The International Energy Agency projected in 2014 that under its "high renewables" scenario, by 2050, solar photovoltaics and concentrated solar power would contribute about 16 and 11 percent, respectively, of the worldwide electricity consumption, and solar would be the world's largest source of electricity. Most solar installations would be in China and India.[2] In 2017, solar power provided 1.7% of total worldwide electricity production, growing at 35% per annum.[3]
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The energy payback time (EPBT) of a power generating system is the time required to generate as much energy as is consumed during production and lifetime operation of the system. Due to improving production technologies the payback time has been decreasing constantly since the introduction of PV systems in the energy market.[128] In 2000 the energy payback time of PV systems was estimated as 8 to 11 years[129] and in 2006 this was estimated to be 1.5 to 3.5 years for crystalline silicon PV systems[121] and 1–1.5 years for thin film technologies (S. Europe).[121] These figures fell to 0.75–3.5 years in 2013, with an average of about 2 years for crystalline silicon PV and CIS systems.[130]
The early development of solar technologies starting in the 1860s was driven by an expectation that coal would soon become scarce. Charles Fritts installed the world's first rooftop photovoltaic solar array, using 1%-efficient selenium cells, on a New York City roof in 1884.[28] However, development of solar technologies stagnated in the early 20th century in the face of the increasing availability, economy, and utility of coal and petroleum.[29] In 1974 it was estimated that only six private homes in all of North America were entirely heated or cooled by functional solar power systems.[30] The 1973 oil embargo and 1979 energy crisis caused a reorganization of energy policies around the world and brought renewed attention to developing solar technologies.[31][32] Deployment strategies focused on incentive programs such as the Federal Photovoltaic Utilization Program in the US and the Sunshine Program in Japan. Other efforts included the formation of research facilities in the United States (SERI, now NREL), Japan (NEDO), and Germany (Fraunhofer–ISE).[33] Between 1970 and 1983 installations of photovoltaic systems grew rapidly, but falling oil prices in the early 1980s moderated the growth of photovoltaics from 1984 to 1996.
Marine energy (also sometimes referred to as ocean energy) refers to the energy carried by ocean waves, tides, salinity, and ocean temperature differences. The movement of water in the world's oceans creates a vast store of kinetic energy, or energy in motion. This energy can be harnessed to generate electricity to power homes, transport and industries. The term marine energy encompasses both wave power – power from surface waves, and tidal power – obtained from the kinetic energy of large bodies of moving water. Reverse electrodialysis (RED) is a technology for generating electricity by mixing fresh river water and salty sea water in large power cells designed for this purpose; as of 2016 it is being tested at a small scale (50 kW). Offshore wind power is not a form of marine energy, as wind power is derived from the wind, even if the wind turbines are placed over water. The oceans have a tremendous amount of energy and are close to many if not most concentrated populations. Ocean energy has the potential of providing a substantial amount of new renewable energy around the world.[165]
On most horizontal wind turbine farms, a spacing of about 6–10 times the rotor diameter is often upheld. However, for large wind farms distances of about 15 rotor diameters should be more economical, taking into account typical wind turbine and land costs. This conclusion has been reached by research[62] conducted by Charles Meneveau of the Johns Hopkins University,[63] and Johan Meyers of Leuven University in Belgium, based on computer simulations[64] that take into account the detailed interactions among wind turbines (wakes) as well as with the entire turbulent atmospheric boundary layer.
Another economic measure, closely related to the energy payback time, is the energy returned on energy invested (EROEI) or energy return on investment (EROI),[131] 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,[132] 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.[133]
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Photovoltaics (PV) uses solar cells assembled into solar panels to convert sunlight into electricity. It's a fast-growing technology doubling its worldwide installed capacity every couple of years. PV systems range from small, residential and commercial rooftop or building integrated installations, to large utility-scale photovoltaic power station. The predominant PV technology is crystalline silicon, while thin-film solar cell technology accounts for about 10 percent of global photovoltaic deployment. In recent years, PV technology has improved its electricity generating efficiency, reduced the installation cost per watt as well as its energy payback time, and has reached grid parity in at least 30 different markets by 2014.[115] Financial institutions are predicting a second solar "gold rush" in the near future.[116][117][118]
The trouble with rated power is that it does not tell you anything about energy production. Your utility company charges you for the energy you consume, not power. Likewise, for a small wind  turbine you should be interested in the energy it will produce, for your particular site, with your particular annual average wind speed. Rated power of the turbine does not do that. To find out about energy production take a look at the tables presented earlier.
In 2014 global wind power capacity expanded 16% to 369,553 MW.[83] Yearly wind energy production is also growing rapidly and has reached around 4% of worldwide electricity usage,[84] 11.4% in the EU,[85] 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.[86] 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.[87][88] 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.
Wind turbines are generally inexpensive. They will produce electricity at between two and six cents per kilowatt hour, which is one of the lowest-priced renewable energy sources.[72] And as technology needed for wind turbines continues to improve, the prices will decrease as well. In addition, there is no competitive market for wind energy, as it does not cost money to get ahold of wind.[72] The main cost of wind turbines are the installation process. The average cost is between $48,000 and $65,000 to install. However, the energy harvested from the turbine will offset the installation cost, as well as provide virtually free energy for years after.[73]
In an electricity system without grid energy storage, generation from stored fuels (coal, biomass, natural gas, nuclear) must be go up and down in reaction to the rise and fall of solar electricity (see load following power plant). While hydroelectric and natural gas plants can quickly follow solar being intermittent due to the weather, coal, biomass and nuclear plants usually take considerable time to respond to load and can only be scheduled to follow the predictable variation. Depending on local circumstances, beyond about 20–40% of total generation, grid-connected intermittent sources like solar tend to require investment in some combination of grid interconnections, energy storage or demand side management. Integrating large amounts of solar power with existing generation equipment has caused issues in some cases. For example, in Germany, California and Hawaii, electricity prices have been known to go negative when solar is generating a lot of power, displacing existing baseload generation contracts.[107][108]
Some renewable power sources now cost somewhat more than conventional power, because the market for renewable energy is not fully developed and renewables have received fewer subsidies than fossil and nuclear fuels. Also, the damage to the environment and human health—otherwise known as externalities—caused by fossil fuels and nuclear power is not included in electricity prices. Renewable energy needs your support to overcome these barriers and become less expensive in the future. Look into becoming a green power consumer today!
The energy payback time (EPBT) of a power generating system is the time required to generate as much energy as is consumed during production and lifetime operation of the system. Due to improving production technologies the payback time has been decreasing constantly since the introduction of PV systems in the energy market.[128] In 2000 the energy payback time of PV systems was estimated as 8 to 11 years[129] and in 2006 this was estimated to be 1.5 to 3.5 years for crystalline silicon PV systems[121] and 1–1.5 years for thin film technologies (S. Europe).[121] These figures fell to 0.75–3.5 years in 2013, with an average of about 2 years for crystalline silicon PV and CIS systems.[130]
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.[72] 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)[citation needed]. Technology is also being developed to store excess energy, which can then make up for any deficits in supplies.
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.[11] Thermal storage efficiently allows up to 24-hour electricity generation.[12]
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