High expectations for “renewable energy”uniteactivistswhodecryAmerica’srelianceonforeignoil,thehighcostoffossilfuels,andtheenvironmental damage they cause. By con-trast, the public’s knowledge of renewables isspotty and has not noticeably improved withincreasedmediacoverage.
Nevertheless,opin-ionpollsincreasinglyshowmajoritiesinfavorof deploying more renewables to cope withenvironmentalpollutionandclimatechange.Current renewables policies emphasizefourtypesofgeneration,whichdonotincludeall sources (such as hydroelectric power) thatinrealityrenewthemselves:
burnmateri-als to heat water and turn a turbine.Biomasscanbetheresidueofacommer-cial crop such as cornstalks or pressedsugar cane, or it can be remnants of treecutting and lumber manufacture. Wasteincludesdiscardedorganicmaterialsandsolids,aswellaslandfillgas.
uses undergroundheatsources,primarilyvolcanicmagma,toheatwaterandproducesteam.Itgen-erally involves the sinking of pipes con-taining the water to be heated.
uses a rotor and gearingmechanismtoturnaturbinewhenwindisblowingatit.
is of two types.
energy is created when sunlight strikes a surface coating and energizes it to reactwith a substrate to produce direct cur-rent.
energy can either be “pas-sive,”likewaterheatingwhenexposedtosunlight,or“active,”aswhenseveralmir-rors direct sunlight at a water containerthatwillboilandcreatesteam.
The Economics of Renewable Energy
Figure1showsU.Sannualpowerproduc-tion in millions of kilowatt-hours (MKWh,also known as gigawatt-hours GWh) by typeof generator from 1990 to 2006. Over theperiod it grew by an average of 1.84 percent
The public’sknowledge of renewables isspotty and hasnot noticeably improved withincreased mediacoverage.
0500,0001,000,0001,500,0002,000,0002,500,0001990 1992 1994 1996 1998 2000 2002 2004 2006Coal PetroleumGas Nuclear Hydroelectric Renewable
Figure 1Electricity Generation by Source, 1990–2006
M i l l i o n s o f K i l o w a t t - H o u r s ( M K W h o r G W h )
Source: U.S. Energy InformationAdministration,
Electric Power Monthly
, various issues.