The US National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), in harmonizing the disparate estimates of life-cycle GHG emissions for solar PV, found that the most critical parameter was the solar insolation of the site: GHG emissions factors for PV solar are inversely proportional to insolation. For a site with insolation of 1700 kWh/m2/year, typical of southern Europe, NREL researchers estimated GHG emissions of 45 gCO2e/kWh. Using the same assumptions, at Phoenix, USA, with insolation of 2400 kWh/m2/year, the GHG emissions factor would be reduced to 32 g of CO2e/kWh.
Wind energy research dates back several decades to the 1970s when NASA developed an analytical model to predict wind turbine power generation during high winds. Today, both Sandia National Laboratories and National Renewable Energy Laboratory have programs dedicated to wind research. Sandia’s laboratory focuses on the advancement of materials, aerodynamics, and sensors. The NREL wind projects are centered on improving wind plant power production, reducing their capital costs, and making wind energy more cost effective overall. The Field Laboratory for Optimized Wind Energy (FLOWE) at Caltech was established to research renewable approaches to wind energy farming technology practices that have the potential to reduce the cost, size, and environmental impact of wind energy production. The president of Sky WindPower Corporation thinks that wind turbines will be able to produce electricity at a cent/kWh at an average which in comparison to coal-generated electricity is a fractional of the cost.
Geothermal energy is produced by tapping into the thermal energy created and stored within the earth. It arises from the radioactive decay of an isotope of potassium and other elements found in the Earth's crust. Geothermal energy can be obtained by drilling into the ground, very similar to oil exploration, and then it is carried by a heat-transfer fluid (e.g. water, brine or steam). Geothermal systems that are mainly dominated by water have the potential to provide greater benefits to the system and will generate more power. Within these liquid-dominated systems, there are possible concerns of subsidence and contamination of ground-water resources. Therefore, protection of ground-water resources is necessary in these systems. This means that careful reservoir production and engineering is necessary in liquid-dominated geothermal reservoir systems. Geothermal energy is considered sustainable because that thermal energy is constantly replenished. However, the science of geothermal energy generation is still young and developing economic viability. Several entities, such as the National Renewable Energy Laboratory and Sandia National Laboratories are conducting research toward the goal of establishing a proven science around geothermal energy. The International Centre for Geothermal Research (IGC), a German geosciences research organization, is largely focused on geothermal energy development research.
If you regularly find your lawn furniture blown over, or have to collect it from the neighbour’s yard, your house needs to be repainted every year or two because it constantly gets sand-blasted, and where the trees have funny shapes (and not because your power company has been doing the pruning), that is when you know you live in a windy place where a wind turbine is likely to make economic sense.
Renewable energy (and energy efficiency) are no longer niche sectors that are promoted only by governments and environmentalists. The increased levels of investment and the fact that much of the capital is coming from more conventional financial actors suggest that sustainable energy options are now becoming mainstream. An example of this would be The Alliance to Save Energy's Project with Stahl Consolidated Manufacturing, (Huntsville, Alabama, USA) (StahlCon 7), a patented generator shaft designed to reduce emissions within existing power generating systems, granted publishing rights to the Alliance in 2007.
The advantage of this approach in the United States is that many states offer incentives to offset the cost of installation of a renewable energy system. In California, Massachusetts and several other U.S. states, a new approach to community energy supply called Community Choice Aggregation has provided communities with the means to solicit a competitive electricity supplier and use municipal revenue bonds to finance development of local green energy resources. Individuals are usually assured that the electricity they are using is actually produced from a green energy source that they control. Once the system is paid for, the owner of a renewable energy system will be producing their own renewable electricity for essentially no cost and can sell the excess to the local utility at a profit.
A study of the material consumption trends and requirements for wind energy in Europe found that bigger turbines have a higher consumption of precious metals but lower material input per kW generated. The current material consumption and stock was compared to input materials for various onshore system sizes. In all EU countries the estimates for 2020 exceeded and doubled the values consumed in 2009. These countries would need to expand their resources to be able to meet the estimated demand for 2020. For example, currently the EU has 3% of world supply of fluorspar and it requires 14% by 2020. Globally, the main exporting countries are South Africa, Mexico and China. This is similar with other critical and valuable materials required for energy systems such as magnesium, silver and indium. In addition, the levels of recycling of these materials is very low and focusing on that could alleviate issues with supply in the future. It is important to note that since most of these valuable materials are also used in other emerging technologies, like LEDs, PVs and LCDs, it is projected that demand for them will continue to increase.
When power flows from the generator to your house, electrons get mixed together on the wires. You can't specify which electrons you get, but you can make sure that your money goes to support clean, sustainable generators, which has the effect of making the whole system "greener". To do this, you will need to look closely at utility marketing claims and materials. To ensure that the claims are truthful, many states now require disclosure labels, just like the nutrition labels on food packages. But don't hesitate to ask for more information directly from potential suppliers, including the percentage of power derived from each fuel source and the level of each of the above emissions compared with the regional average.
Wind turbines need wind. Not just any wind, but the nicely flowing, smooth, laminar kind. That cannot be found at 30 feet height. It can usually not be found at 60 feet. Sometimes you find it at 80 feet. More often than not it takes 100 feet of tower to get there. Those towers cost as much or more, installed, as the turbine itself. How much tower you need for a wind turbine to live up to its potential depends on your particular site; on the trees and structures around it etc. Close to the ground the wind is turbulent, and makes a poor fuel for a small wind turbine.
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.
Electricity produced by wind generators can be used directly, as in water pumping applications, or it can be stored in batteries for later use. Wind generators can be used alone, or they may be used as part of a hybrid system, in which their output is combined with that of solar panels, and /or a fossil fuel generator. Hybrid systems are especially useful for winter backup of home systems where cloudy weather and windy conditions occur simultaneously.
A hybrid system combines (C)PV and CSP with one another or with other forms of generation such as diesel, wind and biogas. The combined form of generation may enable the system to modulate power output as a function of demand or at least reduce the fluctuating nature of solar power and the consumption of non renewable fuel. Hybrid systems are most often found on islands.