Besides the greening of fossil fuel and nuclear power plants, another option is the distribution and immediate use of power from solely renewable sources. In this set-up energy storage is again not necessary. For example, TREC has proposed to distribute solar power from the Sahara to Europe. Europe can distribute wind and ocean power to the Sahara and other countries. In this way, power is produced at any given time as at any point of the planet as the sun or the wind is up or ocean waves and currents are stirring. This option however is probably not possible in the short-term, as fossil fuel and nuclear power are still the main sources of energy on the mains electricity net and replacing them will not be possible overnight.
If you can turn a wrench and operate an electric drill, you can build this simple generator in two days: one day for chasing down parts, and one day for assembling the components. The four major components include a vehicle alternator with a built-in voltage regulator, a General Motors (GM) fan and clutch assembly (I used one from a 1988 GM 350 motor), a tower or pole on which to mount the generator (15 feet of used 2-inch tubing cost me $20), and the metal to build a bracket for mounting the generator on the tower or pole. If you’re a Ford guy or a Mopar gal, that’s fine — just make sure your alternator has a built-in voltage regulator. You’ll also need some electrical cable or wires to hook the alternator up to your storage batteries. I used 8-gauge, 3-conductor cable pilfered from the oil patch. (And they said the transition from fossil fuels to renewables would take years. Pfft!)
The life-cycle greenhouse-gas emissions of solar power are in the range of 22 to 46 gram (g) per kilowatt-hour (kWh) depending on if solar thermal or solar PV is being analyzed, respectively. With this potentially being decreased to 15 g/kWh in the future. For comparison (of weighted averages), a combined cycle gas-fired power plant emits some 400–599 g/kWh, an oil-fired power plant 893 g/kWh, a coal-fired power plant 915–994 g/kWh or with carbon capture and storage some 200 g/kWh, and a geothermal high-temp. power plant 91–122 g/kWh. The life cycle emission intensity of hydro, wind and nuclear power are lower than solar's as of 2011 as published by the IPCC, and discussed in the article Life-cycle greenhouse-gas emissions of energy sources. Similar to all energy sources were their total life cycle emissions primarily lay in the construction and transportation phase, the switch to low carbon power in the manufacturing and transportation of solar devices would further reduce carbon emissions. BP Solar owns two factories built by Solarex (one in Maryland, the other in Virginia) in which all of the energy used to manufacture solar panels is produced by solar panels. A 1-kilowatt system eliminates the burning of approximately 170 pounds of coal, 300 pounds of carbon dioxide from being released into the atmosphere, and saves up to 105 gallons of water consumption monthly.
It is unfortunate to see how well marketing for small wind turbines is working: I often see people post questions on forums, where they are looking for a wind turbine “with a low cut-in wind speed”. Depending on whom you ask, the cut-in wind speed is either the wind speed where the turbine starts turning, or the wind speed where it starts to produce some power. For most wind turbines it is around 2.5 – 3.5 m/s (5.5 – 8 mph), and it is an utterly meaningless parameter.
The reliability of small wind turbines is (still) problematic. Even the good ones break much more frequently than we would like, and none will run for 20 years without the need to replace at least some part(s). Despite their apparent simplicity, a small wind turbine is nowhere near as reliable as the average car (and even cars will not run for 20 years without stuff breaking). If you are going to install a small wind turbine you should expect that it will break. The only questions are when and how often.
The use of a gearbox allows for better matching of the generator speed to that of the turbine but the disadvantage of using a gearbox is that as a mechanical component it is subjected to wear and tear reducing the efficiency of the system. Direct drive however may be more simple and efficient, but the generators rotor shaft and bearings are subjected to the full weight and rotational force of the rotor blades.
Floatovoltaics are an emerging form of PV systems that float on the surface of irrigation canals, water reservoirs, quarry lakes, and tailing ponds. Several systems exist in France, India, Japan, Korea, the United Kingdom and the United States. These systems reduce the need of valuable land area, save drinking water that would otherwise be lost through evaporation, and show a higher efficiency of solar energy conversion, as the panels are kept at a cooler temperature than they would be on land. Although not floating, other dual-use facilities with solar power include fisheries.
In 2004, natural gas accounted for about 19 percent of the U.S. electricity mix. Use of natural gas is projected to increase dramatically in the next two decades if we continue on our current path, but supplies are limited and imports are increasing. Our growing reliance on natural gas combined with limited supplies makes this fuel subject to price spikes, which can have a significant impact on consumer energy costs. In addition, though natural gas is much cleaner than coal or oil, it does produce global warming emissions when burned. So, while the use of natural gas serves as a good transition to a cleaner future, it is not the ultimate solution.