Several groups in various sectors are conducting research on Jatropha curcas, a poisonous shrub-like tree that produces seeds considered by many to be a viable source of biofuels feedstock oil. Much of this research focuses on improving the overall per acre oil yield of Jatropha through advancements in genetics, soil science, and horticultural practices. SG Biofuels, a San Diego-based Jatropha developer, has used molecular breeding and biotechnology to produce elite hybrid seeds of Jatropha that show significant yield improvements over first generation varieties. The Center for Sustainable Energy Farming (CfSEF) is a Los Angeles-based non-profit research organization dedicated to Jatropha research in the areas of plant science, agronomy, and horticulture. Successful exploration of these disciplines is projected to increase Jatropha farm production yields by 200-300% in the next ten years.
Research is also undertaken in this field of artificial photosynthesis. It involves the use of nanotechnology to store solar electromagnetic energy in chemical bonds, by splitting water to produce hydrogen fuel or then combining with carbon dioxide to make biopolymers such as methanol. Many large national and regional research projects on artificial photosynthesis are now trying to develop techniques integrating improved light capture, quantum coherence methods of electron transfer and cheap catalytic materials that operate under a variety of atmospheric conditions. Senior researchers in the field have made the public policy case for a Global Project on Artificial Photosynthesis to address critical energy security and environmental sustainability issues.
Energy storage is a collection of methods used to store electrical energy on an electrical power grid, or off it. Electrical energy is stored during times when production (especially from intermittent power plants such as renewable electricity sources such as wind power, tidal power, solar power) exceeds consumption, and returned to the grid when production falls below consumption. Pumped-storage hydroelectricity is used for more than 90% of all grid power storage. Costs of lithium ion batteries are dropping rapidly, and are increasingly being deployed as fast acting sources of grid power (i.e. operating reserve) and for domestic storage.
Low Temperature Geothermal refers to the use of the outer crust of the earth as a Thermal Battery to facilitate Renewable thermal energy for heating and cooling buildings, and other refrigeration and industrial uses. In this form of Geothermal, a Geothermal Heat Pump and Ground-coupled heat exchanger are used together to move heat energy into the earth (for cooling) and out of the earth (for heating) on a varying seasonal basis. Low temperature Geothermal (generally referred to as "GHP") is an increasingly important renewable technology because it both reduces total annual energy loads associated with heating and cooling, and it also flattens the electric demand curve eliminating the extreme summer and winter peak electric supply requirements. Thus Low Temperature Geothermal/GHP is becoming an increasing national priority with multiple tax credit support and focus as part of the ongoing movement toward Net Zero Energy. New York City has even just passed a law to require GHP anytime is shown to be economical with 20 year financing including the Socialized Cost of Carbon.
Another economic measure, closely related to the energy payback time, is the energy returned on energy invested (EROEI) or energy return on investment (EROI), which is the ratio of electricity generated divided by the energy required to build and maintain the equipment. (This is not the same as the economic return on investment (ROI), which varies according to local energy prices, subsidies available and metering techniques.) With expected lifetimes of 30 years, the EROEI of PV systems are in the range of 10 to 30, thus generating enough energy over their lifetimes to reproduce themselves many times (6–31 reproductions) depending on what type of material, balance of system (BOS), and the geographic location of the system.
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flywheel energy storage, pumped-storage hydroelectricity is more usable in stationary applications (e.g. to power homes and offices). In household power systems, conversion of energy can also be done to reduce smell. For example, organic matter such as cow dung and spoilable organic matter can be converted to biochar. To eliminate emissions, carbon capture and storage is then used.
Although many older thermoelectric power plants with once-through cooling or cooling ponds use more water than CSP, meaning that more water passes through their systems, most of the cooling water returns to the water body available for other uses, and they consume less water by evaporation. For instance, the median coal power plant in the US with once-through cooling uses 36,350 gal/MWhr, but only 250 gal/MWhr (less than one percent) is lost through evaporation. Since the 1970s, the majority of US power plants have used recirculating systems such as cooling towers rather than once-through systems.
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There is more trouble with rated power: It only happens at a “rated wind speed”. And the trouble with that is there is no standard for rated wind speed. Since the energy in the wind increases with the cube of the wind speed, it makes a very large difference if rated power is measured at 10 m/s (22 mph), or 12 m/s (27 mph). For example, that 6 meter wind turbine from the previous section could reasonably be expected to produce 5.2 kW at 10 m/s, while it will do 9 kW at 12 m/s!
The primary obstacle that is preventing the large scale implementation of solar powered energy generation is the inefficiency of current solar technology. Currently, photovoltaic (PV) panels only have the ability to convert around 24% of the sunlight that hits them into electricity. At this rate, solar energy still holds many challenges for widespread implementation, but steady progress has been made in reducing manufacturing cost and increasing photovoltaic efficiency. Both Sandia National Laboratories and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), have heavily funded solar research programs. The NREL solar program has a budget of around $75 million  and develops research projects in the areas of photovoltaic (PV) technology, solar thermal energy, and solar radiation. The budget for Sandia’s solar division is unknown, however it accounts for a significant percentage of the laboratory’s $2.4 billion budget. Several academic programs have focused on solar research in recent years. The Solar Energy Research Center (SERC) at University of North Carolina (UNC) has the sole purpose of developing cost effective solar technology. In 2008, researchers at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) developed a method to store solar energy by using it to produce hydrogen fuel from water. Such research is targeted at addressing the obstacle that solar development faces of storing energy for use during nighttime hours when the sun is not shining. In February 2012, North Carolina-based Semprius Inc., a solar development company backed by German corporation Siemens, announced that they had developed the world’s most efficient solar panel. The company claims that the prototype converts 33.9% of the sunlight that hits it to electricity, more than double the previous high-end conversion rate. Major projects on artificial photosynthesis or solar fuels are also under way in many developed nations.
Since 2013 the world's highest-situated wind turbine was made and installed by WindAid and is located at the base of the Pastoruri Glacier in Peru at 4,877 meters (16,001 ft) above sea level. The site uses the WindAid 2.5 kW wind generator to supply power to a small rural community of micro entrepreneurs who cater to the tourists who come to the Pastoruri glacier.
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.
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%.
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Construction of the Salt Tanks which provide efficient thermal energy storage so that output can be provided after the sun goes down, and output can be scheduled to meet demand requirements. The 280 MW Solana Generating Station is designed to provide six hours of energy storage. This allows the plant to generate about 38 percent of its rated capacity over the course of a year.
Wind is a form of solar energy and is a result of the uneven heating of the atmosphere by the sun, the irregularities of the earth's surface, and the rotation of the earth. Wind flow patterns and speeds vary greatly across the United States and are modified by bodies of water, vegetation, and differences in terrain. Humans use this wind flow, or motion energy, for many purposes: sailing, flying a kite, and even generating electricity.
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Energy harnessed by wind turbines is intermittent, and is not a "dispatchable" source of power; its availability is based on whether the wind is blowing, not whether electricity is needed. Turbines can be placed on ridges or bluffs to maximize the access of wind they have, but this also limits the locations where they can be placed. In this way, wind energy is not a particularly reliable source of energy. However, it can form part of the energy mix, which also includes power from other sources. Notably, the relative available output from wind and solar sources is often inversely proportional (balancing). Technology is also being developed to store excess energy, which can then make up for any deficits in supplies.
By 2040, renewable energy is projected to equal coal and natural gas electricity generation. Several jurisdictions, including Denmark, Germany, the state of South Australia and some US states have achieved high integration of variable renewables. For example, in 2015 wind power met 42% of electricity demand in Denmark, 23.2% in Portugal and 15.5% in Uruguay. Interconnectors enable countries to balance electricity systems by allowing the import and export of renewable energy. Innovative hybrid systems have emerged between countries and regions.
So does it make a difference what type of electrical generator we can use to produce wind power. The simple answer is both Yes and No, as it all depends upon the type of system and application you want. The low voltage DC output from a generator or older style dynamo can be used to charge batteries while the higher AC sinusoidal output from an alternator can be connected directly to the local grid.
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.
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Interest in recycling blades varies in different markets and depends on the waste legislation and local economics. A challenge in recycling blades is related to the composite material, which is made of a thermosetting matrix and glass fibers or a combination of glass and carbon fibers. Thermosetting matrix cannot be remolded to form new composites. So the options are either to reuse the blade and the composite material elements as they are found in the blade or to transform the composite material into a new source of material. In Germany, wind turbine blades are commercially recycled as part of an alternative fuel mix for a cement factory.
Manufacturers often claim that their vertical axis turbine is superior to a horizontal one, because it always faces the wind. So does any horizontal axis turbine, thanks to their tail or yaw mechanism. If the airflow is such that wind directions change drastically from one second to the next it means you have lots of turbulence, and that means it is a poor place to put any wind turbine, HAWT or VAWT.
Renewable energy and energy efficiency are sometimes said to be the "twin pillars" of sustainable energy policy. Both resources must be developed in order to stabilize and reduce carbon dioxide emissions. Efficiency slows down energy demand growth so that rising clean energy supplies can make deep cuts in fossil fuel use. If energy use grows too fast, renewable energy development will chase a receding target. A recent historical analysis has demonstrated that the rate of energy efficiency improvements has generally been outpaced by the rate of growth in energy demand, which is due to continuing economic and population growth. As a result, despite energy efficiency gains, total energy use and related carbon emissions have continued to increase. Thus, given the thermodynamic and practical limits of energy efficiency improvements, slowing the growth in energy demand is essential. However, unless clean energy supplies come online rapidly, slowing demand growth will only begin to reduce total emissions; reducing the carbon content of energy sources is also needed. Any serious vision of a sustainable energy economy thus requires commitments to both renewables and efficiency.
Since we mentioned maintenance: Consider that in a reasonably windy place a wind turbine can run 7000 hours or more per year. If it were a car, going at 50 km/h (30 mph), it would travel 350,000 km (or 200,000+ miles). That means you should plan for an annual inspection, and perform the needed maintenance (greasing for example), regardless of the recommendation of the manufacturer. It is just as important to inspect and maintain the tower annually. We know of a tower that collapsed because nuts worked themselves loose from their bolts over 2½ years time, no inspection nor maintenance were done during that time, ultimately leading to its undoing. Wind turbines and towers live in a very harsh environment. It is important to check for issues, such as loose bolts or tower guy wires that need re-tensioning, before they become a problem.
Adam Schultz, a senior policy analyst for the Oregon Department of Energy, says he’s more encouraged than ever about the prospects for renewables. Because the Pacific Northwest features large-scale hydropower plants built as part of the New Deal, energy already tends to be less expensive there than the U.S. average. But solar and wind power have “gotten cheaper over the last couple years to the point that I can’t even tell you what the costs are because costs have been dropping so rapidly,” Schultz says. “We have enough sunshine,” he says (presumably referring to the eastern part of the state), “so it’s just a matter of time.”
In the mid-1990s, development of both, residential and commercial rooftop solar as well as utility-scale photovoltaic power stations, began to accelerate again due to supply issues with oil and natural gas, global warming concerns, and the improving economic position of PV relative to other energy technologies. In the early 2000s, the adoption of feed-in tariffs—a policy mechanism, that gives renewables priority on the grid and defines a fixed price for the generated electricity—led to a high level of investment security and to a soaring number of PV deployments in Europe.