Photovoltaics were initially solely used as a source of electricity for small and medium-sized applications, from the calculator powered by a single solar cell to remote homes powered by an off-grid rooftop PV system. Commercial concentrated solar power plants were first developed in the 1980s. The 392 MW Ivanpah installation is the largest concentrating solar power plant in the world, located in the Mojave Desert of California.
Eight solar panels and one measly little wind generator supplied all the power we used. We bolted the pole that supported the wind generator to a wall of our house, which, sound-wise, turned the roof of the house into one big drumhead. Oops! Live and learn. And when the wind REALLY blew—which was often—the thing broke. The manufacturer replaced the main unit several times before we gave up on wind power.
Around the world many sub-national governments - regions, states and provinces - have aggressively pursued sustainable energy investments. In the United States, California's leadership in renewable energy was recognised by The Climate Group when it awarded former Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger its inaugural award for international climate leadership in Copenhagen in 2009. In Australia, the state of South Australia - under the leadership of former Premier Mike Rann - has led the way with wind power comprising 26% of its electricity generation by the end of 2011, edging out coal fired generation for the first time. South Australia also has had the highest take-up per capita of household solar panels in Australia following the Rann Government's introduction of solar feed-in laws and educative campaign involving the installation of solar photovoltaic installations on the roofs of prominent public buildings, including the parliament, museum, airport and Adelaide Showgrounds pavilion and schools. Rann, Australia's first climate change minister, passed legislation in 2006 setting targets for renewable energy and emissions cuts, the first legislation in Australia to do so.
The International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) is an intergovernmental organization for promoting the adoption of renewable energy worldwide. It aims to provide concrete policy advice and facilitate capacity building and technology transfer. IRENA was formed on 26 January 2009, by 75 countries signing the charter of IRENA. As of March 2010, IRENA has 143 member states who all are considered as founding members, of which 14 have also ratified the statute.
Biomass briquettes are increasingly being used in the developing world as an alternative to charcoal. The technique involves the conversion of almost any plant matter into compressed briquettes that typically have about 70% the calorific value of charcoal. There are relatively few examples of large-scale briquette production. One exception is in North Kivu, in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, where forest clearance for charcoal production is considered to be the biggest threat to mountain gorilla habitat. The staff of Virunga National Park have successfully trained and equipped over 3500 people to produce biomass briquettes, thereby replacing charcoal produced illegally inside the national park, and creating significant employment for people living in extreme poverty in conflict-affected areas.
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.
Solar panels converts the sun's light in to usable solar energy using N-type and P-type semiconductor material. When sunlight is absorbed by these materials, the solar energy knocks electrons loose from their atoms, allowing the electrons to flow through the material to produce electricity. This process of converting light (photons) to electricity (voltage) is called the photovoltaic (PV) effect. Currently solar panels convert most of the visible light spectrum and about half of the ultraviolet and infrared light spectrum to usable solar energy.
Airflows can be used to run wind turbines. Modern utility-scale wind turbines range from around 600 kW to 5 MW of rated power, although turbines with rated output of 1.5–3 MW have become the most common for commercial use. The largest generator capacity of a single installed onshore wind turbine reached 7.5 MW in 2015. The power available from the wind is a function of the cube of the wind speed, so as wind speed increases, power output increases up to the maximum output for the particular turbine. Areas where winds are stronger and more constant, such as offshore and high altitude sites, are preferred locations for wind farms. Typically full load hours of wind turbines vary between 16 and 57 percent annually, but might be higher in particularly favorable offshore sites.
Those not satisfied with the third-party grid approach to green energy via the power grid can install their own locally based renewable energy system. Renewable energy electrical systems from solar to wind to even local hydro-power in some cases, are some of the many types of renewable energy systems available locally. Additionally, for those interested in heating and cooling their dwelling via renewable energy, geothermal heat pump systems that tap the constant temperature of the earth, which is around 7 to 15 degrees Celsius a few feet underground and increases dramatically at greater depths, are an option over conventional natural gas and petroleum-fueled heat approaches. Also, in geographic locations where the Earth's Crust is especially thin, or near volcanoes (as is the case in Iceland) there exists the potential to generate even more electricity than would be possible at other sites, thanks to a more significant temperature gradient at these locales.
A hybrid system combines (C)PV and CSP with one another or with other forms of generation such as diesel, wind and biogas. The combined form of generation may enable the system to modulate power output as a function of demand or at least reduce the fluctuating nature of solar power and the consumption of non renewable fuel. Hybrid systems are most often found on islands.
Concentrating solar power plants with wet-cooling systems, on the other hand, have the highest water-consumption intensities of any conventional type of electric power plant; only fossil-fuel plants with carbon-capture and storage may have higher water intensities. A 2013 study comparing various sources of electricity found that the median water consumption during operations of concentrating solar power plants with wet cooling was 810 ga/MWhr for power tower plants and 890 gal/MWhr for trough plants. This was higher than the operational water consumption (with cooling towers) for nuclear (720 gal/MWhr), coal (530 gal/MWhr), or natural gas (210). A 2011 study by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory came to similar conclusions: for power plants with cooling towers, water consumption during operations was 865 gal/MWhr for CSP trough, 786 gal/MWhr for CSP tower, 687 gal/MWhr for coal, 672 gal/MWhr for nuclear, and 198 gal/MWhr for natural gas. The Solar Energy Industries Association noted that the Nevada Solar One trough CSP plant consumes 850 gal/MWhr. The issue of water consumption is heightened because CSP plants are often located in arid environments where water is scarce.
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).
A solar vehicle is an electric vehicle powered completely or significantly by direct solar energy. Usually, photovoltaic (PV) cells contained in solar panels convert the sun's energy directly into electric energy. The term "solar vehicle" usually implies that solar energy is used to power all or part of a vehicle's propulsion. Solar power may be also used to provide power for communications or controls or other auxiliary functions. Solar vehicles are not sold as practical day-to-day transportation devices at present, but are primarily demonstration vehicles and engineering exercises, often sponsored by government agencies. However, indirectly solar-charged vehicles are widespread and solar boats are available commercially.
A good match between generation and consumption is key for high self consumption, and should be considered when deciding where to install solar power and how to dimension the installation. The match can be improved with batteries or controllable electricity consumption. However, batteries are expensive and profitability may require provision of other services from them besides self consumption increase. Hot water storage tanks with electric heating with heat pumps or resistance heaters can provide low-cost storage for self consumption of solar power. Shiftable loads, such as dishwashers, tumble dryers and washing machines, can provide controllable consumption with only a limited effect on the users, but their effect on self consumption of solar power may be limited.
Artificial photosynthesis uses techniques including nanotechnology to store solar electromagnetic energy in chemical bonds by splitting water to produce hydrogen and then using carbon dioxide to make methanol. Researchers in this field are striving to design molecular mimics of photosynthesis that utilize a wider region of the solar spectrum, employ catalytic systems made from abundant, inexpensive materials that are robust, readily repaired, non-toxic, stable in a variety of environmental conditions and perform more efficiently allowing a greater proportion of photon energy to end up in the storage compounds, i.e., carbohydrates (rather than building and sustaining living cells). However, prominent research faces hurdles, Sun Catalytix a MIT spin-off stopped scaling up their prototype fuel-cell in 2012, because it offers few savings over other ways to make hydrogen from sunlight.