At the end of 2006, the Ontario Power Authority (OPA, Canada) began its Standard Offer Program, a precursor to the Green Energy Act, and the first in North America for distributed renewable projects of less than 10 MW. The feed-in tariff guaranteed a fixed price of $0.42 CDN per kWh over a period of twenty years. Unlike net metering, all the electricity produced was sold to the OPA at the given rate.
We now know that the electrical generator provides a means of energy conversion between the mechanical torque generated by the rotor blades, called the prime mover, and some electrical load. The mechanical connection of the wind turbine generator to the rotor blades is made through a main shaft which can be either a simple direct drive, or by using a gearbox to increase or decrease the generator speed relative to the rotational speed of the blades.
As the section above shows, anything under 5 m/s annual average wind speed is not going to be worth-while if you want any economic benefit out of a wind turbine. Even with government incentives, you would be better off with solar for most places. Let us take this a bit further, and assume your backyard is pretty windy, a full 6 m/s (13.4 mph) annual average wind speed at 100′ height. You get a 6 kW wind turbine installed, and shell out $50,000 for that privilege. If the installer did her job properly, the turbine is spinning in nice, clean, laminar air, and it will produce around 13,000 kWh per year. You are the kind of person that wins the lottery on a regular basis, marries a beauty queen (or king), and has kids that all go to ivy-league universities; your wind turbine never breaks and you do not have to shell out a single buck for maintenance over 20 years. Now your turbine has produced around 260,000 kWh of electricity, which works out to 19.2 cents per kWh in cost. Maybe you pay more than for electricity and it is worth it, but your are likely not getting rich, and any repairs and maintenance will drive that price up in a hurry.
Wind turbines do work; put them in nice, smooth air and their energy production is quite predictable (we will get to predicting it a bit further on in this story). The honest manufacturers do not lie or exaggerate, their turbines really can work as advertised in smooth, laminar airflow. However, put that same turbine on a 40 feet tower and even if the annual average wind speed is still 5 m/s at that height, its energy production will fall far short of what you would predict for that value. How short is anybody’s guess, that is part of the point; it is impossible to predict the effect of turbulence other than that it robs the energy production potential of any wind turbine. Roof tops, or other locations on a house, make for poor turbine sites. They are usually very turbulent and on top of that their average wind speeds are usually very low.
Even if you can’t directly purchase and install a solar system because you rent your home, have inadequate solar resources, or lack financing, you may still benefit from switching to solar electricity, and there numerous business models that make solar easier, cheaper, and more accessible. Options such as community or shared solar programs, solar leases, and power-purchase agreements allow millions of households to take advantage of solar energy. Learn about the various ways you can go solar.
Hydro-electricity and geothermal electricity produced at favourable sites are now the cheapest way to generate electricity. Renewable energy costs continue to drop, and the levelised cost of electricity (LCOE) is declining for wind power, solar photovoltaic (PV), concentrated solar power (CSP) and some biomass technologies. Renewable energy is also the most economic solution for new grid-connected capacity in areas with good resources. As the cost of renewable power falls, the scope of economically viable applications increases. Renewable technologies are now often the most economic solution for new generating capacity. Where "oil-fired generation is the predominant power generation source (e.g. on islands, off-grid and in some countries) a lower-cost renewable solution almost always exists today". A series of studies by the US National Renewable Energy Laboratory modeled the "grid in the Western US under a number of different scenarios where intermittent renewables accounted for 33 percent of the total power." In the models, inefficiencies in cycling the fossil fuel plants to compensate for the variation in solar and wind energy resulted in an additional cost of "between $0.47 and $1.28 to each MegaWatt hour generated"; however, the savings in the cost of the fuels saved "adds up to $7 billion, meaning the added costs are, at most, two percent of the savings."
Permanent magnets for wind turbine generators contain rare earth metals such as Nd, Pr, Tb, and Dy. Systems that use magnetic direct drive turbines require higher amounts of rare metals. Therefore, an increase in wind production would increase the demand for these resources. It is estimated that the additional demand for Nd in 2035 may be 4,000 to 18,000 tons and Dy could see an increase of 200 to 1200 tons. These values represent a quarter to half of current production levels. However, since technologies are developing rapidly, driven by supply and price of materials these estimated levels are extremely uncertain.
Shi Zhengrong has said that, as of 2012, unsubsidised solar power is already competitive with fossil fuels in India, Hawaii, Italy and Spain. He said "We are at a tipping point. No longer are renewable power sources like solar and wind a luxury of the rich. They are now starting to compete in the real world without subsidies". "Solar power will be able to compete without subsidies against conventional power sources in half the world by 2015".
Concentrator photovoltaics (CPV) systems employ sunlight concentrated onto photovoltaic surfaces for the purpose of electrical power production. Contrary to conventional photovoltaic systems, it uses lenses and curved mirrors to focus sunlight onto small, but highly efficient, multi-junction solar cells. Solar concentrators of all varieties may be used, and these are often mounted on a solar tracker in order to keep the focal point upon the cell as the sun moves across the sky. Luminescent solar concentrators (when combined with a PV-solar cell) can also be regarded as a CPV system. Concentrated photovoltaics are useful as they can improve efficiency of PV-solar panels drastically.
The International Energy Agency projected in 2014 that under its "high renewables" scenario, by 2050, solar photovoltaics and concentrated solar power would contribute about 16 and 11 percent, respectively, of the worldwide electricity consumption, and solar would be the world's largest source of electricity. Most solar installations would be in China and India. In 2017, solar power provided 1.7% of total worldwide electricity production, growing at 35% per annum.