Wind turbines do work; put them in nice, smooth air and their energy production is quite predictable (we will get to predicting it a bit further on in this story). The honest manufacturers do not lie or exaggerate, their turbines really can work as advertised in smooth, laminar airflow. However, put that same turbine on a 40 feet tower and even if the annual average wind speed is still 5 m/s at that height, its energy production will fall far short of what you would predict for that value. How short is anybody’s guess, that is part of the point; it is impossible to predict the effect of turbulence other than that it robs the energy production potential of any wind turbine. Roof tops, or other locations on a house, make for poor turbine sites. They are usually very turbulent and on top of that their average wind speeds are usually very low.
There are two types of crystalline silicon, but it’s likely you’ll more often encounter monocrystalline silicon: it has a square-ish structure, and its high silicon content makes it more effective (and more expensive) than other panel materials. The other type of crystalline silicon, polycrystalline, is cheaper but less effective, so it’s used when there’s plenty of space (e.g., on a solar farm)—typically not on residential installs.
In 2004, the German government introduced the first large-scale feed-in tariff system, under the German Renewable Energy Act, which resulted in explosive growth of PV installations in Germany. At the outset the FIT was over 3x the retail price or 8x the industrial price. The principle behind the German system is a 20-year flat rate contract. The value of new contracts is programmed to decrease each year, in order to encourage the industry to pass on lower costs to the end users. The programme has been more successful than expected with over 1GW installed in 2006, and political pressure is mounting to decrease the tariff to lessen the future burden on consumers.
This discussion is mainly about factory-made grid-tie wind turbines. The off-grid crowd has an entirely different set of decisions and goals. The main ones are that for off-grid use economic viability in comparison with the electrical grid is not an issue, and a wind turbine can make up for the loss of sunlight (and PV electricity) in the winter months. For the DIY group there are several good turbine designs available; Hugh Piggott and the two Dans have written books that outline this step-by-step. Building your own turbine can be a great hobby, and some of the topics touched below apply (such as proper site selection), but this discussion is not about those. The decisions involved in making your own turbine, and the cost basis, have little overlap with a the process of having an installer put a factory-made turbine in your backyard.
Nuclear power. After coal, the next largest source of our electricity is nuclear power. While nuclear plants don't cause air pollution, they do create radioactive waste, which must be stored for thousands of years. As accidents at Three Mile Island and Chernobyl proved, nuclear plants also carry the risk of catastrophic failure. And nuclear power can be very expensive.
Most current solar power plants are made from an array of similar units where each unit is continuously adjusted, e.g., with some step motors, so that the light converter stays in focus of the sun light. The cost of focusing light on converters such as high-power solar panels, Stirling engine, etc. can be dramatically decreased with a simple and efficient rope mechanics. In this technique many units are connected with a network of ropes so that pulling two or three ropes is sufficient to keep all light converters simultaneously in focus as the direction of the sun changes.
There are potentially two sources of nuclear power. Fission is used in all current nuclear power plants. Fusion is the reaction that exists in stars, including the sun, and remains impractical for use on Earth, as fusion reactors are not yet available. However nuclear power is controversial politically and scientifically due to concerns about radioactive waste disposal, safety, the risks of a severe accident, and technical and economical problems in dismantling of old power plants.
The locations with highest annual solar irradiance lie in the arid tropics and subtropics. Deserts lying in low latitudes usually have few clouds, and can receive sunshine for more than ten hours a day. These hot deserts form the Global Sun Belt circling the world. This belt consists of extensive swathes of land in Northern Africa, Southern Africa, Southwest Asia, Middle East, and Australia, as well as the much smaller deserts of North and South America. Africa's eastern Sahara Desert, also known as the Libyan Desert, has been observed to be the sunniest place on Earth according to NASA.
Grid parity, the point at which the cost of photovoltaic electricity is equal to or cheaper than the price of grid power, is more easily achieved in areas with abundant sun and high costs for electricity such as in California and Japan. In 2008, The levelized cost of electricity for solar PV was $0.25/kWh or less in most of the OECD countries. By late 2011, the fully loaded cost was predicted to fall below $0.15/kWh for most of the OECD and to reach $0.10/kWh in sunnier regions. These cost levels are driving three emerging trends: vertical integration of the supply chain, origination of power purchase agreements (PPAs) by solar power companies, and unexpected risk for traditional power generation companies, grid operators and wind turbine manufacturers.[dead link]
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While a single dramatic victory against something like the dirty Keystone XL pipeline can be nice to imagine, the truth is this is how we’re going to win: fighting at every level and with every tool we’ve got. We can’t stop until governments and fossil fuel corporations finally get the message that we need to put our dirty past behind us and fully commit to a clean future that works for all of us moving forward.
I wouldn’t consider myself a creative type. Never painted a picture, never felt confident in color or fabric choices. But I did get a real creativity boost living off-grid in northern New Mexico, raising children on one income in a home with caught water, gardening at 7600 feet in a climate that gets REALLY cold. We built a house called an earthship from recycled materials and earth.
Climate change concerns coupled with high oil prices and increasing government support are driving increasing rates of investment in the sustainable energy industries, according to a trend analysis from the United Nations Environment Programme. According to UNEP, global investment in sustainable energy in 2007 was higher than previous levels, with $148 billion of new money raised in 2007, an increase of 60% over 2006. Total financial transactions in sustainable energy, including acquisition activity, was $204 billion.
Photovoltaics were initially solely used as a source of electricity for small and medium-sized applications, from the calculator powered by a single solar cell to remote homes powered by an off-grid rooftop PV system. Commercial concentrated solar power plants were first developed in the 1980s. The 392 MW Ivanpah installation is the largest concentrating solar power plant in the world, located in the Mojave Desert of California.