_geothermal_energy
  4. Renewable Energy. Retrieved from: https://academic.oup.com/bioscience/article/52/12/1111/223002
  5. Renewable Energy. Retrieved from: https://www.ucsusa.org/energy/renewable-energy
  6. Renewable Energy Explained. Retrieved from: https://www.eia.gov/energyexplained/renewable-sources/
  7. Biomass Energy Basics. Retrieved from: https://www.nrel.gov/research/re-biomass.html
  8. Geothermal. Retrieved from: https://nea.is/geothermal/
  9. Four states account for more than half of U.S. wind electricity generation. Retrieved from: https://www.eia.gov/todayinenergy/detail.php?id=39772
  10. Nuclear Power Today. Retrieved from: https://www.world-nuclear.org/information-library/current-and-future-generation/nuclear-power-in-the-world-today.aspx
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