Renewable Energy



Energy from renewable sources (solar, wind, geothermal, hydro, etc) are an important part of the future of energy in the U.S. and the world.  The issues involved are complex, involving technical challenges, economic issues, as well as environmental, political and social factors.  Join Active Minds as we survey the current state of renewable energy and look at the various forces that will influence how these resources will evolve in the future.

Key Lecture Points

  • Renewable energy is produced from a natural source that restores itself over a short period of time.  Major forms of renewable energy are wind, solar, geothermal, hydro and biomass.  Renewable energy sources can be found across the US, with the West possessing an especially high potential.
  • In recent years, renewable energy has received more attention because of environmental concerns about pollution and climate change associated with the burning of fossil fuels.  In addition, advocates argue that a shift to renewable energy reduces US dependence on oil from other countries, especially those in volatile regions like the Middle East.  As such, renewable energy is championed as a national security necessity.  Renewable energy skeptics, however, argue that the cost associated with a shift to renewables burdens the US economy when other less expensive sources of energy (like natural gas and coal) are readily available domestically.
  • As the technology advances and international investment increases, the cost of renewable energy has become more competitive.  For example, the cost of solar energy was reduced by 78% from 2009 to 2014.
  • US consumption of renewable energy has risen markedly in the recent past.  From 2007 to 2014, US annual consumption of renewable energy increased 41%. Nonetheless, the overall consumption of energy in the US is still dominated by fossil fuels.  In 2014, 82% of energy consumed in the US was produced by the burning of fossil fuels.
  • Renewable energy has also increased its presence on the world stage.  In Europe countries get as much as 50% of their electricity from renewables.  In Iceland, 99% of electricity is produced from renewable sources.  Even China, the world’s top consumer of coal, has become a leader in clean energy.  It invests as much as the US and Europe combined on clean power and generates 20% of its electricity from renewables.

Exploration Questions

  • What are the forces driving the increase in the use of renewable energy?
  • What are the major types of renewable energy?  What are the pros and cons of each type?

Reflective Questions

  • Do you think the US will ever be 100% reliant on renewable energy sources?  What would it take for the US to be totally free of fossil fuels?
  • Do you or anyone you know use solar power?  What are the advantages and disadvantages?

More to Explore

  • Interactive map by state (100% renewable vision) Click here
  • Interactive map by state (clean energy and climate change) Click here

Books for Further Reading

  • Schaeffer, John.  Real Goods Solar Living Sourcebook: Your Complete Guide to Living Beyond the Grid with Renewable Energy Technologies and Sustainable Living. New Society Publishers, 2014. 528 pages.  This book is a guide for individuals wanting to lessen their environmental footprint and increase their energy independence.  Topics cover include renewable energy, sustainable living, natural and green building, off-grid living and alternative transportation.
    Click here to order
  • Brown, Lester R., Emily Adams, Janet Larsen.  The Great Transition: Shifting from Fossil Fuels to Solar and Wind Energy. W.W. Norton & Company, 2015. 192 pages.  The authors describe the accelerating pace at which fossil fuels are being replaced by wind, solar and geothermal energy.
    Click here to order