There are numerous organizations within the academic, federal, and commercial sectors conducting large scale advanced research in the field of sustainable energy. This research spans several areas of focus across the sustainable energy spectrum. Most of the research is targeted at improving efficiency and increasing overall energy yields. Multiple federally supported research organizations have focused on sustainable energy in recent years. Two of the most prominent of these labs are Sandia National Laboratories and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), both of which are funded by the United States Department of Energy and supported by various corporate partners. Sandia has a total budget of $2.4 billion  while NREL has a budget of $375 million.
Al Gore says the reason is innovation. “The cost-reduction curve that came to technologies like computers, smartphones and flat-panel televisions has come to solar energy, wind energy and battery storage,” he says. “I remember being startled decades ago when people first started to explain to me that the cost of computing was being cut in half every 18 to 24 months. And now this dramatic economic change has begun to utterly transform the electricity markets.”
According to a 2011 projection by the International Energy Agency, solar power generators may produce most of the world's electricity within 50 years, reducing the emissions of greenhouse gases that harm the environment. Cedric Philibert, senior analyst in the renewable energy division at the IEA said: "Photovoltaic and solar-thermal plants may meet most of the world's demand for electricity by 2060 – and half of all energy needs – with wind, hydropower and biomass plants supplying much of the remaining generation". "Photovoltaic and concentrated solar power together can become the major source of electricity", Philibert said.
Large three-bladed horizontal-axis wind turbines (HAWT), with the blades upwind of the tower produce the overwhelming majority of windpower in the world today. These turbines have the main rotor shaft and electrical generator at the top of a tower, and must be pointed into the wind. Small turbines are pointed by a simple wind vane, while large turbines generally use a wind sensor coupled with a yaw system. Most have a gearbox, which turns the slow rotation of the blades into a quicker rotation that is more suitable to drive an electrical generator. Some turbines use a different type of generator suited to slower rotational speed input. These don't need a gearbox, and are called direct-drive, meaning they couple the rotor directly to the generator with no gearbox in between. While permanent magnet direct-drive generators can be more costly due to the rare earth materials required, these gearless turbines are sometimes preferred over gearbox generators because they "eliminate the gear-speed increaser, which is susceptible to significant accumulated fatigue torque loading, related reliability issues, and maintenance costs."
Wind power first appeared in Europe during the Middle Ages. The first historical records of their use in England date to the 11th or 12th centuries and there are reports of German crusaders taking their windmill-making skills to Syria around 1190. By the 14th century, Dutch windmills were in use to drain areas of the Rhine delta. Advanced wind turbines were described by Croatian inventor Fausto Veranzio. In his book Machinae Novae (1595) he described vertical axis wind turbines with curved or V-shaped blades.
Jump up ^ Artificial photosynthesis as a frontier technology for energy sustainability. Thomas Faunce, Stenbjorn Styring, Michael R. Wasielewski, Gary W. Brudvig, A. William Rutherford, Johannes Messinger, Adam F. Lee, Craig L. Hill, Huub deGroot, Marc Fontecave, Doug R. MacFarlane, Ben Hankamer, Daniel G. Nocera, David M. Tiede, Holger Dau, Warwick Hillier, Lianzhou Wang and Rose Amal. Energy Environ. Sci., 2013, Advance Article doi:10.1039/C3EE40534F
Small-scale turbines are expensive (one manufacturer says a typical system costs $40,000 to $60,000 to install), though some of that outlay can be offset by federal and local tax credits. Experts recommend that you buy one certified by the Small Wind Certification Council. Turbine manufacturers include Bergey Wind Power, Britwind and Xzeres Wind; look on their websites for local dealers.
The combination of wind and solar PV has the advantage that the two sources complement each other because the peak operating times for each system occur at different times of the day and year. The power generation of such solar hybrid power systems is therefore more constant and fluctuates less than each of the two component subsystems. Solar power is seasonal, particularly in northern/southern climates, away from the equator, suggesting a need for long term seasonal storage in a medium such as hydrogen or pumped hydroelectric. The Institute for Solar Energy Supply Technology of the University of Kassel pilot-tested a combined power plant linking solar, wind, biogas and hydrostorage to provide load-following power from renewable sources.
Second-generation technologies include solar heating and cooling, wind power, modern forms of bioenergy and solar photovoltaics. These are now entering markets as a result of research, development and demonstration (RD&D) investments since the 1980s. The initial investment was prompted by energy security concerns linked to the oil crises (1973 and 1979) of the 1970s but the continuing appeal of these renewables is due, at least in part, to environmental benefits. Many of the technologies reflect significant advancements in materials.
As the cost of solar electricity has fallen, the number of grid-connected solar PV systems has grown into the millions and utility-scale solar power stations with hundreds of megawatts are being built. Solar PV is rapidly becoming an inexpensive, low-carbon technology to harness renewable energy from the Sun. The current largest photovoltaic power station in the world is the 850 MW Longyangxia Dam Solar Park, in Qinghai, China.