The waste we generate ends up in landfills, where it decomposes and produces landfill gas made of approximately 50 percent methane. This gas can be captured and used to fuel electric generators. Since large landfills must burn off this gas to reduce the hazards arising from gas buildup, this method of renewable energy is one of the most successful.
Previously, the largest U.S. city fully powered by renewables was Burlington, Vermont (pop. 42,000), home to Senator Bernie Sanders, the jam band Phish and the original Ben & Jerry’s. Georgetown’s feat is all the more dramatic because it demolishes the notion that sustainability is synonymous with socialism and GMO-free ice cream. “You think of climate change and renewable energy, from a political standpoint, on the left-hand side of the spectrum, and what I’ve done is toss all those partisan political thoughts aside,” Ross says. “We’re doing this because it’s good for our citizens. Cheaper electricity is better. Clean energy is better than fossil fuels.”
Anaerobic digestion, geothermal power, wind power, small-scale hydropower, solar energy, biomass power, tidal power, wave power, and some forms of nuclear power (ones which are able to "burn" nuclear waste through a process known as nuclear transmutation, such as an Integral Fast Reactor, and therefore belong in the "Green Energy" category). Some definitions may also include power derived from the incineration of waste.
In the United States, one of the main problems with purchasing green energy through the electrical grid is the current centralized infrastructure that supplies the consumer’s electricity. This infrastructure has led to increasingly frequent brown outs and black outs, high CO2 emissions, higher energy costs, and power quality issues.[89] An additional $450 billion will be invested to expand this fledgling system over the next 20 years to meet increasing demand.[90] In addition, this centralized system is now being further overtaxed with the incorporation of renewable energies such as wind, solar, and geothermal energies. Renewable resources, due to the amount of space they require, are often located in remote areas where there is a lower energy demand. The current infrastructure would make transporting this energy to high demand areas, such as urban centers, highly inefficient and in some cases impossible. In addition, despite the amount of renewable energy produced or the economic viability of such technologies only about 20 percent will be able to be incorporated into the grid. To have a more sustainable energy profile, the United States must move towards implementing changes to the electrical grid that will accommodate a mixed-fuel economy.[91]
So how do wind turbines make electricity? Simply stated, a wind turbine works the opposite of a fan. Instead of using electricity to make wind, like a fan, wind turbines use wind to make electricity. The wind turns the blades, which spin a shaft, which connects to a generator and makes electricity. View the wind turbine animation to see how a wind turbine works or take a look inside.
As of 2011, small solar PV systems provide electricity to a few million households, and micro-hydro configured into mini-grids serves many more. Over 44 million households use biogas made in household-scale digesters for lighting and/or cooking, and more than 166 million households rely on a new generation of more-efficient biomass cookstoves.[26] United Nations' Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has said that renewable energy has the ability to lift the poorest nations to new levels of prosperity.[14] At the national level, at least 30 nations around the world already have renewable energy contributing more than 20% of energy supply. National renewable energy markets are projected to continue to grow strongly in the coming decade and beyond, and some 120 countries have various policy targets for longer-term shares of renewable energy, including a 20% target of all electricity generated for the European Union by 2020. Some countries have much higher long-term policy targets of up to 100% renewables. Outside Europe, a diverse group of 20 or more other countries target renewable energy shares in the 2020–2030 time frame that range from 10% to 50%.[11]
In cases of self consumption of the solar energy, the payback time is calculated based on how much electricity is not purchased from the grid. For example, in Germany, with electricity prices of 0.25 €/kWh and insolation of 900 kWh/kW, one kWp will save €225 per year, and with an installation cost of 1700 €/KWp the system cost will be returned in less than seven years.[91] However, in many cases, the patterns of generation and consumption do not coincide, and some or all of the energy is fed back into the grid. The electricity is sold, and at other times when energy is taken from the grid, electricity is bought. The relative costs and prices obtained affect the economics. In many markets, the price paid for sold PV electricity is significantly lower than the price of bought electricity, which incentivizes self consumption.[92] Moreover, separate self consumption incentives have been used in e.g. Germany and Italy.[92] Grid interaction regulation has also included limitations of grid feed-in in some regions in Germany with high amounts of installed PV capacity.[92][93] By increasing self consumption, the grid feed-in can be limited without curtailment, which wastes electricity.[94]
Space-Based Solar Power Satellites seek to overcome the problems of storage and provide civilization-scale power that is clean, constant, and global. Japan and China have active national programs aimed at commercial scale Space-Based Solar Power (SBSP), and both nation's hope to orbit demonstrations in the 2030s. The China Academy of Space Technology (CAST) won the 2015 International SunSat Design Competition with this video of their Multi-Rotary Joint design. Proponents of SBSP claim that Space-Based Solar Power would be clean, constant, and global, and could scale to meet all planetary energy demand.[56] A recent multi-agency industry proposal (echoing the 2008 Pentagon recommendation) won the SECDEF/SECSTATE/USAID Director D3 (Diplomacy, Development, Defense) Innovation Challenge [57] with the following pitch and vision video.[132] Northrop Grumman is funding CALTECH with $17.5 million[133] for an ultra lightweight design.[134] Keith Henson posted a video of a "bootstrapping" approach.
Many residential PV systems are connected to the grid wherever available, especially in developed countries with large markets.[10] In these grid-connected PV systems, use of energy storage is optional. In certain applications such as satellites, lighthouses, or in developing countries, batteries or additional power generators are often added as back-ups. Such stand-alone power systems permit operations at night and at other times of limited sunlight.