Renewable energy is energy that comes from resources which are continually replenished such as sunlight, wind, rain, tides, waves and geothermal heat. About 16% of global final energy consumption comes from renewable resources, with 10% of all energy from traditional biomass, mainly used for heating, and 3.4% from hydroelectricity. New renewables (small hydro, modern biomass, wind, solar, geothermal, and biofuels) accounted for another 3% and are growing very rapidly. The share of renewables in electricity generation is around 19%, with 16% of electricity coming from hydroelectricity and 3% from new renewables.
Wind power is growing at the rate of 30% annually, with a worldwide installed capacity of 282,482 megawatts (MW) at the end of 2012, and is widely used in Europe, Asia, and the United States. At the end of 2012 the photovoltaic (PV) capacity worldwide was 100,000 MW, and PV power stations are popular in Germany and Italy. Solar thermal power stations operate in the USA and Spain, and the largest of these is the 354 MW SEGS power plant in the Mojave Desert. The world's largest geothermal power installation is The Geysers in California, with a rated capacity of 750 MW. Brazil has one of the largest renewable energy programs in the world, involving production of ethanol fuel from sugar cane, and ethanol now provides 18% of the country's automotive fuel. Ethanol fuel is also widely available in the USA.
An intermittent energy source is any source of energy that is not continuously available due to some factor outside direct control. The intermittent source may be quite predictable, for example, tidal power, but cannot be dispatched to meet the demand of a power system. Effective use of intermittent sources in an electric power grid usually relies on using the intermittent sources to displace fuel that would otherwise be consumed by non-renewable power stations, or by storing energy in the form of renewable pumped storage, compressed air or ice, for use when needed, or as electrode heating for district heating schemes.
The storage of energy to fill the shortfall intermittency or for emergencies is part of a reliable energy supply. The capacity of a reliable renewable energy supply, can additionally be fulfilled by the use of latency measures and backup or extra infrastructure and technology, using mixed renewables to produce electricity above the intermittent average, which may be utilised to meet regular and unanticipated supply demands.
The penetration of intermittent renewables in most power grids is low, but wind generates circa 16% (EWEA - 2011 European Statistics, February 2012) of electric energy in Spain and Portugal, 9% in Ireland, and 7% in Germany. Wind provides nearly 20% of the electricity generated in Denmark; to operate with this level of penetration, Denmark exports surpluses and imports during shortfalls to and from the EU grid, particularly Norwegian Hydro, to balance supply with demand. It also uses large numbers of combined heat and power (CHP) stations which can rapidly adjust output. The large thermal stores in these systems are also utilised to store surplus wind energy, since thermal storage is the cheapest form of energy storage.