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Visualcapitalism.com

Renewable Energy in Perspective


Energy is arguably the number one topic in the world, today, and it has been and will continue to be for generations to come. Although much is written about our energy usage and alternative energy, particularly as it relates to climate change, it is rare to see the big picture and appreciate how far we’ve come and how far we have to go.

This has given us a false sense of what the real challenges are.

We all think we're on top of this and sure that gasoline-powered cars and trucks are bad because they contribute to greenhouse gases. But, in truth, the automobile is not the biggest generator of greenhouse gases in the US or by far the biggest overall environmental threat. That title goes to the buildings we live and work in, which account for over 40% GHGs and uncounted environmental damage in the extraction and manufacturing of the materials that go into them. After that, there is agriculture/animal breeding, and then all forms of transportation. And although transportation does include automobiles, they are not the biggest polluters under that category, by far.

Believe it or not that honor goes to international shipping. The 20 largest ocean-going container ships in the world belch out as much particulate and acidic air pollutants as all the automobiles in the world, combined… and there are 60,000 container freighters on the high seas.

That means the worldwide, privately-owned, largely unregulated, ocean freight hauling business—the "supply chain" we've been hearing so much about that brings us all those cheap goods we buy at Target—pollutes about 3,000 times as much as automobiles.

That considered, what's more important to the survival of our planet is the overall global, environmental degradation and pollution caused by each industry category because the health of our planet is infinitely more complicated than can be measured by CO2 emissions. Looked at in that more comprehensive way the major industrial polluter is the energy industry itself.

For one, its extraction and processing operations contribute 30% of all greenhouse gases, but that doesn’t include our dependence on fossil fuels (and the emissions from fossil fuels) to power our IPhones or fly our airlines or make all the non-biodegradable plastics that are drowning the planet. Nor does this include the other types of environmental destruction due to fossil fuels’ extraction and its impacts on habitat loss and species extinction, or ocean pollution from oil spills (that kills birds and fish and more) and the list goes on and on.

Increase in demand results in the higher potential for oil spillages, which endanger sea life. In 2020 alone, 1,000 tons of oil was spilled in the world’s oceans and that was the lowest annual figure in five years.

All that considered, knowing the big picture about energy is important. The charts below provided by visualcapitalism.com provide a good explanation.


CLICK on the images below to enlarge


Renewable Energy

The race is on to make a societal transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy sources to run our lives and our economy. So, what are the five major types of renewable energy that are part of this global transformation?

In no particular order, they are solar, wind, geothermal, biogas, and hydro. The chart below explains what each of these is, depicts the current percentages of global energy production from each, and shows the comparable costs per Megawatt hour of energy produced.

the-five-types-of-renewable-energy.jpgImage by Elements.visualcapitalist.com

It is interesting to note that hydroelectric remains the biggest source of renewable energy, even as there has been a concerted effort across the country to remove hydroelectric generating dams on major rivers (and some of our hydro producing dams are becoming "dead pools" due to drought (not enough water to turn the turbines).

That said, as noted by the creators of this chart,

“Together, the five main sources combined for roughly 28% of global electricity generation in 2021, with wind and solar collectively breaking the 10% share barrier for the first time.”

Global Renewable Energy

On a global scale, the rollout of renewable energy production and distribution varies considerably. Consider this chart.

VCE_Mapped_Solar_Wind_Power-1.jpg

Image by Elements.visualcapitalist.com

According to the most recent data, wind and solar produce over 10 percent of the world’s energy. This makes them the 4th largest energy source behind coal, natural gas, and hydro-power.

The chart below shows which countries are the top 10 global leaders in switching from fossil fuels to alternative, sustainable energy sources.

Top-ranked-countries-using-alternative-energy.JPG

No question, European nations have made great strides in making the transition, but many of the world’s largest economies—the U.S., China, Japan, Korea, India, France, Italy, and others are still far behind.

Of all the energy sectors, data shows that electricity generation was the biggest greenhouse gas emitter in 2020. As reported in the Ember Global Electricity Review, 2022,

“According to the International Energy Agency (IEA), the sector needs to hit net zero globally by 2040 to achieve the Paris Agreement’s goals of limiting global heating to 1.5 degrees. And to hit that goal, wind and solar power need to grow at nearly a 20% clip each year to 2030.

“Despite the record rise in renewables, solar and wind electricity generation growth currently doesn’t meet the required marks to reach the Paris Agreement’s goals.”

Finally, investment in alternative energy is key to our success. As this chart shows, investment in alternative fuels is growing but much more is needed.


Image by Elements.visualcapitalist.com


Bob Silvestri is a Marin County resident, the Editor of the Marin Post, and the founder and president of Community Venture Partners, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit community organization funded by individuals and nonprofit donors. Please consider DONATING TO THE MARIN POST AND CVP to enable us to continue to work on behalf of California residents.