The Renewable Energy Age
Awareness around climate change is shaping the future of the global economy in several ways.
Governments are planning how to reduce emissions, investors are scrutinizing companies’ environmental performance, and consumers are becoming conscious of their carbon footprints. But no matter the stakeholder, energy generation and consumption from fossil fuels is one of the biggest contributors to emissions.
Therefore, renewable energy sources have never been more top-of-mind than they are today.
The Five Types of Renewable Energy
Renewable energy technologies harness the power of the sun, wind, and heat from the Earth’s core, and then transforms it into usable forms of energy like heat, electricity, and fuel.
|Energy Source||% of 2021 Global Electricity Generation||Avg. levelized cost of energy per MWh|
Editor’s note: We have excluded nuclear from the mix here, because although it is often defined as a sustainable energy source, it is not technically renewable (i.e. there are finite amounts of uranium).
Though often out of the limelight, hydro is the largest renewable electricity source, followed by wind and then solar.
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.
The levelized cost of energy (LCOE) measures the lifetime costs of a new utility-scale plant divided by total electricity generation. The LCOE of solar and wind is almost one-fifth that of coal ($167/MWh), meaning that new solar and wind plants are now much cheaper to build and operate than new coal plants over a longer time horizon.
With this in mind, here’s a closer look at the five types of renewable energy and how they work.
Wind turbines use large rotor blades, mounted at tall heights on both land and sea, to capture the kinetic energy created by wind.
When wind flows across the blade, the air pressure on one side of the blade decreases, pulling it down with a force described as the lift. The difference in air pressure across the two sides causes the blades to rotate, spinning the rotor.
The rotor is connected to a turbine generator, which spins to convert the wind’s kinetic energy into electricity.
2. Solar (Photovoltaic)
Solar technologies capture light or electromagnetic radiation from the sun and convert it into electricity.
Photovoltaic (PV) solar cells contain a semiconductor wafer, positive on one side and negative on the other, forming an electric field. When light hits the cell, the semiconductor absorbs the sunlight and transfers the energy in the form of electrons. These electrons are captured by the electric field in the form of an electric current.
A solar system’s ability to generate electricity depends on the semiconductor material, along with environmental conditions like heat, dirt, and shade.
Geothermal energy originates straight from the Earth’s core—heat from the core boils underground reservoirs of water, known as geothermal resources.
Geothermal plants typically use wells to pump hot water from geothermal resources and convert it into steam for a turbine generator. The extracted water and steam can then be reinjected, making it a renewable energy source.
Similar to wind turbines, hydropower plants channel the kinetic energy from flowing water into electricity by using a turbine generator.
Hydro plants are typically situated near bodies of water and use diversion structures like dams to change the flow of water. Power generation depends on the volume and change in elevation or head of the flowing water.
Greater water volumes and higher heads produce more energy and electricity, and vice versa.
Humans have likely used energy from biomass or bioenergy for heat ever since our ancestors learned how to build fires.
Biomass—organic material like wood, dry leaves, and agricultural waste—is typically burned but considered renewable because it can be regrown or replenished. Burning biomass in a boiler produces high-pressure steam, which rotates a turbine generator to produce electricity.
Biomass is also converted into liquid or gaseous fuels for transportation. However, emissions from biomass vary with the material combusted and are often higher than other clean sources.
When Will Renewable Energy Take Over?
Despite the recent growth of renewables, fossil fuels still dominate the global energy mix.
Most countries are in the early stages of the energy transition, and only a handful get significant portions of their electricity from clean sources. However, the ongoing decade might see even more growth than recent record-breaking years.
The IEA forecasts that, by 2026, global renewable electricity capacity is set to grow by 60% from 2020 levels to over 4,800 gigawatts—equal to the current power output of fossil fuels and nuclear combined. So, regardless of when renewables will take over, it’s clear that the global energy economy will continue changing.
Ranked: Electric Vehicle Sales by Model in 2023
Today, electric vehicle sales make up 18% of global vehicle sales. Here are the leading models by sales as of August 2023.
Ranked: Electric Vehicle Sales by Model in 2023
Electric vehicle (EV) sales are gaining momentum, reaching 18% of global vehicle sales in 2023.
As new competitors bring more affordable options and new performance features, the market continues to mature as customers increasingly look to electric options.
This graphic ranks the top-selling EVs worldwide as of August 2023, based on data from CleanTechnica.
The Best Selling EVs in 2023 (Through August)
Below, we show the world’s best selling fully electric vehicles from January to August 2023:
|Tesla Model Y||🇺🇸 U.S.||772,364|
|Tesla Model 3||🇺🇸 U.S.||364,403|
|BYD Atto 3 / Yuan Plus||🇨🇳 China||265,688|
|BYD Dolphin||🇨🇳 China||222,825|
|GAC Aion S||🇨🇳 China||160,693|
|Wuling HongGuang Mini EV||🇨🇳 China||153,399|
|GAC Aion Y||🇨🇳 China||136,619|
|VW ID.4||🇩🇪 Germany||120,154|
|BYD Seagull||🇨🇳 China||95,202|
As we can see, Tesla‘s Model Y still holds a comfortable lead over the competition with 772,364 units sold. That’s more than double the sales of the #2 top selling vehicle, Tesla’s Model 3 (364,403)
But it’s hard to ignore the rising prevalence of Chinese EVs. The next five best selling EV vehicles are Chinese, including three from BYD. The automaker’s Atto 3 (or Yuan Plus, depending on market), is being sold in various countries including Germany, the UK, Japan, and India.
Meanwhile, Chinese automaker GAC Group also had two models of its Aion EV brand make the rankings, with the Aion S selling 160,693 units so far.
Regional market strength is also clear. For Volkswagen’s ID.4 model (120,154 units sold), Europe and China account for the majority of sales.
Given growing cost efficiencies and changing consumer behavior, global EV sales are projected to make up half of new car sales globally by 2035, according to forecasts from Goldman Sachs.
Misc6 days ago
Ranked: America’s Best Universities
Technology2 weeks ago
Ranked: Largest Semiconductor Foundry Companies by Revenue
Automotive2 weeks ago
Visualized: EV Market Share in the U.S.
Maps1 week ago
Interactive Map: The World as 1,000 People
Retail1 week ago
Ranked: Average Black Friday Discounts for Major Retailers
Brands1 week ago
Ranked: Fast Food Brands with the Most U.S. Locations
United States1 week ago
Visualizing 30 Years of Imports from U.S. Trading Partners
Markets1 week ago
Ranked: The Biggest Retailers in the U.S. by Revenue