The term renewable formed within English on analogy of the Latin renovare (restore, revive), with the verb renew to appear first in print in The Wycliffite Bible circa 1390s, and the adjective to be first recorded nearly two centuries later, in the English translation of the A Paraphrase vppon the epistle of the holie apostle S. Paule to the Romanes: “That which is renewable, is excelled and surmounted of that, which already is renewed to better, and into the best state it may have.”
And when it comes to renewable resources, those are natural resources or sources of energy that could be theoretically replaced or recovered in the same amount of time as it takes to draw the supply down, with other words, resources that can not be depleted by its utilisation.
And while some renewable resources have a so-to-say endlessly flowing supply, such as wind, solar and geothermal energy, other require time and intentional measures, like wood, fresh water, flora and fauna, etc.
And as the human population is increasing rapidly, so is the use of resources. The last centuries’ population and economic growth on one hand led to a heavy exploit of our surrounding, but on another – to a technological progress to help us use renewable resources more effectively.
And one of the main drivers of progress – energy – happens to also be among the most challenging resources that the humankind is dependent on. While up to the mid 19th century the world was powered by mainly energy generated by renewable resources, it was the development of coal and fossil fuels that changed the balance.
And as oil, coal and natural gas are non-renewable resources, considering the time needed for their formation, and furthermore, the high environmental costs for their extraction, refinery, transpiration and utilisation, the global pressure to find a sustainable balance and turn to, or better to say, return to renewable energy is building up.
The call for finding alternative energy resources, driven by the fear that our planet will run out of fossil fuels, is over a century and a half old. With the first British source to give a voice to the depletion of coal, the Chambers’s encyclopædia: “Coal is not a growth annually renewable, but an accumulation which we are gradually spending” (1869).
And the warning of the inventor of the earliest solar-powered engine, converting solar energy into mechanical steam power, the French Augustin Mouchot, who in 1873 wrote: “The time will arrive when the industry of Europe will cease to find those natural resources, so necessary for it. Petroleum springs and coal mines are not inexhaustible but are rapidly diminishing in many places. Will man, then, return to the power of water and wind? Or will he emigrate where the most powerful source of heat sends its rays to all? History will show what will come.”
And what came for Europe? Of the 24.5GW of new capacity built across the EU in 2016, 21.1GW – or 86% – was from renewable sources (wind, solar, biomass and hydro), wind power overtook coal to become the EU’s second largest form of power capacity after gas, while much pressure is put on countries to close down old coal power plants.
Renewable energy in the United States accounted for 11.1% of the total energy generation, and in global terms, renewable energy provided an estimated 19.3% of global final energy consumption in 2015, and growth in capacity and generation continued in 2016.
And further global sustainable development policies and measures are in progress and planned ahead in the effort to reverse the depletion and degradation of natural resources and to effectively utilise the power of renewable resources.