Solar energy, radiant light and heat from the sun, is harnessed using a range of ever-evolving technologies such as solar heating, photovoltaics, concentrated solar power (CSP), concentrator photovoltaics (CPV), solar architecture and artificial photosynthesis. Solar technologies are broadly characterized as either passive solar or active solar depending on the way they capture, convert and distribute solar energy. Passive solar techniques include orienting a building to the Sun, selecting materials with favorable thermal mass or light dispersing properties, and designing spaces that naturally circulate air. Active solar technologies encompass solar thermal energy, using solar collectors for heating, and solar power, converting sunlight into electricity either directly using photovoltaics (PV), or indirectly using concentrated solar power (CSP).
The first electricity-generating wind turbine was a battery charging machine installed in July 1887 by Scottish academic James Blyth to light his holiday home in Marykirk, Scotland. Some months later American inventor Charles F. Brush was able to build the first automatically operated wind turbine after consulting local University professors and colleagues Jacob S. Gibbs and Brinsley Coleberd and successfully getting the blueprints peer-reviewed for electricity production in Cleveland, Ohio. Although Blyth's turbine was considered uneconomical in the United Kingdom, electricity generation by wind turbines was more cost effective in countries with widely scattered populations.
A more recent concept for improving our electrical grid is to beam microwaves from Earth-orbiting satellites or the moon to directly when and where there is demand. The power would be generated from solar energy captured on the lunar surface In this system, the receivers would be "broad, translucent tent-like structures that would receive microwaves and convert them to electricity". NASA said in 2000 that the technology was worth pursuing but it is still too soon to say if the technology will be cost-effective.
The Stirling solar dish combines a parabolic concentrating dish with a Stirling engine which normally drives an electric generator. The advantages of Stirling solar over photovoltaic cells are higher efficiency of converting sunlight into electricity and longer lifetime. Parabolic dish systems give the highest efficiency among CSP technologies. The 50 kW Big Dish in Canberra, Australia is an example of this technology.
Jump up ^ Faunce, T. A.; Lubitz, W.; Rutherford, A. W. (Bill); MacFarlane, D.; Moore, G. F.; Yang, P.; Nocera, D. G; Moore, Tom A; Gregory, Duncan H; Fukuzumi, Shunichi; Yoon, Kyung B.; Armstrong, F. A.; Wasielewski, M. R.; Styring, S. (2013), "Energy and environment policy case for a global project on artificial photosynthesis", Energy & Environmental Science, 6 (3): 695–698, doi:10.1039/C3EE00063J, archived from the original on 16 August 2013
Some of the second-generation renewables, such as wind power, have high potential and have already realised relatively low production costs. At the end of 2008, worldwide wind farm capacity was 120,791 megawatts (MW), representing an increase of 28.8 percent during the year, and wind power produced some 1.3% of global electricity consumption. Wind power accounts for approximately 20% of electricity use in Denmark, 9% in Spain, and 7% in Germany. However, it may be difficult to site wind turbines in some areas for aesthetic or environmental reasons, and it may be difficult to integrate wind power into electricity grids in some cases.
In 2006 California approved the 'California Solar Initiative', offering a choice of investment subsidies or FIT for small and medium systems and a FIT for large systems. The small-system FIT of $0.39 per kWh (far less than EU countries) expires in just 5 years, and the alternate "EPBB" residential investment incentive is modest, averaging perhaps 20% of cost. All California incentives are scheduled to decrease in the future depending as a function of the amount of PV capacity installed.
Renewable energy projects in many developing countries have demonstrated that renewable energy can directly contribute to poverty reduction by providing the energy needed for creating businesses and employment. Renewable energy technologies can also make indirect contributions to alleviating poverty by providing energy for cooking, space heating, and lighting. Renewable energy can also contribute to education, by providing electricity to schools.