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What hydroelectric, geothermal, and biomass energy holds for the 2020s in America

Hydropower has been used since antiquity to grind flour and other laborious tasks, and hydroelectric energy in its present form dates back to 1878. In America, hydroelectricity is one of the largest sources of clean energy. Because hydropower provides 7% of the electricity in the nation and represents a staggering 97% of the country’s energy storage via pumped-storage hydropower, such a method of energy generation offers flexibility and reliability to the clean-energy industry.

The Energy Department has been collaborating with over 300 experts from over 150 hydropower companies, research institutions, academics (and more) to determine how hydroelectric energy can grow in the coming decades.

All of these experts have produced a comprehensive analysis that evaluates what the future of hydropower looks like from today to 2030 and through as far as 2050. This analysis is the Hydropower Vision Report, which you can read online, and it defines all the benefits that we will enjoy as a society if we grow our hydropower to 150 gigawatts by 2050.

Hydroelectric energy is America’s oldest form of clean energy, and it has the potential to support over 194,000 jobs by 2050. By this time, hydropower will also be able to reduce cumulative greenhouse gas emissions by 5.6 gigatonnes, save over 30 trillion gallons of water, and save $58 billion in healthcare costs and damages caused by air pollution.

The future of geothermal energy also looks very promising. Today, geothermal energy is the third or fourth most relevant source of clean energy in America. However, this is expected to change—not just because the technology is widely understood but because we’re getting better at it. Geothermal plants, as they currently stand, do the same thing at a basic level: capture steam or hot water to produce energy. The geothermal wells that are currently being drilled will be more efficient and productive than their predecessors. Similarly, engineers are devising geothermal plants that will also become increasingly efficient. Plus, geothermal energy prices are decreasing every day.

Biomass energy is not too far behind, either. In America, biomass energy has the potential to expand dramatically in the future, according to the Union of Concerned Scientists. By 2030, 680 million dry tons could be available every year in the US, which is enough biomass to produce more than 54 billion gallons of ethanol or 732 billion kilowatt-hours of electricity. These resources are distributed widely across the country, which will ensure that many different communities can benefit from this.

Biomass, the organic material of animal and vegetable origins, is a great source of clean energy because it contains energy that it harnesses from the sun (either directly or indirectly). When this biomass is burned, the chemical energy is released in the form of heat. This is why biomass can be burned or converted to biogas or biofuels.

In 2017, biomass fuels made up around 5% of the country’s total primary energy use. In the future, this percentage is projected to grow a great deal as more and more biomass is made available for these purposes. Hydroelectric, geothermal, and biomass energy all have great potential, and I’m personally excited to see how growth in all of these areas over the coming decades.

Sources:

https://science.howstuffworks.com/environmental/energy/future-geothermal-energy.htm

https://www.eia.gov/energyexplained/biomass/

https://www.ucsusa.org/resources/biomass-resources-united-states

https://www.energy.gov/articles/hydropower-vision-new-report-highlights-future-pathways-us-hydropower

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Linda Stevens's picture
Linda Stevens on Nov 11, 2019 7:37 pm GMT

"The geothermal wells that are currently being drilled will be more efficient and productive than their predecessors. Similarly, engineers are devising geothermal plants that will also become increasingly efficient. Plus, geothermal energy prices are decreasing every day."

Geothermal seems so promising. What is the geographic distribution of this energy source? Is there an opportunity to tap into new sources? 

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