The movement of wind and water, the heat and light of the sun, the carbohydrates in plants, and the warmth in the Earth—all are energy sources that can supply our needs in a sustainable way. A variety of methods are used to convert these renewable resources into electricity. Each comes with its own unique set of technologies, benefits, and challenges.

Solar power

Worker reflected in solar panels

Photo: NREL

Solar energy—power from the sun—is a vast and inexhaustible resource that can supply a significant portion of our electricity needs. A range of technologies is used to convert the sun’s energy into electricity, including solar collectors and photovoltaic panels.

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Wind power

Photo: Offset

Wind turbines harness air currents and convert them to emissions-free power. Plentiful and inexhaustible in the United States and around the world, wind power is one of the fastest growing renewable technologies and has the potential to provide a significant portion of our electricity needs.

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Biomass

Man holding switchgrass

Photo: smithsonianscience.org

Biomass—plant material and animal waste—is one of the oldest sources of renewable energy, used since our ancestors learned the secret of fire. Now we have the technology to efficiently convert it to electricity.

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Geothermal energy

Geothermal power plant

Photo: iStock

Heat from the earth can be used as an energy source in many ways, from large and complex power stations to small and relatively simple residential pumping systems.

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Hydroelectric power

reservoir and dam tower

Photo: Offset

Using dams to exploit the movement of water for electricity, known as hydroelectric power, is the largest source of renewable power in the United States and worldwide.

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Hydrokinetic energy

Wave energy

Photo: pelamiswave.com

The power of moving water is obvious to anyone who has stood amidst breaking waves or struggled to swim against a river’s current. New technologies enable us to harness the might of rivers, tides, and waves for electricity.

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Is nuclear power clean energy? Yes and no.

Nuclear power plant

Photo: iStock

Nuclear power is “clean” from an emissions standpoint—nuclear power plants produce no air pollution or global warming emissions when they operate—but nuclear power has the potential to cause catastrophic damage to human health and the environment in the event of a meltdown or other disaster.

Benefits and impacts of renewable energy

Solar panels and wind turbines

Photo: iStock

Renewable energy has the potential to reduce pollution, slow global warming, create new industries and jobs, and move America toward a cleaner, healthier energy future. But renewable energy is not without its challenges and impacts.

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We can shift our nation away from dirty fossil fuels and toward cleaner, renewable sources of power—but not without you. Your generous support helps develop science-based solutions for a healthy, safe, and sustainable future.