Renewable Energy Basics

What is renewable energy, how is it produced, and how can you maximize the benefits for your organization? Collecting resources from DOE's Renewable Power Offices as well as the National Labs and others, this page will guide you through the basics of renewable energy power generation and how it can support your cost-savings, sustainability, and resilience goals.

Renewable Energy Overview

Renewable energy is energy collected from resources that are naturally replenished. These resources include solar, hydropower, wind, biomass, and geothermal heating/cooling. Click each energy source for more in-depth information from the National Renewable Energy Lab (NREL):

Organizations can procure renewable energy in three ways: 1) Owning renewable energy systems and consuming the energy they generate, 2) purchasing renewable power from third-party-owned systems, or 3) purchasing unbundled renewable energy credits (RECs). In any case, an organization needs to own and retire the RECs associated with the power in order to make renewable energy claims. Renewable energy generation can occur on-site (e.g. rooftop solar, micro-wind) or off-site (e.g. utility-scale renewables, community solar). An organization’s portfolio of renewable energy may include one or a combination of these procurement options to meet a broader goal. Below are some basic topics about renewable energy that may help inform decision-making including green power markets, technology integration, and costs and feasibility.

U.S. Renewable Energy Market

The U.S. renewable energy market is comprised of many different renewable energy resources. Learn more about trends in renewable energy generation and green power procurement in the U.S. Click MORE to view.

  • Statistics on Renewable Energy Consumption and Alternative Fuels
    EIA’s Data, Current Issues, and Trends

    View statistics on renewable energy consumption by source type, electric capacity, and electricity generation from renewable sources, biomass, and alternative fuels, collected into a dashboard by the U.S. Energy Information Administration.
  • What is Green Power?
    Green Power Partnership’s Overview & Definitions

    Not all energy sources have the same environmental benefits and costs; this resource provides a technical definition of green power and compares it to other sources of energy.
  • What are Green Power Markets?
    GPP’s Overview and Examples

    Green power markets are part of the larger U.S. renewable energy market. Learn more about a range of topics related to how renewable energy supply helps meet demand for green power, how renewable energy certificates (RECs) are the currency of U.S. renewable energy markets, and how the market tracks and accounts for RECs across the country.
  • Understanding Voluntary Green Power Procurement
    Pricing, Data, and Visualizations

    NREL has tracked the voluntary green power market since its inception in the 1990s to help corporate purchasers, utilities, and others selling renewable energy products understand available renewable options and move renewable energy forward.

Continue onto the next section for information on the costs associated with renewables.

Costs of Renewable Energy

The National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) has done years of research into the costs associated with the installation and operation of renewable technologies and renewable energy systems. NREL's findings are digested in the resources below. Click MORE to view.

  • ATB’s Overview of Electricity Data
    Technology Specific Cost and Performance Parameters

    The Annual Technology Baseline (ATB) provides a consistent set of technology cost and performance data for energy analysis.
  • Cost Analysis of Installing Solar PV Systems
    Residential, Commercial, and Utility Scale Installations

    Guidance Document
    This resource analyzes the total costs associated with installing PV systems for residential rooftop, commercial rooftop, and utility-scale ground-mount systems.
  • Estimating the Costs of Distributed Generation Renewable Energy
    This table outlines the estimated costs of renewable energy technologies based on 2016 data.
  • Cost Analysis of Solar Manufacturing
    NREL analyzes manufacturing costs associated with PV technologies, including crystalline silicon, cadmium telluride, copper indium gallium diselenide, perovskite, and III-V solar cells.

Continue onto the next section for information on solar energy technologies.

Solar Energy Technologies

Solar photovoltaics, microgrids, and distributed energy: the resources below will introduce you to the modern landscape of solar technologies. Click MORE to view.

Once you have reviewed our solar energy overview and resources, move on to the next section for information on energy storage.

Energy Storage

Why is storage such an important part of discussions about renewable energy? The resources below will introduce you to Solar + Storage and efforts to expand our storage capacity. Click MORE to view.

  • The Basics of Storing Solar Energy
    A primer on energy storage, how it works, the different types of energy storage, and the advantages of combining storage and solar.
  • What is the Duck Curve?
    This short video will teach you about the duck curve and how solar + storage can help balance hourly energy loads.
  • DOE's Energy Storage Grand Challenge
    A focused effort from DOE to create and sustain global leadership in energy storage utilization and exports, with a secure domestic manufacturing supply that that is not dependent on foreign sources of critical materials by 2030.
  • Implementing PV plus Storage Systems at Federal Buildings and Campuses
    Fact Sheet
    This fact sheet reviews some of the inherent differences in implementing solar + storage as compared to PV alone. 
  • Coupling Technology to Improve Resilience in Energy Storage
    The Basics of Solar Plus X
    Solar Plus X refers to a tightly integrated system that may consist of distributed PV, energy storage, smart building load, electric vehicles, and optimized location software. By leveraging the inherent flexibility of each technology, Solar Plus X can reduce the total integration and operations costs of these distributed energy resource assets.

Continue to the next section for tools to help you evaluate renewable energy.

Tools for Evaluating Renewable Energy

How do you determine the feasibility of renewable energy for your particular project or site? The tools and information below can help you evaluate your options. Click MORE to view.

  • Identify and Evaluate Renewable Energy Projects 
    Tools for Making Performance Predictions and Performing Costs Analyses from NREL
    Guidance Document
    This fact sheet helps users decide the appropriate tools for evaluating a renewable energy project based on required inputs, key outputs, and level of effort/expertise.
  • REopt Lite Modeling Tool
    Optimizing to Find the Technology Sizes That Minimizes Lifecycle Energy Costs
    The REopt™ Lite web tool helps commercial building managers evaluate the economic viability of grid-connected PV, wind, and battery storage at a site, identify system sizes and battery dispatch strategies to minimize energy costs, and estimate how long a system can sustain critical load during a grid outage.
  • Distributed Energy Resources Customer Adoption Model (DER-CAM)
    Decision-making Assistance for Finding Optimal Distributed Energy Resources

    The Distributed Energy Resources Customer Adoption Model (DER-CAM) is a powerful and comprehensive decision-support tool that primarily serves the purpose of finding optimal distributed energy resource (DER) investments in the context of either buildings or multi-energy microgrids.
  • Comparative PV Levelized Cost of Energy (LCOE) Calculator
    Use the Comparative Photovoltaic Levelized Cost of Energy Calculator (Comparative PV LCOE Calculator) to calculate levelized cost of energy (LCOE) for PV systems based on cost, performance, and reliability inputs for a baseline and a proposed technology.
  • NREL’s Distributed Energy Screening Map
    The Economic Site Analysis Tool allows you to customize the cost parameters for an individual site for up to four renewable energy technologies and generate a report of those results.
  • Screening Tool to Identify Green Power Supply Options (XLSM File)
    The Green Power Supply Options Screening Tool is designed to assist organizations in identifying possible green power supply options that are available to them based on their organizational details as well as federal, state, and utility policies. 
  • Weighing the Benefits and Impacts of Wind Energy Using WINDExchange

    This DOE portal provides resources to help communities to weigh the benefits and impacts of wind energy. It includes maps of wind resources, a detailed catalog of state and local ordinances, informational slide decks, wind energy publications, and more. 

  • Toolbox for Renewable Energy Project Development
    Policies, Financing, Proposals, and Processes from EPA
    The toolbox examines six topic areas – including policies and regulations, economic assessments, financing, and funding opportunities – that have important implications for developing these on-site solar projects on college and university campuses.
  • Local Government Solar Project Portal
    A Step-by-Step Guide
    This resource outlines a simple step-by-step process for developing municipal solar projects. Each step of the process is detailed and supported with guidance, trainings, case studies, and tools to help achieve solar project development objectives. Local governments can be recognized in the Portal by sharing examples of their own resources as they progress along the solar project development pathway.
  • Quantifying the Multiple Benefits of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy
    A Guide for State and Local Governments
    Guidance Document
    The Guide is intended to help state and local energy, environmental, and economic policymakers and analysts identify and quantify the many benefits of energy efficiency and renewable energy to support the development and implementation of cost-effective energy efficiency and renewable energy initiatives.

Continue to the next section for on-demand webinars and trainings.

Trainings and Webinars

Click MORE to view recorded trainings and webinars about renewable energy topics.

Keep scrolling for additional resources!

Additional Resources

Click MORE to view additional information on the basics of renewable energy.

  • Energy 101 Video Series
    These short, dynamic, and informative videos provide an introduction to the latest energy-efficient solutions and renewable energy technologies such as solar, wind, geothermal, biofuels, electric vehicles, and clean energy manufacturing.
  • Renewables, Distributed Generation, and Microgrids
    Explore additional resources for Better Plants partners and connect with the renewables, distributed generation, and microgrids subject matter expert.
  • Distributed Generation of Electricity and Impacts on the Environment
    Learn about the environmental benefits and potential concerns associated with distributed generation. 
  • Beyond Solar: Other Renewable Energy Strategies
    Slide Deck
    Speakers from the 2019 Better Buildings, Better Plants Summit review and highlight renewable energy strategies.
  • Renewables Integration Technology Research Team
    The Better Buildings Renewables Integration Technology Research Team provides resources, information, and guidance on integrating renewable energy into your building portfolio.
  • SunShot Resource Center
    Whether you want to learn how to go solar, find a job in the industry, or discover the science behind solar energy, this webpage features DOE-funded resources that can help.
  • Green Power Equivalency Calculator
    This calculator can help your organization better communicate your green power use to interested stakeholders by translating it from kilowatt-hours (kWh) into more understandable terms and concrete examples.
  • Guide to Making Claims About Your Solar (RE) Power Use
    Guidance Document
    This guide describes best practices for appropriately explaining and characterizing solar power activities and the fundamental importance of renewable energy certificates (RECs) for solar power use claims. This guidance is primarily focused on claims associated with on-site projects but is equally relevant for off-site owned projects as well.

Find Solutions to Other Common Renewable Energy Barriers: