A report by the United States Geological Survey estimated the projected materials requirement in order to fulfill the US commitment to supplying 20% of its electricity from wind power by 2030. They did not address requirements for small turbines or offshore turbines since those were not widely deployed in 2008, when the study was created. They found that there are increases in common materials such as cast iron, steel and concrete that represent 2–3% of the material consumption in 2008. Between 110,000 and 115,000 metric tons of fiber glass would be required annually, equivalent to 14% of consumption in 2008. They did not see a high increase in demand for rare metals compared to available supply, however rare metals that are also being used for other technologies such as batteries which are increasing its global demand need to be taken into account. Land, whbich might not be considered a material, is an important resource in deploying wind technologies. Reaching the 2030 goal would require 50,000 square kilometers of onshore land area and 11,000 square kilometers of offshore. This is not considered a problem in the US due to its vast area and the ability to use land for farming and grazing. A greater limitation for the technology would be the variability and transmission infrastructure to areas of higher demand.
Technology advances are opening up a huge new market for solar power: the approximately 1.3 billion people around the world who don't have access to grid electricity. Even though they are typically very poor, these people have to pay far more for lighting than people in rich countries because they use inefficient kerosene lamps. Solar power costs half as much as lighting with kerosene. As of 2010, an estimated 3 million households get power from small solar PV systems. Kenya is the world leader in the number of solar power systems installed per capita. More than 30,000 very small solar panels, each producing 12 to 30 watts, are sold in Kenya annually. Some Small Island Developing States (SIDS) are also turning to solar power to reduce their costs and increase their sustainability.
While many renewable energy projects are large-scale, renewable technologies are also suited to rural and remote areas and developing countries, where energy is often crucial in human development. Former United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has said that renewable energy has the ability to lift the poorest nations to new levels of prosperity. As most of renewables provide electricity, renewable energy deployment is often applied in conjunction with further electrification, which has several benefits: Electricity can be converted to heat (where necessary generating higher temperatures than fossil fuels), can be converted into mechanical energy with high efficiency and is clean at the point of consumption. In addition to that electrification with renewable energy is much more efficient and therefore leads to a significant reduction in primary energy requirements, because most renewables don't have a steam cycle with high losses (fossil power plants usually have losses of 40 to 65%).
The typical cost factors for solar power include the costs of the modules, the frame to hold them, wiring, inverters, labour cost, any land that might be required, the grid connection, maintenance and the solar insolation that location will receive. Adjusting for inflation, it cost $96 per watt for a solar module in the mid-1970s. Process improvements and a very large boost in production have brought that figure down to 68 cents per watt in February 2016, according to data from Bloomberg New Energy Finance. Palo Alto California signed a wholesale purchase agreement in 2016 that secured solar power for 3.7 cents per kilowatt-hour. And in sunny Dubai large-scale solar generated electricity sold in 2016 for just 2.99 cents per kilowatt-hour – "competitive with any form of fossil-based electricity — and cheaper than most."
The total number of commercial and industrial renewable energy deals will be even higher, as RMI's numbers refer only to contracts for large, off-site renewable energy projects. That means rooftop solar projects deployed by the likes of Ikea and Target are not included in the RMI deal tracker, which was updated this week at the Renewable Energy Buyers Alliance conference in Oakland, California.
Many industrialized nations have installed significant solar power capacity into their grids to supplement or provide an alternative to conventional energy sources while an increasing number of less developed nations have turned to solar to reduce dependence on expensive imported fuels (see solar power by country). Long distance transmission allows remote renewable energy resources to displace fossil fuel consumption. Solar power plants use one of two technologies: