Carbon dioxide and other pollutants that contribute to global warming are being released into the atmosphere at an alarming rate as a result of human activities. These gases behave similarly to a blanket, retaining heat in the atmosphere. The end effect is a complex web of substantial and negative consequences, ranging from storms that are more intense and more frequent to droughts, rising sea levels, and the loss of species.
The production of energy is responsible for about 29 percent of the emissions that contribute to climate change in the United States. The vast majority of these pollutants are caused by the combustion of fossil fuels such as coal and natural gas.
In contrast, the vast majority of renewable energy sources emit very little or no emissions that contribute to global warming. Even when taking into account the “life cycle” emissions of clean energy, which are the emissions that occur during each stage of the existence of a technology (manufacturing, installation, operation, and decommissioning), the emissions that contribute to global warming that are caused by renewable energy are still very low.
When one looks at the statistics, the similarity becomes immediately obvious. When converted into electricity, natural gas produces emissions of between 0.6 and 2 pounds of carbon dioxide equivalent per kilowatt-hour (CO2E/kWh), whereas coal produces emissions of between 1.4 and 3.6 pounds of CO2E/kWh.
On the other hand, wind energy only contributes 0.02 to 0.04 pounds of CO2E per kWh during its whole life cycle, whereas solar energy contributes 0.07 to 0.2, geothermal energy contributes 0.1 to 0.2, and hydroelectric power contributes between 0.1 and 0.5.
The production of renewable power from biomass may have a broad range of emissions that contribute to global warming, depending on the resource being used and on whether or not it is produced and harvested in a sustainable manner.
Increasing the availability of renewable energy would make it possible for us to replace sources of energy that are high in carbon emissions and drastically cut emissions that contribute to global warming in the United States.
For instance, a study conducted by the UCS in 2009 discovered that a national renewable electricity standard of 25 percent by 2025 would reduce CO2 emissions from power plants by 277 million metric tons annually by the year 2025. This figure is equivalent to the annual output of 70 typical new coal plants with a capacity of 600 MW.
In addition, the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) of the United States Department of Energy conducted a study that broke new ground by investigating whether or not it would be possible to generate 80 percent of the nation’s power from renewable sources by the year 2050. They discovered that the use of renewable energy might contribute to a reduction in emissions in the electrical sector of around 81 percent.
If you are interested in reading more about renewable energy sources, here’s an article about some other advantages of renewable energy.