Prior to the development of coal in the mid 19th century, nearly all energy used was renewable. Almost without a doubt the oldest known use of renewable energy, in the form of traditional biomass to fuel fires, dates from 790,000 years ago. Use of biomass for fire did not become commonplace until many hundreds of thousands of years later, sometime between 200,000 and 400,000 years ago. Probably the second oldest usage of renewable energy is harnessing the wind in order to drive ships over water. This practice can be traced back some 7000 years, to ships in the Persian Gulf and on the Nile. Moving into the time of recorded history, the primary sources of traditional renewable energy were human labor, animal power, water power, wind, in grain crushing windmills, and firewood, a traditional biomass. A graph of energy use in the United States up until 1900 shows oil and natural gas with about the same importance in 1900 as wind and solar played in 2010.
Using 100% renewable energy was first suggested in a Science paper published in 1975 by Danish physicist Bent Sørensen. It was followed by several other proposals, until in 1998 the first detailed analysis of scenarios with very high shares of renewables were published. These were followed by the first detailed 100% scenarios. In 2006 a PhD thesis was published by Czisch in which it was shown that in a 100% renewable scenario energy supply could match demand in every hour of the year in Europe and North Africa. In the same year Danish Energy professor Henrik Lund published a first paper in which he addresses the optimal combination of renewables, which was followed by several other papers on the transition to 100% renewable energy in Denmark. Since then Lund has been publishing several papers on 100% renewable energy. After 2009 publications began to rise steeply, covering 100% scenarios for countries in Europe, America, Australia and other parts of the world.
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.
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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.
In its 2014 edition of the Technology Roadmap: Solar Photovoltaic Energy report, the International Energy Agency (IEA) published prices for residential, commercial and utility-scale PV systems for eight major markets as of 2013 (see table below). However, DOE's SunShot Initiative has reported much lower U.S. installation prices. In 2014, prices continued to decline. The SunShot Initiative modeled U.S. system prices to be in the range of $1.80 to $3.29 per watt. Other sources identify similar price ranges of $1.70 to $3.50 for the different market segments in the U.S., and in the highly penetrated German market, prices for residential and small commercial rooftop systems of up to 100 kW declined to $1.36 per watt (€1.24/W) by the end of 2014. In 2015, Deutsche Bank estimated costs for small residential rooftop systems in the U.S. around $2.90 per watt. Costs for utility-scale systems in China and India were estimated as low as $1.00 per watt.
At the end of 2014, worldwide PV capacity reached at least 177,000 megawatts. Photovoltaics grew fastest in China, followed by Japan and the United States, while Germany remains the world's largest overall producer of photovoltaic power, contributing about 7.0 percent to the overall electricity generation. Italy meets 7.9 percent of its electricity demands with photovoltaic power—the highest share worldwide. For 2015, global cumulative capacity is forecasted to increase by more than 50 gigawatts (GW). By 2018, worldwide capacity is projected to reach as much as 430 gigawatts. This corresponds to a tripling within five years. Solar power is forecasted to become the world's largest source of electricity by 2050, with solar photovoltaics and concentrated solar power contributing 16% and 11%, respectively. This requires an increase of installed PV capacity to 4,600 GW, of which more than half is expected to be deployed in China and India.
Hydropower is produced in 150 countries, with the Asia-Pacific region generating 32 percent of global hydropower in 2010. For countries having the largest percentage of electricity from renewables, the top 50 are primarily hydroelectric. China is the largest hydroelectricity producer, with 721 terawatt-hours of production in 2010, representing around 17 percent of domestic electricity use. There are now three hydroelectricity stations larger than 10 GW: the Three Gorges Dam in China, Itaipu Dam across the Brazil/Paraguay border, and Guri Dam in Venezuela.
“California Invests in ‘By Location’ Distributed Energy Resources” • California leads the US with several pilot projects to reward rooftop solar energy generators and other distributed energy resources in specific locations as an alternative to having utilities meet needs by investing in upgrading their electricity generation networks. [CleanTechnica]
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.
The trouble with rated power is that it does not tell you anything about energy production. Your utility company charges you for the energy you consume, not power. Likewise, for a small wind turbine you should be interested in the energy it will produce, for your particular site, with your particular annual average wind speed. Rated power of the turbine does not do that. To find out about energy production take a look at the tables presented earlier.
From 1978 to 1996, the National Renewable Energy Laboratory experimented with producing algae fuel in the "Aquatic Species Program." A self-published article by Michael Briggs, at the University of New Hampshire Biofuels Group, offers estimates for the realistic replacement of all motor vehicle fuel with biofuels by utilizing algae that have a natural oil content greater than 50%, which Briggs suggests can be grown on algae ponds at wastewater treatment plants. This oil-rich algae can then be extracted from the system and processed into biofuels, with the dried remainder further reprocessed to create ethanol. The production of algae to harvest oil for biofuels has not yet been undertaken on a commercial scale, but feasibility studies have been conducted to arrive at the above yield estimate. During the biofuel production process algae actually consumes the carbon dioxide in the air and turns it into oxygen through photosynthesis. In addition to its projected high yield, algaculture— unlike food crop-based biofuels — does not entail a decrease in food production, since it requires neither farmland nor fresh water. Many companies are pursuing algae bio-reactors for various purposes, including scaling up biofuels production to commercial levels.
Wind is a form of solar energy and is a result of the uneven heating of the atmosphere by the sun, the irregularities of the earth's surface, and the rotation of the earth. Wind flow patterns and speeds vary greatly across the United States and are modified by bodies of water, vegetation, and differences in terrain. Humans use this wind flow, or motion energy, for many purposes: sailing, flying a kite, and even generating electricity.
A wide range of concentrating technologies exists: among the best known are the parabolic trough, the compact linear Fresnel reflector, the Stirling dish and the solar power tower. Various techniques are used to track the sun and focus light. In all of these systems a working fluid is heated by the concentrated sunlight, and is then used for power generation or energy storage. Thermal storage efficiently allows up to 24-hour electricity generation.