A few localities have exploited the attention-getting nature of wind turbines by placing them on public display, either with visitor centers around their bases, or with viewing areas farther away. The wind turbines are generally of conventional horizontal-axis, three-bladed design, and generate power to feed electrical grids, but they also serve the unconventional roles of technology demonstration, public relations, and education.
One issue that has often raised concerns is the use of cadmium (Cd), a toxic heavy metal that has the tendency to accumulate in ecological food chains. It is used as semiconductor component in CdTe solar cells and as buffer layer for certain CIGS cells in the form of CdS. The amount of cadmium used in thin-film PV modules is relatively small (5–10 g/m²) and with proper recycling and emission control techniques in place the cadmium emissions from module production can be almost zero. Current PV technologies lead to cadmium emissions of 0.3–0.9 microgram/kWh over the whole life-cycle. Most of these emissions arise through the use of coal power for the manufacturing of the modules, and coal and lignite combustion leads to much higher emissions of cadmium. Life-cycle cadmium emissions from coal is 3.1 microgram/kWh, lignite 6.2, and natural gas 0.2 microgram/kWh.
Above this rated speed, the wind loads on the rotor blades will be approaching the maximum strength of the electrical machine, and the generator will be producing its maximum or rated power output as the rated wind speed window will have been reached. If the wind speed continues to increase, the wind turbine generator would stop at its cut-out point to prevent mechanical and electrical damage, resulting in zero electrical generation. The application of a brake to stop the generator for damaging itself can be either a mechanical governor or electrical speed sensor.
As of 2011, small solar PV systems provide electricity to a few million households, and micro-hydro configured into mini-grids serves many more. Over 44 million households use biogas made in household-scale digesters for lighting and/or cooking, and more than 166 million households rely on a new generation of more-efficient biomass cookstoves. 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. At the national level, at least 30 nations around the world already have renewable energy contributing more than 20% of energy supply. National renewable energy markets are projected to continue to grow strongly in the coming decade and beyond, and some 120 countries have various policy targets for longer-term shares of renewable energy, including a 20% target of all electricity generated for the European Union by 2020. Some countries have much higher long-term policy targets of up to 100% renewables. Outside Europe, a diverse group of 20 or more other countries target renewable energy shares in the 2020–2030 time frame that range from 10% to 50%.
Floating solar arrays are PV systems that float on the surface of drinking water reservoirs, quarry lakes, irrigation canals or remediation and tailing ponds. A small number of such systems exist in France, India, Japan, South Korea, the United Kingdom, Singapore and the United States. The systems are said to have advantages over photovoltaics on land. The cost of land is more expensive, and there are fewer rules and regulations for structures built on bodies of water not used for recreation. Unlike most land-based solar plants, floating arrays can be unobtrusive because they are hidden from public view. They achieve higher efficiencies than PV panels on land, because water cools the panels. The panels have a special coating to prevent rust or corrosion. In May 2008, the Far Niente Winery in Oakville, California, pioneered the world's first floatovoltaic system by installing 994 solar PV modules with a total capacity of 477 kW onto 130 pontoons and floating them on the winery's irrigation pond. Utility-scale floating PV farms are starting to be built. Kyocera will develop the world's largest, a 13.4 MW farm on the reservoir above Yamakura Dam in Chiba Prefecture using 50,000 solar panels. Salt-water resistant floating farms are also being constructed for ocean use. The largest so far announced floatovoltaic project is a 350 MW power station in the Amazon region of Brazil.
Eight solar panels and one measly little wind generator supplied all the power we used. We bolted the pole that supported the wind generator to a wall of our house, which, sound-wise, turned the roof of the house into one big drumhead. Oops! Live and learn. And when the wind REALLY blew—which was often—the thing broke. The manufacturer replaced the main unit several times before we gave up on wind power.
DOE selected six companies for its 2007 Green Power Supplier Awards, including Constellation NewEnergy; 3Degrees; Sterling Planet; SunEdison; Pacific Power and Rocky Mountain Power; and Silicon Valley Power. The combined green power provided by those six winners equals more than 5 billion kilowatt-hours per year, which is enough to power nearly 465,000 average U.S. households. In 2014, Arcadia Power made RECS available to homes and businesses in all 50 states, allowing consumers to use "100% green power" as defined by the EPA's Green Power Partnership.
In 2007, the US Congress directed the Department of Energy to report on ways to reduce water consumption by CSP. The subsequent report noted that dry cooling technology was available that, although more expensive to build and operate, could reduce water consumption by CSP by 91 to 95 percent. A hybrid wet/dry cooling system could reduce water consumption by 32 to 58 percent. A 2015 report by NREL noted that of the 24 operating CSP power plants in the US, 4 used dry cooling systems. The four dry-cooled systems were the three power plants at the Ivanpah Solar Power Facility near Barstow, California, and the Genesis Solar Energy Project in Riverside County, California. Of 15 CSP projects under construction or development in the US as of March 2015, 6 were wet systems, 7 were dry systems, 1 hybrid, and 1 unspecified.
Bioethanol is an alcohol made by fermentation, mostly from carbohydrates produced in sugar or starch crops such as corn, sugarcane, or sweet sorghum. Cellulosic biomass, derived from non-food sources such as trees and grasses is also being developed as a feedstock for ethanol production. Ethanol can be used as a fuel for vehicles in its pure form, but it is usually used as a gasoline additive to increase octane and improve vehicle emissions. Bioethanol is widely used in the USA and in Brazil. Biodiesel can be used as a fuel for vehicles in its pure form, but it is usually used as a diesel additive to reduce levels of particulates, carbon monoxide, and hydrocarbons from diesel-powered vehicles. Biodiesel is produced from oils or fats using transesterification and is the most common biofuel in Europe.
Environmental impact of wind power includes effect on wildlife, but can be mitigated if proper monitoring and mitigation strategies are implemented. Thousands of birds, including rare species, have been killed by the blades of wind turbines, though wind turbines contribute relatively insignificantly to anthropogenic avian mortality. For every bird killed by a wind turbine in the US, nearly 500,000 are killed by each of feral cats and buildings. In comparison, conventional coal fired generators contribute significantly more to bird mortality, by incineration when caught in updrafts of smoke stacks and by poisoning with emissions byproducts (including particulates and heavy metals downwind of flue gases). Further, marine life is affected by water intakes of steam turbine cooling towers (heat exchangers) for nuclear and fossil fuel generators, by coal dust deposits in marine ecosystems (e.g. damaging Australia's Great Barrier Reef) and by water acidification from combustion monoxides.
At the end of 2006, the Ontario Power Authority (OPA, Canada) began its Standard Offer Program, a precursor to the Green Energy Act, and the first in North America for distributed renewable projects of less than 10 MW. The feed-in tariff guaranteed a fixed price of $0.42 CDN per kWh over a period of twenty years. Unlike net metering, all the electricity produced was sold to the OPA at the given rate.
In 2014 global wind power capacity expanded 16% to 369,553 MW. Yearly wind energy production is also growing rapidly and has reached around 4% of worldwide electricity usage, 11.4% in the EU, and it is widely used in Asia, and the United States. In 2015, worldwide installed photovoltaics capacity increased to 227 gigawatts (GW), sufficient to supply 1 percent of global electricity demands. Solar thermal energy stations operate in the United States and Spain, and as of 2016, the largest of these is the 392 MW Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System in California. The world's largest geothermal power installation is The Geysers in California, with a rated capacity of 750 MW. Brazil has one of the largest renewable energy programs in the world, involving production of ethanol fuel from sugar cane, and ethanol now provides 18% of the country's automotive fuel. Ethanol fuel is also widely available in the United States.
Markets for second-generation technologies are strong and growing, but only in a few countries. The challenge is to broaden the market base for continued growth worldwide. Strategic deployment in one country not only reduces technology costs for users there, but also for those in other countries, contributing to overall cost reductions and performance improvement.
A wide range of concentrating technologies exists: among the best known are the parabolic trough, the compact linear Fresnel reflector, the Stirling dish and the solar power tower. Various techniques are used to track the sun and focus light. In all of these systems a working fluid is heated by the concentrated sunlight, and is then used for power generation or energy storage. Thermal storage efficiently allows up to 24-hour electricity generation.