Renewable Energy

The United States currently relies heavily on coal, oil, and natural gas for its energy. Fossil fuels are nonrenewable, that is, they draw on finite resources that will eventually dwindle, becoming too expensive or too environmentally damaging to retrieve. In contrast, renewable energy resources—such as wind and solar energy—are constantly replenished and will never run out.

Many different types of renewable energy are briefly described below. Additionally, this website explores solar, wind, and bioenergy in more detail, which can be accessed using the topic headings listed on the left-hand side of the page.


solar.jpgMost renewable energy comes either directly or indirectly from the sun. Sunlight, or solar energy, can be used directly for heating and lighting homes and other buildings, for generating electricity, and for hot water heating, solar cooling, and a variety of commercial and industrial uses.


wind.jpgThe sun's heat also drives the winds, whose energy is captured with wind turbines. Then, the winds and the sun's heat cause water to evaporate. When this water vapor turns into rain or snow and flows downhill into rivers or streams, its energy can be captured using hydropower.


biomass.jpgAlong with the rain and snow, sunlight causes plants to grow. The organic matter that makes up those plants is known as biomass. Biomass can be used to produce electricity, transportation fuels, or chemicals. The use of biomass for any of these purposes is called biomass energy.


hydrogen.jpgHydrogen also can be found in many organic compounds, as well as water. It's the most abundant element in the universe. But it doesn't occur naturally as a gas. It's always combined with other elements, such as with oxygen to make water. Once separated from another element, hydrogen can be burned as a fuel or converted into electricity.


geothermal.jpgNot all renewable energy resources come from the sun. Geothermal energy taps the Earth's internal heat for a variety of uses, including electric power production, and the heating and cooling of buildings. And the energy of the ocean's tides comes from the gravitational pull of the moon and the sun upon the Earth.


ocean.jpgThe ocean can produce thermal energy from the sun's heat and mechanical energy from the tides and waves. NREL does not conduct research in ocean thermal energy or ocean mechanical energy. See the U.S. Department of Energy's Consumer Guide Web site for basic information ocean energy.


hydro.jpgFlowing water creates energy that can be captured and turned into electricity. This is called hydroelectric power or hydropower. NREL doesn't perform any research in hydroelectric power technologies. For more information on hydroelectric power, see the Hydropower Basics from the U.S. Department of Energy's Wind and Hydropower Technologies Program.

(Source: National Renewable Energy Laboratory)

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