Solar electricity is inherently variable and predictable by time of day, location, and seasons. In addition solar is intermittent due to day/night cycles and unpredictable weather. How much of a special challenge solar power is in any given electric utility varies significantly. In a summer peak utility, solar is well matched to daytime cooling demands. In winter peak utilities, solar displaces other forms of generation, reducing their capacity factors.
A study of the material consumption trends and requirements for wind energy in Europe found that bigger turbines have a higher consumption of precious metals but lower material input per kW generated. The current material consumption and stock was compared to input materials for various onshore system sizes. In all EU countries the estimates for 2020 exceeded and doubled the values consumed in 2009. These countries would need to expand their resources to be able to meet the estimated demand for 2020. For example, currently the EU has 3% of world supply of fluorspar and it requires 14% by 2020. Globally, the main exporting countries are South Africa, Mexico and China. This is similar with other critical and valuable materials required for energy systems such as magnesium, silver and indium. In addition, the levels of recycling of these materials is very low and focusing on that could alleviate issues with supply in the future. It is important to note that since most of these valuable materials are also used in other emerging technologies, like LEDs, PVs and LCDs, it is projected that demand for them will continue to increase.
Because one obstacle to adopting wind and solar power is reliability—what happens on calm, cloudy days?—recent improvements in energy-storage technology, a.k.a. batteries, are helping accelerate adoption of renewables. Last May, for example, Tucson Electric Power signed a deal for solar energy with storage, which can mitigate (if not entirely resolve) concerns about how to provide power on gray days. The storage upped the energy cost by $15 per megawatt hour. By the end of the year, the Public Service Company of Colorado had been quoted a storage fee that increased the cost of a megawatt hour by only $3 to $7, a drop of more than 50 percent. In a landmark achievement, Tesla installed the world’s largest lithium-ion battery in South Australia last December, to store wind-generated power. But by then Hyundai Electric was at work in the South Korean metropolis of Ulsan on a battery that was 50 percent bigger.
Solar power is the conversion of energy from sunlight into electricity, either directly using photovoltaics (PV), indirectly using concentrated solar power, or a combination. Concentrated solar power systems use lenses or mirrors and tracking systems to focus a large area of sunlight into a small beam. Photovoltaic cells convert light into an electric current using the photovoltaic effect.