What Are the Five Major Types of Renewable Energy?
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What Are the Five Major Types of Renewable Energy?

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What Are the Five Major Types of Renewable Energy?

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The Renewable Energy Age

This was originally posted on Elements. Sign up to the free mailing list to get beautiful visualizations on natural resource megatrends in your email every week.

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.

The above infographic uses data from Lazard, Ember, and other sources to outline everything you need to know about the five key types of renewable energy:

Energy Source% of 2021 Global Electricity GenerationAvg. levelized cost of energy per MWh
Hydro 💧 15.3%$64
Wind 🌬 6.6%$38
Solar ☀️ 3.7%$36
Biomass 🌱 2.3%$114
Geothermal ♨️ <1%$75

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.

1. Wind

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.

3. Geothermal

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.

4. Hydropower

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.

5. Biomass

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.

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Energy

The Top 10 EV Battery Manufacturers in 2022

Despite efforts from the U.S. and Europe to increase the domestic production of batteries, the market is still dominated by Asian suppliers.

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The Top 10 EV Battery Manufacturers in 2022

This was originally posted on Elements. Sign up to the free mailing list to get beautiful visualizations on natural resource megatrends in your email every week.

The global electric vehicle (EV) battery market is expected to grow from $17 billion to more than $95 billion between 2019 and 2028.

With increasing demand to decarbonize the transportation sector, companies producing the batteries that power EVs have seen substantial momentum.

Here we update our previous graphic of the top 10 EV battery manufacturers, bringing you the world’s biggest battery manufacturers in 2022.

Chinese Dominance

Despite efforts from the United States and Europe to increase the domestic production of batteries, the market is still dominated by Asian suppliers.

The top 10 producers are all Asian companies.

Currently, Chinese companies make up 56% of the EV battery market, followed by Korean companies (26%) and Japanese manufacturers (10%).

The leading battery supplier, CATL, expanded its market share from 32% in 2021 to 34% in 2022. One-third of the world’s EV batteries come from the Chinese company. CATL provides lithium-ion batteries to Tesla, Peugeot, Hyundai, Honda, BMW, Toyota, Volkswagen, and Volvo.

RankCompany2022 Market ShareCountry
#1CATL34%China 🇨🇳
#2LG Energy Solution14%Korea 🇰🇷
#3BYD12%China 🇨🇳
#4Panasonic10%Japan 🇯🇵
#5SK Innovation7%Korea 🇰🇷
#6Samsung SDI5%Korea 🇰🇷
#7CALB4%China 🇨🇳
#8Guoxuan3%China 🇨🇳
#9Sunwoda2%China 🇨🇳
#10SVOLT1%China 🇨🇳
Other8%ROW 🌐

Despite facing strict scrutiny after EV battery-fire recalls in the United States, LG Energy Solution remains the second-biggest battery manufacturer. In 2021, the South Korean supplier agreed to reimburse General Motors $1.9 billion to cover the 143,000 Chevy Bolt EVs recalled due to fire risks from faulty batteries.

BYD took the third spot from Panasonic as it nearly doubled its market share over the last year. The Warren Buffett-backed company is the world’s third-largest automaker by market cap, but it also produces batteries sold in markets around the world. Recent sales figures point to BYD overtaking LG Energy Solution in market share the coming months or years.

The Age of Battery Power

Electric vehicles are here to stay, while internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicles are set to fade away in the coming decades. Recently, General Motors announced that it aims to stop selling ICE vehicles by 2035, while Audi plans to stop producing such models by 2033.

Besides EVs, battery technology is essential for the energy transition, providing storage capacity for intermittent solar and wind generation.

As battery makers work to supply the EV transition’s increasing demand and improve energy density in their products, we can expect more interesting developments within this industry.

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Energy

Visualizing the Range of Electric Cars vs. Gas-Powered Cars

With range anxiety being a barrier to EV adoption, how far can an electric car go on one charge, and how do EV ranges compare with gas cars?

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The Range of Electric Cars vs. Gas-Powered Cars

This was originally posted on Elements. Sign up to the free mailing list to get beautiful visualizations on natural resource megatrends in your email every week.

EV adoption has grown rapidly in recent years, but many prospective buyers still have doubts about electric car ranges.

In fact, 33% of new car buyers chose range anxiety—the concern about how far an EV can drive on a full charge—as their top inhibitor to purchasing electric cars in a survey conducted by EY.

So, how far can the average electric car go on one charge, and how does that compare with the typical range of gas-powered cars?

The Rise in EV Ranges

Thanks to improvements in battery technology, the average range of electric cars has more than doubled over the last decade, according to data from the International Energy Agency (IEA).

YearAvg. EV RangeMaximum EV Range
201079 miles (127 km)N/A
201186 miles (138 km)94 miles (151 km)
201299 miles (159 km)265 miles (426 km)
2013117 miles (188 km)265 miles (426 km)
2014130 miles (209 km)265 miles (426 km)
2015131 miles (211 km)270 miles (435 km)
2016145 miles (233 km)315 miles (507 km)
2017151 miles (243 km)335 miles (539 km)
2018189 miles (304 km)335 miles (539 km)
2019209 miles (336 km)370 miles (595 km)
2020210 miles (338 km)402 miles (647 km)
2021217 miles (349 km)520 miles* (837 km)

*Max range for EVs offered in the United States.
Source: IEA, U.S. DOE

As of 2021, the average battery-powered EV could travel 217 miles (349 km) on a single charge. It represents a 44% increase from 151 miles (243 km) in 2017 and a 152% increase relative to a decade ago.

Despite the steady growth, EVs still fall short when compared to gas-powered cars. For example, in 2021, the median gas car range (on one full tank) in the U.S. was around 413 miles (664 km)—nearly double what the average EV would cover.

As automakers roll out new models, electric car ranges are likely to continue increasing and could soon match those of their gas-powered counterparts. It’s important to note that EV ranges can change depending on external conditions.

What Affects EV Ranges?

In theory, EV ranges depend on battery capacity and motor efficiency, but real-world results can vary based on several factors:

  • Weather: At temperatures below 20℉ (-6.7℃), EVs can lose around 12% of their range, rising to 41% if heating is turned on inside the vehicle.
  • Operating Conditions: Thanks to regenerative braking, EVs may extend their maximum range during city driving.
  • Speed: When driving at high speeds, EV motors spin faster at a less efficient rate. This may result in range loss.

On the contrary, when driven at optimal temperatures of about 70℉ (21.5℃), EVs can exceed their rated range, according to an analysis by Geotab.

The 10 Longest-Range Electric Cars in America

Here are the 10 longest-range electric cars available in the U.S. as of 2022, based on Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) range estimates:

CarRange On One Full ChargeEstimated Base Price
Lucid Air520 miles (837 km)$170,500
Tesla Model S405 miles (652 km)$106,190
Tesla Model 3358 miles (576 km)$59,440
Mercedes EQS350 miles (563 km)$103,360
Tesla Model X348 miles (560 km)$122,440
Tesla Model Y330 miles (531 km)$67,440
Hummer EV329 miles (529 km)$110,295
BMW iX324 miles (521 km)$84,195
Ford F-150 Lightning320 miles (515 km)$74,169
Rivian R1S316 miles (509 km)$70,000

Source: Car and Driver

The top-spec Lucid Air offers the highest range of any EV with a price tag of $170,500, followed by the Tesla Model S. But the Tesla Model 3 offers the most bang for your buck if range and price are the only two factors in consideration.

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