In conclusion, I would say that however great the scientific importance of this discovery may be, its practical value will be no less obvious when we reflect that the supply of solar energy is both without limit and without cost, and that it will continue to pour down upon us for countless ages after all the coal deposits of the earth have been exhausted and forgotten.[36]
From 1978 to 1996, the National Renewable Energy Laboratory experimented with producing algae fuel in the "Aquatic Species Program."[112] A self-published article by Michael Briggs, at the University of New Hampshire Biofuels Group, offers estimates for the realistic replacement of all motor vehicle fuel with biofuels by utilizing algae that have a natural oil content greater than 50%, which Briggs suggests can be grown on algae ponds at wastewater treatment plants.[113] This oil-rich algae can then be extracted from the system and processed into biofuels, with the dried remainder further reprocessed to create ethanol. The production of algae to harvest oil for biofuels has not yet been undertaken on a commercial scale, but feasibility studies have been conducted to arrive at the above yield estimate. During the biofuel production process algae actually consumes the carbon dioxide in the air and turns it into oxygen through photosynthesis.[114] In addition to its projected high yield, algaculture— unlike food crop-based biofuels — does not entail a decrease in food production, since it requires neither farmland nor fresh water. Many companies are pursuing algae bio-reactors for various purposes, including scaling up biofuels production to commercial levels.[115][116]
Reliance on rare earth minerals for components has risked expense and price volatility as China has been main producer of rare earth minerals (96% in 2009) and had been reducing its export quotas of these materials.[56] In recent years, however, other producers have increased production of rare earth minerals and China has removed its reduced export quota on rare earths leading to an increased supply and decreased cost of rare earth minerals, increasing the viability of the implementation of variable speed generators in wind turbines on a large scale.[57]
Low Temperature Geothermal[29] 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[60] and focus as part of the ongoing movement toward Net Zero Energy.[61][30] New York City has even just passed a law[62] to require GHP anytime is shown to be economical with 20 year financing including the Socialized Cost of Carbon.[63][64]
Smart grid refers to a class of technology people are using to bring utility electricity delivery systems into the 21st century, using computer-based remote control and automation.[65] These systems are made possible by two-way communication technology and computer processing that has been used for decades in other industries. They are beginning to be used on electricity networks, from the power plants and wind farms all the way to the consumers of electricity in homes and businesses. They offer many benefits to utilities and consumers—mostly seen in big improvements in energy efficiency on the electricity grid and in the energy users’ homes and offices.[65]
Only a quarter of the worlds estimated hydroelectric potential of 14,000 TWh/year has been developed, the regional potentials for the growth of hydropower around the world are, 71% Europe, 75% North America, 79% South America, 95% Africa, 95% Middle East, 82% Asia Pacific. However, the political realities of new reservoirs in western countries, economic limitations in the third world and the lack of a transmission system in undeveloped areas, result in the possibility of developing 25% of the remaining potential before 2050, with the bulk of that being in the Asia Pacific area.[102] There is slow growth taking place in Western counties, but not in the conventional dam and reservoir style of the past. New projects take the form of run-of-the-river and small hydro, neither using large reservoirs. It is popular to repower old dams thereby increasing their efficiency and capacity as well as quicker responsiveness on the grid.[103] Where circumstances permit existing dams such as the Russell Dam built in 1985 may be updated with "pump back" facilities for pumped-storage which is useful for peak loads or to support intermittent wind and solar power. Countries with large hydroelectric developments such as Canada and Norway are spending billions to expand their grids to trade with neighboring countries having limited hydro.[104]
Climate change and global warming concerns, coupled with high oil prices, peak oil, and increasing government support, are driving increasing renewable energy legislation, incentives and commercialization.[10] New government spending, regulation and policies helped the industry weather the global financial crisis better than many other sectors.[24] According to a 2011 projection by the International Energy Agency, solar power generators may produce most of the world's electricity within 50 years, reducing the emissions of greenhouse gases that harm the environment.[25]
The array of a photovoltaic power system, or PV system, produces direct current (DC) power which fluctuates with the sunlight's intensity. For practical use this usually requires conversion to certain desired voltages or alternating current (AC), through the use of inverters.[4] Multiple solar cells are connected inside modules. Modules are wired together to form arrays, then tied to an inverter, which produces power at the desired voltage, and for AC, the desired frequency/phase.[4]