Some of the second-generation renewables, such as wind power, have high potential and have already realised relatively low production costs. At the end of 2008, worldwide wind farm capacity was 120,791 megawatts (MW), representing an increase of 28.8 percent during the year,[30] and wind power produced some 1.3% of global electricity consumption.[31] Wind power accounts for approximately 20% of electricity use in Denmark, 9% in Spain, and 7% in Germany.[32][33] However, it may be difficult to site wind turbines in some areas for aesthetic or environmental reasons, and it may be difficult to integrate wind power into electricity grids in some cases.[10]
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".[49] Italy has the largest proportion of solar electricity in the world, in 2015 solar supplied 7.8% of electricity demand in Italy.[54] In 2016, after another year of rapid growth, solar generated 1.3% of global power.[55]
Many companies are taking the push for 100 percent renewables seriously because they see it as good business — not just today, but for the long term. At the time of publication, 152 companies of various sizes have made a commitment to go 100 percent renewable through RE100. Big names like Apple and Google have already met their targets, while other companies are looking out further into the future, some as far as 2040. That timeline indicates companies are looking beyond today’s prices and present-day marketing benefits.
Technology advances are opening up a huge new market for solar power: the approximately 1.3 billion people around the world who don't have access to grid electricity. Even though they are typically very poor, these people have to pay far more for lighting than people in rich countries because they use inefficient kerosene lamps. Solar power costs half as much as lighting with kerosene.[136] As of 2010, an estimated 3 million households get power from small solar PV systems.[137] Kenya is the world leader in the number of solar power systems installed per capita. More than 30,000 very small solar panels, each producing 1[138]2 to 30 watts, are sold in Kenya annually. Some Small Island Developing States (SIDS) are also turning to solar power to reduce their costs and increase their sustainability.
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.[76]
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Large national and regional research projects on artificial photosynthesis are designing nanotechnology-based systems that use solar energy to split water into hydrogen fuel.[52] and a proposal has been made for a Global Artificial Photosynthesis project[53] In 2011, researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) developed what they are calling an "Artificial Leaf", which is capable of splitting water into hydrogen and oxygen directly from solar power when dropped into a glass of water. One side of the "Artificial Leaf" produces bubbles of hydrogen, while the other side produces bubbles of oxygen.[54]
The array of a photovoltaic power system, or PV system, produces direct current (DC) power which fluctuates with the sunlight's intensity. For practical use this usually requires conversion to certain desired voltages or alternating current (AC), through the use of inverters.[4] Multiple solar cells are connected inside modules. Modules are wired together to form arrays, then tied to an inverter, which produces power at the desired voltage, and for AC, the desired frequency/phase.[4]