Renewable energy is energy from naturally replenished sources. Unlike fossil fuels, which are exhaustible, renewable energy can be used again and again. In 2010, about 10% of U.S. electricity was generated from renewable resources.
Some of the most common renewable energy sources are solar, wind, geothermal, hydropower and biomass. Following is a brief description of each:
- Solar is the conversion of sunlight into electricity by either solar photovoltaic (PV) panels or solar thermal systems. Solar PV panels are what you may see on the roof of someone’s house. These panels collect the solar power and convert it directly into electricity using photovoltaic cells. Solar thermal systems utilize the sun to heat some sort of liquid, which is then used to produce steam that can operate a turbine and produce electricity.
- Wind is used to turn the blades of a wind turbine. This movement drives a shaft that connects to a generator, producing electricity.
- Geothermal systems utilize heat from within the Earth’s core. This heat is used to heat water or to create steam, which, as with a solar thermal system, can operate a turbine to produce electricity.
- Hydropower systems use the movement of water to operate a turbine, creating electricity. Hydropower is currently the largest and least expensive source of renewable electricity produced in the United States. Large– and small-scale hydropower projects are most commonly used by clean-power generators to produce electricity.
- Biomass is organic material from plants or animals that can be burned for heat; can be digested to produce methane, which in turn can be used to generate electricity; or can be fermented to produce fuels. Biomass should not be mistaken for a clean-energy source; while cleaner than most fossil fuels, it still produces sulphur dioxide during electricity production. Wood energy is also categorized as biomass, as it is renewable and is burned during electricity production.
Shopping for a Renewable Energy Supplier
When shopping for your competitive generation supplier on the PAPowerSwitch website, you have the opportunity to learn which companies offer renewable energy services. If you click on “Shop for Electricity” and enter your zip code, a list of suppliers offering competitive generation service in your area will appear. On the right-hand side next to each company name is a category called “Renewable Energy.” If there is a checkmark located underneath this heading, the company does offer renewable sources. Suppliers have the ability to enter the percentage of renewable power in their energy portfolio, along with where the power comes from: Pennsylvania, Regional, or Outside Region. The term "regional" means that the supplier's renewable energy source is found in all or parts of the following states: Delaware, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Maryland, Michigan, New Jersey, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Virginia, West Virginia and the District of Columbia.
Additionally, at the bottom of the page is a list of "Renewable Energy Add-On Options." Please note that the offers made by these companies are available as additions to your current electric supply purchase; selecting one of these plans means the charge for the plan will be added to your monthly bill.
Pennsylvania’s Alternative Energy Portfolio Standards (AEPS)
Pennsylvania’s Alternative Energy Portfolio Standards (AEPS) has produced policies designed to increase electricity generation from renewable resources. AEPS requires each electric distribution company (EDC) and electric generation supplier (EGS) providing retail electric services to customers in Pennsylvania to supply 18% of that service using alternative energy resources by 2020. Pennsylvania’s standard provides for a solar set-aside, mandating that a certain percentage of electricity be generated by solar photovoltaic (PV) systems (in other words, solar panels). Pennsylvania’s AEPS also includes demand side management, waste coal, coal-mine methane and coal gasification as eligible technologies.
Smart metering is one key component in effective demand side management. Smart meter technology helps to reliably and efficiently integrate renewable energy, such as solar and wind energy, into the electric grid. For additional information on Smart Meters, go to the Ways to Save Energy page.
The AEPS website provides a portal for the application and registration of alternative energy facilities that qualify for the AEPS program.
Renewable Energy for Kids
The federal government, through the Energy Information Association, has developed the following “Energy Kids” website for young people that can be a useful resource when it comes to understanding energy and, more specifically, renewable energy.