With Georgetown emerging as a brave new model for a renewable city, it makes sense to ask if others can achieve the same magical balance of more power, less pollution and lower costs. In fact, cities ranging from Orlando to St. Louis to San Francisco to Portland, Oregon, have pledged to run entirely on renewable energy. Those places are much larger than Georgetown, of course, and no one would expect misty Portland to power a light bulb for long with solar energy, which is crucial to Georgetown’s success. But beyond its modest size, abundant sunshine and archetype-busting mayor, Georgetown has another edge, one that’s connected to a cherished Lone Star ideal: freedom.
A 1.5 (MW) wind turbine of a type frequently seen in the United States has a tower 80 meters (260 ft) high. The rotor assembly (blades and hub) weighs 22,000 kilograms (48,000 lb). The nacelle, which contains the generator, weighs 52,000 kilograms (115,000 lb). The concrete base for the tower is constructed using 26,000 kilograms (58,000 lb) reinforcing steel and contains 190 cubic meters (250 cu yd) of concrete. The base is 15 meters (50 ft) in diameter and 2.4 meters (8 ft) thick near the center.
A turbine that produces around 5 kW worth of energy can produce approximately 8,000 kWh per year, assuming there are decent winds to power it. Given ideal conditions, you will be able to recoup your investment in three to five years, depending on your monthly energy consumption and other related factors. If, however, your property doesn’t get enough wind then it may take a little more time to recover your initial investment.
Meanwhile, we enjoy life grid intertied here in northern California. Our daughters and their families are nearby using their independent living skills to make their own homes. One daughter has designed and sold 300 off-grid or gridtie solar electric systems since the first of the year. The other is baking bread today and figuring out what to do with the multitude of tomatillos, squash and eggplant that are spilling out of our garden. I’m so proud of my tribe!
Smart grid refers to a class of technology people are using to bring utility electricity delivery systems into the 21st century, using computer-based remote control and automation. These systems are made possible by two-way communication technology and computer processing that has been used for decades in other industries. They are beginning to be used on electricity networks, from the power plants and wind farms all the way to the consumers of electricity in homes and businesses. They offer many benefits to utilities and consumers—mostly seen in big improvements in energy efficiency on the electricity grid and in the energy users’ homes and offices.
All these electrical machines are electromechanical devices that work on Faraday’s law of electromagnetic induction. That is they operate through the interaction of a magnetic flux and an electric current, or flow of charge. As this process is reversible, the same machine can be used as a conventional electrical motor for converting the electrical power into mechanical power, or as a generator converting the mechanical power back into the electrical power.
There is more trouble with rated power: It only happens at a “rated wind speed”. And the trouble with that is there is no standard for rated wind speed. Since the energy in the wind increases with the cube of the wind speed, it makes a very large difference if rated power is measured at 10 m/s (22 mph), or 12 m/s (27 mph). For example, that 6 meter wind turbine from the previous section could reasonably be expected to produce 5.2 kW at 10 m/s, while it will do 9 kW at 12 m/s!
The locations with highest annual solar irradiance lie in the arid tropics and subtropics. Deserts lying in low latitudes usually have few clouds, and can receive sunshine for more than ten hours a day. These hot deserts form the Global Sun Belt circling the world. This belt consists of extensive swathes of land in Northern Africa, Southern Africa, Southwest Asia, Middle East, and Australia, as well as the much smaller deserts of North and South America. Africa's eastern Sahara Desert, also known as the Libyan Desert, has been observed to be the sunniest place on Earth according to NASA.
Despite these diverse developments, developments in fossil fuel systems almost entirely eliminated any wind turbine systems larger than supermicro size. In the early 1970s, however, anti-nuclear protests in Denmark spurred artisan mechanics to develop microturbines of 22 kW. Organizing owners into associations and co-operatives lead to the lobbying of the government and utilities and provided incentives for larger turbines throughout the 1980s and later. Local activists in Germany, nascent turbine manufacturers in Spain, and large investors in the United States in the early 1990s then lobbied for policies that stimulated the industry in those countries.
In the case of crystalline silicon modules, the solder material, that joins together the copper strings of the cells, contains about 36 percent of lead (Pb). Moreover, the paste used for screen printing front and back contacts contains traces of Pb and sometimes Cd as well. It is estimated that about 1,000 metric tonnes of Pb have been used for 100 gigawatts of c-Si solar modules. However, there is no fundamental need for lead in the solder alloy.
For a 6 kW wind turbine to produce that much energy per average year, you need an annual average wind speed of close to 5 m/s (11 mph) blowing at turbine hub height. It may not sound like much, but that is a reasonably windy place. Much of North America does not have that much wind at 100′ or below. Keep in mind, you need that much wind just to break even in energy production vs. solar. To outweigh the disadvantages of small turbines you better have more!
A 2014-published life-cycle analysis of land use for various sources of electricity concluded that the large-scale implementation of solar and wind potentially reduces pollution-related environmental impacts. The study found that the land-use footprint, given in square meter-years per megawatt-hour (m2a/MWh), was lowest for wind, natural gas and rooftop PV, with 0.26, 0.49 and 0.59, respectively, and followed by utility-scale solar PV with 7.9. For CSP, the footprint was 9 and 14, using parabolic troughs and solar towers, respectively. The largest footprint had coal-fired power plants with 18 m2a/MWh.
How accurate are these numbers? This is the energy production a good horizontal-axis wind turbine can reach, if installed at the perfect site and height. These are the upper limit though, if your turbine produces anywhere near the number predicted by this table you should be doing your happy-dance! Most small wind turbine installations underperform significantly, in fact, the average seems to be about half of the predicted energy production (and many do not even reach that). There can be many reasons for the performance shortfall; poor site selection, with more turbulent air than expected often has much to do with it. The reports in the ‘real world’ section following below illustrate this point. Many small wind turbines do not reach 30% overall efficiency, some are close to 0% (this is no joke!), so these numbers have only one direction to go. For off-grid battery charging wind turbines you should deduct 20 – 30% of the predicted numbers, due to the lower efficiency of a turbine tied to batteries, and the losses involved in charging batteries.
Wind turbines need wind. Not just any wind, but the nicely flowing, smooth, laminar kind. That cannot be found at 30 feet height. It can usually not be found at 60 feet. Sometimes you find it at 80 feet. More often than not it takes 100 feet of tower to get there. Those towers cost as much or more, installed, as the turbine itself. How much tower you need for a wind turbine to live up to its potential depends on your particular site; on the trees and structures around it etc. Close to the ground the wind is turbulent, and makes a poor fuel for a small wind turbine.
The majority of green pricing programs charge a higher price per kilowatt-hour to support an increased percentage of renewable sources or to buy discrete kilowatt-hour blocks of renewable energy. Other programs have fixed monthly fees, round up customer bills, charge for units of renewable capacity, or offer renewable energy systems for lease or purchase.
Additions of small amount (0.5 weight %) of nanoreinforcement (carbon nanotubes or nanoclay in the polymer matrix of composites, fiber sizing or interlaminar layers can allow to increase the fatigue resistance, shear or compressive strength as well as fracture toughness of the composites by 30–80%. Research has also shown that the incorporation of small amount of carbon nanotubes/CNT can increase the lifetime up to 1500%.
In Denmark by 1900, there were about 2500 windmills for mechanical loads such as pumps and mills, producing an estimated combined peak power of about 30 (MW). The largest machines were on 24-meter (79 ft) towers with four-bladed 23-meter (75 ft) diameter rotors. By 1908 there were 72 wind-driven electric generators operating in the United States from 5 kW to 25 kW. Around the time of World War I, American windmill makers were producing 100,000 farm windmills each year, mostly for water-pumping.
In its 2014 edition of the Technology Roadmap: Solar Photovoltaic Energy report, the International Energy Agency (IEA) published prices for residential, commercial and utility-scale PV systems for eight major markets as of 2013 (see table below). However, DOE's SunShot Initiative has reported much lower U.S. installation prices. In 2014, prices continued to decline. The SunShot Initiative modeled U.S. system prices to be in the range of $1.80 to $3.29 per watt. Other sources identify similar price ranges of $1.70 to $3.50 for the different market segments in the U.S., and in the highly penetrated German market, prices for residential and small commercial rooftop systems of up to 100 kW declined to $1.36 per watt (€1.24/W) by the end of 2014. In 2015, Deutsche Bank estimated costs for small residential rooftop systems in the U.S. around $2.90 per watt. Costs for utility-scale systems in China and India were estimated as low as $1.00 per watt.
Geothermal power is cost effective, reliable, sustainable, and environmentally friendly, but has historically been limited to areas near tectonic plate boundaries. Recent technological advances have expanded the range and size of viable resources, especially for applications such as home heating, opening a potential for widespread exploitation. Geothermal wells release greenhouse gases trapped deep within the earth, but these emissions are much lower per energy unit than those of fossil fuels. As a result, geothermal power has the potential to help mitigate global warming if widely deployed in place of fossil fuels.
The primary obstacle that is preventing the large scale implementation of solar powered energy generation is the inefficiency of current solar technology. Currently, photovoltaic (PV) panels only have the ability to convert around 24% of the sunlight that hits them into electricity. At this rate, solar energy still holds many challenges for widespread implementation, but steady progress has been made in reducing manufacturing cost and increasing photovoltaic efficiency. Both Sandia National Laboratories and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), have heavily funded solar research programs. The NREL solar program has a budget of around $75 million  and develops research projects in the areas of photovoltaic (PV) technology, solar thermal energy, and solar radiation. The budget for Sandia’s solar division is unknown, however it accounts for a significant percentage of the laboratory’s $2.4 billion budget. Several academic programs have focused on solar research in recent years. The Solar Energy Research Center (SERC) at University of North Carolina (UNC) has the sole purpose of developing cost effective solar technology. In 2008, researchers at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) developed a method to store solar energy by using it to produce hydrogen fuel from water. Such research is targeted at addressing the obstacle that solar development faces of storing energy for use during nighttime hours when the sun is not shining. In February 2012, North Carolina-based Semprius Inc., a solar development company backed by German corporation Siemens, announced that they had developed the world’s most efficient solar panel. The company claims that the prototype converts 33.9% of the sunlight that hits it to electricity, more than double the previous high-end conversion rate. Major projects on artificial photosynthesis or solar fuels are also under way in many developed nations.
Wind turbines are generally inexpensive. They will produce electricity at between two and six cents per kilowatt hour, which is one of the lowest-priced renewable energy sources. And as technology needed for wind turbines continues to improve, the prices will decrease as well. In addition, there is no competitive market for wind energy, as it does not cost money to get ahold of wind. The main cost of wind turbines are the installation process. The average cost is between $48,000 and $65,000 to install. However, the energy harvested from the turbine will offset the installation cost, as well as provide virtually free energy for years after.
This discussion is mainly about factory-made grid-tie wind turbines. The off-grid crowd has an entirely different set of decisions and goals. The main ones are that for off-grid use economic viability in comparison with the electrical grid is not an issue, and a wind turbine can make up for the loss of sunlight (and PV electricity) in the winter months. For the DIY group there are several good turbine designs available; Hugh Piggott and the two Dans have written books that outline this step-by-step. Building your own turbine can be a great hobby, and some of the topics touched below apply (such as proper site selection), but this discussion is not about those. The decisions involved in making your own turbine, and the cost basis, have little overlap with a the process of having an installer put a factory-made turbine in your backyard.
The PV industry is beginning to adopt levelized cost of electricity (LCOE) as the unit of cost. The electrical energy generated is sold in units of kilowatt-hours (kWh). As a rule of thumb, and depending on the local insolation, 1 watt-peak of installed solar PV capacity generates about 1 to 2 kWh of electricity per year. This corresponds to a capacity factor of around 10–20%. The product of the local cost of electricity and the insolation determines the break even point for solar power. The International Conference on Solar Photovoltaic Investments, organized by EPIA, has estimated that PV systems will pay back their investors in 8 to 12 years. As a result, since 2006 it has been economical for investors to install photovoltaics for free in return for a long term power purchase agreement. Fifty percent of commercial systems in the United States were installed in this manner in 2007 and over 90% by 2009.