Moving towards energy sustainability will require changes not only in the way energy is supplied, but in the way it is used, and reducing the amount of energy required to deliver various goods or services is essential. Opportunities for improvement on the demand side of the energy equation are as rich and diverse as those on the supply side, and often offer significant economic benefits.[60]
Cleaner air and water: Burning fossil fuels releases greenhouse gases (GHG) into the atmosphere. GHG contribute to global climate change, rising sea levels and unpredictable weather patterns that can be costly in terms of human and economic losses. Burning fossil fuels also releases contaminants in to the air and water near the power generation source. Alternative energy sources can produce the same electricity in a greener way. You can shrink your carbon footprint, help curb climate change and reduce air and water pollution when you choose renewable electricity.
Materials for wind turbine parts other than the rotor blades (including the rotor hub, gearbox, frame, and tower) are largely composed of steel. Modern turbines use a couple of tons of copper for generators, cables, and such.[52] Smaller wind turbines have begun incorporating more aluminum based alloys into these components in an effort to make the turbines lighter and more efficient, and may continue to be used increasingly if fatigue and strength properties can be improved. Prestressed concrete has been increasingly used for the material of the tower, but still requires much reinforcing steel to meet the strength requirement of the turbine. Additionally, step-up gearboxes are being increasingly replaced with variable speed generators, increasing the demand for magnetic materials in wind turbines.[46] In particular, this would require an increased supply of the rare earth metal neodymium.
Green power is a subset of renewable energy and represents those renewable energy resources and technologies that provide the highest environmental benefit. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency defines green power as electricity produced from solar, wind, geothermal, biogas, biomass and low-impact small hydroelectric sources. Customers often buy green power for avoided environmental impacts and its greenhouse gas reduction benefits.[9]
Reliance on rare earth minerals for components has risked expense and price volatility as China has been main producer of rare earth minerals (96% in 2009) and had been reducing its export quotas of these materials.[56] In recent years, however, other producers have increased production of rare earth minerals and China has removed its reduced export quota on rare earths leading to an increased supply and decreased cost of rare earth minerals, increasing the viability of the implementation of variable speed generators in wind turbines on a large scale.[57]
This solar resource map provides a summary of the estimated solar energy available for power generation and other energy applications. It represents the average daily/yearly sum of electricity production from a 1 kW-peak grid-connected solar PV power plant covering the period from 1994/1999/2007 (depending on the geographical region) to 2015. Source: Global Solar Atlas]