According to the International Energy Agency, new bioenergy (biofuel) technologies being developed today, notably cellulosic ethanol biorefineries, could allow biofuels to play a much bigger role in the future than previously thought. Cellulosic ethanol can be made from plant matter composed primarily of inedible cellulose fibers that form the stems and branches of most plants. Crop residues (such as corn stalks, wheat straw and rice straw), wood waste and municipal solid waste are potential sources of cellulosic biomass. Dedicated energy crops, such as switchgrass, are also promising cellulose sources that can be sustainably produced in many regions of the United States.
The majority of green pricing programs charge a higher price per kilowatt-hour to support an increased percentage of renewable sources or to buy discrete kilowatt-hour blocks of renewable energy. Other programs have fixed monthly fees, round up customer bills, charge for units of renewable capacity, or offer renewable energy systems for lease or purchase.
The first three are active solar systems, which use mechanical or electrical devices that convert the sun's heat or light to another form of usable energy. Passive solar buildings are designed and oriented to collect, store, and distribute the heat energy from sunlight to maintain the comfort of the occupants without the use of moving parts or electronics.
All these electrical machines are electromechanical devices that work on Faraday’s law of electromagnetic induction. That is they operate through the interaction of a magnetic flux and an electric current, or flow of charge. As this process is reversible, the same machine can be used as a conventional electrical motor for converting the electrical power into mechanical power, or as a generator converting the mechanical power back into the electrical power.
It is hard to beat the advantages of solar: No moving parts. Warranties of 25 years are common for PV modules. No maintenance, other than the occasional hosing-off if you live in a dusty place. The installed price of a 6 kW wind turbine on a good height tower is about $50,000 (and we are not even counting the money you are going to sink into maintenance of that wind turbine). At the time of this writing, half that money will buy you about 7 kW of installed solar panels. In our not-so-sunny Ottawa location those solar modules will produce around 8,000 kWh of electrical energy per average year, and they will do that for 30 years or more.
In terms of ocean energy, another third-generation technology, Portugal has the world's first commercial wave farm, the Aguçadora Wave Park, under construction in 2007. The farm will initially use three Pelamis P-750 machines generating 2.25 MW. and costs are put at 8.5 million euro. Subject to successful operation, a further 70 million euro is likely to be invested before 2009 on a further 28 machines to generate 525 MW. Funding for a wave farm in Scotland was announced in February, 2007 by the Scottish Executive, at a cost of over 4 million pounds, as part of a £13 million funding packages for ocean power in Scotland. The farm will be the world's largest with a capacity of 3 MW generated by four Pelamis machines. (see also Wave farm).
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.
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. 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. 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.
Biomass is biological material derived from living, or recently living organisms. It most often refers to plants or plant-derived materials which are specifically called lignocellulosic biomass. As an energy source, biomass can either be used directly via combustion to produce heat, or indirectly after converting it to various forms of biofuel. Conversion of biomass to biofuel can be achieved by different methods which are broadly classified into: thermal, chemical, and biochemical methods. Wood remains the largest biomass energy source today; examples include forest residues – such as dead trees, branches and tree stumps –, yard clippings, wood chips and even municipal solid waste. In the second sense, biomass includes plant or animal matter that can be converted into fibers or other industrial chemicals, including biofuels. Industrial biomass can be grown from numerous types of plants, including miscanthus, switchgrass, hemp, corn, poplar, willow, sorghum, sugarcane, bamboo, and a variety of tree species, ranging from eucalyptus to oil palm (palm oil).
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.
In stand alone PV systems batteries are traditionally used to store excess electricity. With grid-connected photovoltaic power system, excess electricity can be sent to the electrical grid. Net metering and feed-in tariff programs give these systems a credit for the electricity they produce. This credit offsets electricity provided from the grid when the system cannot meet demand, effectively trading with the grid instead of storing excess electricity. Credits are normally rolled over from month to month and any remaining surplus settled annually. When wind and solar are a small fraction of the grid power, other generation techniques can adjust their output appropriately, but as these forms of variable power grow, additional balance on the grid is needed. As prices are rapidly declining, PV systems increasingly use rechargeable batteries to store a surplus to be later used at night. Batteries used for grid-storage stabilize the electrical grid by leveling out peak loads usually for several minutes, and in rare cases for hours. In the future, less expensive batteries could play an important role on the electrical grid, as they can charge during periods when generation exceeds demand and feed their stored energy into the grid when demand is higher than generation.
Compact Linear Fresnel Reflectors are CSP-plants which use many thin mirror strips instead of parabolic mirrors to concentrate sunlight onto two tubes with working fluid. This has the advantage that flat mirrors can be used which are much cheaper than parabolic mirrors, and that more reflectors can be placed in the same amount of space, allowing more of the available sunlight to be used. Concentrating linear fresnel reflectors can be used in either large or more compact plants.