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Forty years ago, hydroelectric power was the primary source of renewable energy in the United States. Renewable sources have since expanded to include biofuels, wind, solar, and geothermal energy. In 2019, renewable energy remains an area of innovation and growth as the world seeks viable alternatives to fossil fuels.
Expansion in wind and solar power, in particular, is being spurred on by price parity and favorable state and federal policies. New technologies — such as advances in energy storage and the exploration of blockchain for the energy sector — are enabling stable and predictable outputs from renewable energy sources.
Adequate energy storage problems have plagued the renewable energy sector for decades, and advances in this area will be key to renewable energy's continued growth. The supply of energy must be able to match demands, or consumers will seek out more stable sources. Storage technologies enable renewable sources to provide continuous, reliable power to consumers.
With adequate storage in place, variable weather conditions will only have a limited effect on the stability of renewable energy. As such, advances in energy storage have begun to level the playing field between renewable energy and more conventional sources. In addition, most storage technologies are able to discharge energy to the grid faster than fossil fuels can. Power outages may be reduced or eliminated altogether when reliable back up sources are in place.
Solar and Wind Power
While state and federal policies initiated renewable energy growth, economic feasibility has sustained it. Twenty states are already at grid parity for residential solar. Within the next year, that number is expected to double.
According to the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, there are currently more than 20 offshore wind projects in progress in the United States. This number is expected to grow, as the U.S. Department of Energy has earmarked $18.5 million for offshore wind research and development. Offshore wind has the potential for significant impact, as wind power will enable high usage, high population areas along the coasts to benefit from renewable energy.
Blockchain and IoT
Energy blockchain allows consumers to buy and sell electricity directly across microgrids. These microgrids can operate independently, or link up with other microgrids. These peer-to-peer relationships eliminate the need for a middleman and could potentially offer significant cost reductions for consumers. Blockchain may also offer a solution to some security concerns surrounding power grids.
In addition, the Internet of Things (IoT) makes real-time monitoring of energy output and usage possible. When energy blockchain and IoT are paired together, energy can be diverted where it's needed, exactly when it's needed. This leaves control in the hands of consumers, who can eliminate inefficiencies and bureaucracy. During outages, stored power can be immediately directed to critical institutions such as hospitals, long-term care facilities, and correctional facilities.
Currently, 29 states and Washington D.C have enforceable renewable portfolio standards (RPS). In addition, eight other states have adopted voluntary renewable energy goals. Over half of the states with RPS are set to reach their renewable energy goals by 2021.
The Federal Regulatory Commission's finalization of Order No. 841 was also a boon for storage technologies. By the end of this year, Regional Transmission Organizations and Independent System Operators must open their markets to energy storage resources.
Over the last 20 years, federal and state policies have provided the impetus for growth in the renewable energy sector. The desire for low environmental impacts at a price similar to that offered by conventional energy has kept the momentum going. Favorable state and federal policies will be crucial to driving expanded use, so it will be up to the renewable energy lobby and industry stakeholders to foster continued support from local, state, and federal governments.
Innovations in storage technologies make renewable energy a source consumers can depend on. Now with lower implementation and operation costs, renewable sources are becoming not just a good choice, but the best choice for tomorrow's energy needs.
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