Renewable Energy

Renewable energy is energy from sources not based on finite resources and cannot expire. The best-known examples are wind, sun and water. In contrast, there are the fossil energy sources coal, gas and oil, whose reserves will be exhausted at some point. The expansion of renewable energy is considered a key measure in the fight against climate change.

What types of renewable energy are there?

The best known and most widely developed renewable energy types are solar and wind energy. These energy sources have been used for decades, even before the need for decarbonisation was an issue. One reason for this is that, although wind and sun are not continuously available, they are available regardless of location, thus eliminating any problem with availability and transport. Hydropower has been used for much longer, even if it is not as widespread. Biomass and geothermal energy are counted as renewable energy also. So by definition, there are five types of renewable energy.

To what extent can companies use renewable energy?

Companies can use renewable energy in many ways. Solar systems on the roofs of industrial and commercial buildings are becoming increasingly important. The advantage here is that the consumption peak in companies is usually highest when it is sunniest, i.e. at midday. At the same time, companies are also increasingly turning to wind farms, which, however, cannot usually be operated directly at the company's location due to higher space requirements and more complex approval procedures. The share of renewables in global electricity generation jumped to 29% in 2020, up from 27% in 2019. China alone accounted for almost half of the global increase in renewable electricity in 2021, followed by the United States, the European Union and India.

Nevertheless, there are prominent examples: For example, one of Germany's largest single electricity consumers, BASF in Ludwigshafen, is planning a large offshore wind farm in the North Sea, the energy from which will be transported to the site. Due to the location-dependency of water bodies, the use of hydropower by companies is of somewhat lesser importance.

The same applies to biomass plants, although here there are also examples where this energy production is extremely economical. This applies to companies where biomass is a waste product. The best-known example is wood-processing companies. The use of geothermal energy by companies is not yet widespread in Germany, but there are efforts to establish it more and more.

How do companies influence the development of renewable energy?

The economy has a significant influence on the development of renewable energy. In many places, it is private companies that are focusing on the increased use of renewable energy. The reasons for this is primarily the desired energy autonomy. A worldwide dwindling acceptance of fossil energy results in unpredictable price developments in the medium term. The COVID-19 crisis and the accident with the cargo ship in the Suez Canal have also shown how unstable global supply chains can be, even with fossil energy sources.

However, companies are also campaigning for an expansion of renewable energy because ecological awareness has become indispensable for their own PR and marketing strategies. Only those who pay attention to climate change and increasingly rely on renewable energy will be perceived as a serious trading partner in the medium term. At the same time, the economy is pushing not only for the expansion but also for further developing clean ways of producing energy. Because the more effectively that generation takes place, the more reliable and economically beneficial electricity generation will be.

What impact does renewable energy currently have on the environment?

The goal of the energy transition to reduce CO2 emissions has so far only been achieved slowly. Although the expansion of renewable energy is being intensively promoted worldwide, their global share of primary energy consumption has hardly increased since 1990. One of the reasons for this is that at the same time the use of fossil energy sources has been massively expanded and the demand for energy has increased. In the same period, global CO2 emissions have also increased significantly. Specifically, these were around 22.7 billion tonnes in 1990 and around 36.4 billion tonnes annually in 2019.

Nevertheless, CO2 emissions would be significantly higher if the world did not rely on renewable energy. However, this will only have a significant effect if fossil fuels are phased out at the same time. Then, however, renewable energy sources will offer the opportunity for clean energy production.

What are the future trends in renewable energy?

A further expansion of renewable energy is essential to achieve the climate goals. Especially countries with high CO2 emissions like China and the US are investing heavily in climate-neutral power generation. Leading energy experts predict that solar systems in particular will be massively expanded. Although wind power is also expected to expand strongly, the space available on land in particular is limited. Research is also being conducted worldwide into more innovative ways of generating energy, e.g. small, decentralised nuclear and molten salt reactors.

Which professions are involved in renewable energy?

Many professions in natural sciences and engineering are concerned with renewable energy. For example, electrical engineers for wind energy and engineers for solar technology have long been established. Related to this are professions in the fields of assembly and service technology. Other specialist engineers for mechanical and electrical engineering develop and build modern biomass and geothermal plants as well as hydroelectric power plants. Natural scientists from physics, materials science as well as meteorology are also involved, as are computer scientists for programming complex power plants and biologists for species protection and landscape assessment of renewable energy projects.