Hydro-electricity and geothermal electricity produced at favourable sites are now the cheapest way to generate electricity. Renewable energy costs continue to drop, and the levelised cost of electricity (LCOE) is declining for wind power, solar photovoltaic (PV), concentrated solar power (CSP) and some biomass technologies. Renewable energy is also the most economic solution for new grid-connected capacity in areas with good resources. As the cost of renewable power falls, the scope of economically viable applications increases. Renewable technologies are now often the most economic solution for new generating capacity. Where "oil-fired generation is the predominant power generation source (e.g. on islands, off-grid and in some countries) a lower-cost renewable solution almost always exists today". A series of studies by the US National Renewable Energy Laboratory modeled the "grid in the Western US under a number of different scenarios where intermittent renewables accounted for 33 percent of the total power." In the models, inefficiencies in cycling the fossil fuel plants to compensate for the variation in solar and wind energy resulted in an additional cost of "between $0.47 and $1.28 to each MegaWatt hour generated"; however, the savings in the cost of the fuels saved "adds up to $7 billion, meaning the added costs are, at most, two percent of the savings."
The typical cost factors for solar power include the costs of the modules, the frame to hold them, wiring, inverters, labour cost, any land that might be required, the grid connection, maintenance and the solar insolation that location will receive. Adjusting for inflation, it cost $96 per watt for a solar module in the mid-1970s. Process improvements and a very large boost in production have brought that figure down to 68 cents per watt in February 2016, according to data from Bloomberg New Energy Finance. Palo Alto California signed a wholesale purchase agreement in 2016 that secured solar power for 3.7 cents per kilowatt-hour. And in sunny Dubai large-scale solar generated electricity sold in 2016 for just 2.99 cents per kilowatt-hour – "competitive with any form of fossil-based electricity — and cheaper than most."
Many of the largest operational onshore wind farms are located in the USA and China. The Gansu Wind Farm in China has over 5,000 MW installed with a goal of 20,000 MW by 2020. China has several other "wind power bases" of similar size. The Alta Wind Energy Center in California is the largest onshore wind farm outside of China, with a capacity of 1020 MW of power. Europe leads in the use of wind power with almost 66 GW, about 66 percent of the total globally, with Denmark in the lead according to the countries installed per-capita capacity. As of February 2012, the Walney Wind Farm in United Kingdom is the largest offshore wind farm in the world at 367 MW, followed by Thanet Wind Farm (300 MW), also in the UK.
Wind turbines allow us to harness the power of the wind and turn it into energy. When the wind blows, the turbine's blades spin clockwise, capturing energy. This triggers the main shaft, connected to a gearbox within the nacelle, to spin. The gearbox sends that energy to the generator, converting it to electricity. Electricity then travels down the tower to a transformer, where voltage levels are adjusted to match with the grid.
When energy is purchased from the electricity network, the power reaching the consumer will not necessarily be generated from green energy sources. The local utility company, electric company, or state power pool buys their electricity from electricity producers who may be generating from fossil fuel, nuclear or renewable energy sources. In many countries green energy currently provides a very small amount of electricity, generally contributing less than 2 to 5% to the overall pool. In some U.S. states, local governments have formed regional power purchasing pools using Community Choice Aggregation and Solar Bonds to achieve a 51% renewable mix or higher, such as in the City of San Francisco.
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 heat that is used for geothermal energy can be from deep within the Earth, all the way down to Earth's core – 4,000 miles (6,400 km) down. At the core, temperatures may reach over 9,000 °F (5,000 °C). Heat conducts from the core to surrounding rock. Extremely high temperature and pressure cause some rock to melt, which is commonly known as magma. Magma convects upward since it is lighter than the solid rock. This magma then heats rock and water in the crust, sometimes up to 700 °F (371 °C).
The market for renewable energy technologies has continued to grow. Climate change concerns and increasing in green jobs, coupled with high oil prices, peak oil, oil wars, oil spills, promotion of electric vehicles and renewable electricity, nuclear disasters and increasing government support, are driving increasing renewable energy legislation, incentives and commercialization. New government spending, regulation and policies helped the industry weather the 2009 economic crisis better than many other sectors.
In 2011, the International Energy Agency said that "the development of affordable, inexhaustible and clean solar energy technologies will have huge longer-term benefits. It will increase countries' energy security through reliance on an indigenous, inexhaustible and mostly import-independent resource, enhance sustainability, reduce pollution, lower the costs of mitigating climate change, and keep fossil fuel prices lower than otherwise. These advantages are global. Hence the additional costs of the incentives for early deployment should be considered learning investments; they must be wisely spent and need to be widely shared". Italy has the largest proportion of solar electricity in the world, in 2015 solar supplied 7.8% of electricity demand in Italy. In 2016, after another year of rapid growth, solar generated 1.3% of global power.
Second-generation technologies include solar heating and cooling, wind power, modern forms of bioenergy and solar photovoltaics. These are now entering markets as a result of research, development and demonstration (RD&D) investments since the 1980s. The initial investment was prompted by energy security concerns linked to the oil crises (1973 and 1979) of the 1970s but the continuing appeal of these renewables is due, at least in part, to environmental benefits. Many of the technologies reflect significant advancements in materials.
Green Energy Corp’s GreenBus® software interoperability platform enables the adoption of evolving Smart Grid technologies and integration with legacy power and communications infrastructures. Microgrid developers can now design and implement an architecture that supports advanced technology adoption over time, while realizing the business benefits incrementally.
The US National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), in harmonizing the disparate estimates of life-cycle GHG emissions for solar PV, found that the most critical parameter was the solar insolation of the site: GHG emissions factors for PV solar are inversely proportional to insolation. For a site with insolation of 1700 kWh/m2/year, typical of southern Europe, NREL researchers estimated GHG emissions of 45 gCO2e/kWh. Using the same assumptions, at Phoenix, USA, with insolation of 2400 kWh/m2/year, the GHG emissions factor would be reduced to 32 g of CO2e/kWh.
With investment subsidies, the financial burden falls upon the taxpayer, while with feed-in tariffs the extra cost is distributed across the utilities' customer bases. While the investment subsidy may be simpler to administer, the main argument in favour of feed-in tariffs is the encouragement of quality. Investment subsidies are paid out as a function of the nameplate capacity of the installed system and are independent of its actual power yield over time, thus rewarding the overstatement of power and tolerating poor durability and maintenance. Some electric companies offer rebates to their customers, such as Austin Energy in Texas, which offers $2.50/watt installed up to $15,000.
UN Conference on the Human Environment (Stockholm 1972) Brundtlandt Commission Report (1983) Our Common Future (1987) Earth Summit (1992) Rio Declaration on Environment and Development Agenda 21 (1992) Convention on Biological Diversity (1992) ICPD Programme of Action (1994) Earth Charter Lisbon Principles UN Millennium Declaration (2000) Earth Summit 2002 (Rio+10, Johannesburg) United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20, 2012) Sustainable Development Goals
The International Energy Agency projected in 2014 that under its "high renewables" scenario, by 2050, solar photovoltaics and concentrated solar power would contribute about 16 and 11 percent, respectively, of the worldwide electricity consumption, and solar would be the world's largest source of electricity. Most solar installations would be in China and India. In 2017, solar power provided 1.7% of total worldwide electricity production, growing at 35% per annum.