In the 1980s and early 1990s, most photovoltaic modules provided remote-area power supply, but from around 1995, industry efforts have focused increasingly on developing building integrated photovoltaics and power plants for grid connected applications (see photovoltaic power stations article for details). Currently the largest photovoltaic power plant in North America is the Nellis Solar Power Plant (15 MW). There is a proposal to build a Solar power station in Victoria, Australia, which would be the world's largest PV power station, at 154 MW. Other large photovoltaic power stations include the Girassol solar power plant (62 MW), and the Waldpolenz Solar Park (40 MW).
While renewables have been very successful in their ever-growing contribution to electrical power there are no countries dominated by fossil fuels who have a plan to stop and get that power from renwables. Only Scotland and Ontario have stopped burning coal, largely due to good natural gas supplies. In the area of transportation, fossil fuels are even more entrenched and solutions harder to find. It's unclear if there are failures with policy or renewable energy, but twenty years after the Kyoto Protocol fossil fuels are still our primary energy source and consumption continues to grow.
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. Financial institutions are predicting a second solar "gold rush" in the near future.
This sets sustainable energy apart from other renewable energy terminology such as alternative energy by focusing on the ability of an energy source to continue providing energy. Sustainable energy can produce some pollution of the environment, as long as it is not sufficient to prohibit heavy use of the source for an indefinite amount of time. Sustainable energy is also distinct from low-carbon energy, which is sustainable only in the sense that it does not add to the CO2 in the atmosphere.
Innovative programs around the country now make it possible for all environmentally conscious energy consumers to support renewable energy directly by participating in the "green" power market. The willingness to pay for the benefits of increasing our renewable energy supplies can be tapped within any market structure and by any size or type of energy consumer.
Single small turbines below 100 kilowatts are used for homes, telecommunications dishes, or water pumping. Small turbines are sometimes used in connection with diesel generators, batteries, and photovoltaic systems. These systems are called hybrid wind systems and are typically used in remote, off-grid locations where a connection to the utility grid is not available.
Prior to the development of coal in the mid 19th century, nearly all energy used was renewable. Almost without a doubt the oldest known use of renewable energy, in the form of traditional biomass to fuel fires, dates from 790,000 years ago. Use of biomass for fire did not become commonplace until many hundreds of thousands of years later, sometime between 200,000 and 400,000 years ago. Probably the second oldest usage of renewable energy is harnessing the wind in order to drive ships over water. This practice can be traced back some 7000 years, to ships in the Persian Gulf and on the Nile. Moving into the time of recorded history, the primary sources of traditional renewable energy were human labor, animal power, water power, wind, in grain crushing windmills, and firewood, a traditional biomass. A graph of energy use in the United States up until 1900 shows oil and natural gas with about the same importance in 1900 as wind and solar played in 2010.
In 2010, the International Energy Agency predicted that global solar PV capacity could reach 3,000 GW or 11% of projected global electricity generation by 2050—enough to generate 4,500 TWh of electricity. Four years later, in 2014, the agency projected that, under its "high renewables" scenario, solar power could supply 27% of global electricity generation by 2050 (16% from PV and 11% from CSP).
This solar resource map provides a summary of the estimated solar energy available for power generation and other energy applications. It represents the average daily/yearly sum of electricity production from a 1 kW-peak grid-connected solar PV power plant covering the period from 1994/1999/2007 (depending on the geographical region) to 2015. Source: Global Solar Atlas]