The most significant barriers to the widespread implementation of large-scale renewable energy and low carbon energy strategies are primarily political and not technological. According to the 2013 Post Carbon Pathways report, which reviewed many international studies, the key roadblocks are: climate change denial, the fossil fuels lobby, political inaction, unsustainable energy consumption, outdated energy infrastructure, and financial constraints.
Materials for wind turbine parts other than the rotor blades (including the rotor hub, gearbox, frame, and tower) are largely composed of steel. Modern turbines use a couple of tons of copper for generators, cables, and such. Smaller wind turbines have begun incorporating more aluminum based alloys into these components in an effort to make the turbines lighter and more efficient, and may continue to be used increasingly if fatigue and strength properties can be improved. Prestressed concrete has been increasingly used for the material of the tower, but still requires much reinforcing steel to meet the strength requirement of the turbine. Additionally, step-up gearboxes are being increasingly replaced with variable speed generators, increasing the demand for magnetic materials in wind turbines. In particular, this would require an increased supply of the rare earth metal neodymium.
In an electricity system without grid energy storage, generation from stored fuels (coal, biomass, natural gas, nuclear) must be go up and down in reaction to the rise and fall of solar electricity (see load following power plant). While hydroelectric and natural gas plants can quickly follow solar being intermittent due to the weather, coal, biomass and nuclear plants usually take considerable time to respond to load and can only be scheduled to follow the predictable variation. Depending on local circumstances, beyond about 20–40% of total generation, grid-connected intermittent sources like solar tend to require investment in some combination of grid interconnections, energy storage or demand side management. Integrating large amounts of solar power with existing generation equipment has caused issues in some cases. For example, in Germany, California and Hawaii, electricity prices have been known to go negative when solar is generating a lot of power, displacing existing baseload generation contracts.
“New Wind May Be Cheaper than Old, Reliable Coal” • Wind farms have cost less to build and operate than coal-fired power plants for some time. The trend of lower costs for renewables has crossed a threshold: it is sometimes cheaper to build a brand new wind facility than keep an old coal plant burning, according to Lazard Ltd. [Casper Star-Tribune Online]
Renewable energy and energy efficiency are sometimes said to be the "twin pillars" of sustainable energy policy. Both resources must be developed in order to stabilize and reduce carbon dioxide emissions. Efficiency slows down energy demand growth so that rising clean energy supplies can make deep cuts in fossil fuel use. If energy use grows too fast, renewable energy development will chase a receding target. A recent historical analysis has demonstrated that the rate of energy efficiency improvements has generally been outpaced by the rate of growth in energy demand, which is due to continuing economic and population growth. As a result, despite energy efficiency gains, total energy use and related carbon emissions have continued to increase. Thus, given the thermodynamic and practical limits of energy efficiency improvements, slowing the growth in energy demand is essential. However, unless clean energy supplies come online rapidly, slowing demand growth will only begin to reduce total emissions; reducing the carbon content of energy sources is also needed. Any serious vision of a sustainable energy economy thus requires commitments to both renewables and efficiency.
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."