The windwheel of Hero of Alexandria (10 AD – 70 AD) marks one of the first recorded instances of wind powering a machine in history. However, the first known practical wind power plants were built in Sistan, an Eastern province of Persia (now Iran), from the 7th century. These "Panemone" were vertical axle windmills, which had long vertical drive shafts with rectangular blades. Made of six to twelve sails covered in reed matting or cloth material, these windmills were used to grind grain or draw up water, and were used in the gristmilling and sugarcane industries.
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. In October 2011, he "announced the creation of a high-level group to drum up support for energy access, energy efficiency and greater use of renewable energy. The group is to be co-chaired by Kandeh Yumkella, the chair of UN Energy and director general of the UN Industrial Development Organisation, and Charles Holliday, chairman of Bank of America".
Most horizontal axis turbines have their rotors upwind of its supporting tower. Downwind machines have been built, because they don't need an additional mechanism for keeping them in line with the wind. In high winds, the blades can also be allowed to bend which reduces their swept area and thus their wind resistance. Despite these advantages, upwind designs are preferred, because the change in loading from the wind as each blade passes behind the supporting tower can cause damage to the turbine.
In 2014 global wind power capacity expanded 16% to 369,553 MW. Yearly wind energy production is also growing rapidly and has reached around 4% of worldwide electricity usage, 11.4% in the EU, 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. 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. 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.
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.
As the cost of solar electricity has fallen, the number of grid-connected solar PV systems has grown into the millions and utility-scale solar power stations with hundreds of megawatts are being built. Solar PV is rapidly becoming an inexpensive, low-carbon technology to harness renewable energy from the Sun. The current largest photovoltaic power station in the world is the 850 MW Longyangxia Dam Solar Park, in Qinghai, China.