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.
A typical home uses approximately 10,932 kilowatt-hours (kWh) of electricity per year (about 911 kWh per month). Depending on the average wind speed in the area, a wind turbine rated in the range of 5 to 15 kW would be required to make a significant contribution to this demand. A 1.5-kW wind turbine will meet the needs of a home requiring 300 kWh per month in a location with a 14 MPH (6.26 meters per second) annual average wind speed. The manufacturer, dealer, or installer can provide you with the expected annual energy output of the turbine as a function of annual average wind speed. The manufacturer will also provide information about any maximum wind speeds at which the turbine is designed to operate safely. Most turbines have automatic overspeed-governing systems to keep the rotor from spinning out of control in extremely high winds.
How accurate are these numbers? This is the energy production a good horizontal-axis wind turbine can reach, if installed at the perfect site and height. These are the upper limit though, if your turbine produces anywhere near the number predicted by this table you should be doing your happy-dance! Most small wind turbine installations underperform significantly, in fact, the average seems to be about half of the predicted energy production (and many do not even reach that). There can be many reasons for the performance shortfall; poor site selection, with more turbulent air than expected often has much to do with it. The reports in the ‘real world’ section following below illustrate this point. Many small wind turbines do not reach 30% overall efficiency, some are close to 0% (this is no joke!), so these numbers have only one direction to go. For off-grid battery charging wind turbines you should deduct 20 – 30% of the predicted numbers, due to the lower efficiency of a turbine tied to batteries, and the losses involved in charging batteries.
Wind turbines allow us to harness the power of the wind and turn it into energy. When the wind blows, the turbine's blades spin clockwise, capturing energy. This triggers the main shaft, connected to a gearbox within the nacelle, to spin. The gearbox sends that energy to the generator, converting it to electricity. Electricity then travels down the tower to a transformer, where voltage levels are adjusted to match with the grid.
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, and wind power produced some 1.3% of global electricity consumption. Wind power accounts for approximately 20% of electricity use in Denmark, 9% in Spain, and 7% in Germany. 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.
One issue that has often raised concerns is the use of cadmium (Cd), a toxic heavy metal that has the tendency to accumulate in ecological food chains. It is used as semiconductor component in CdTe solar cells and as buffer layer for certain CIGS cells in the form of CdS. The amount of cadmium used in thin-film PV modules is relatively small (5–10 g/m²) and with proper recycling and emission control techniques in place the cadmium emissions from module production can be almost zero. Current PV technologies lead to cadmium emissions of 0.3–0.9 microgram/kWh over the whole life-cycle. Most of these emissions arise through the use of coal power for the manufacturing of the modules, and coal and lignite combustion leads to much higher emissions of cadmium. Life-cycle cadmium emissions from coal is 3.1 microgram/kWh, lignite 6.2, and natural gas 0.2 microgram/kWh.
You have read this far, and still want to install a wind turbine? Then it is time for a reality check: Most (some would say all) installed small wind turbines do abysmally poor in comparison with their energy production numbers as calculated above. That is the message from a number of studies, usually on behalf of governments that subsidize wind turbines. Do not just take our word for this, read it for yourself:
As of 2012, the Alta Wind Energy Center (California, 1,020 MW) is the world's largest wind farm. The London Array (630 MW) is the largest offshore wind farm in the world. The United Kingdom is the world's leading generator of offshore wind power, followed by Denmark. There are several large offshore wind farms operational and under construction and these include Anholt (400 MW), BARD (400 MW), Clyde (548 MW), Fântânele-Cogealac (600 MW), Greater Gabbard (500 MW), Lincs (270 MW), London Array (630 MW), Lower Snake River (343 MW), Macarthur (420 MW), Shepherds Flat (845 MW), and the Sheringham Shoal (317 MW).
Biomass, biogas and biofuels are burned to produce heat/power and in doing so harm the environment. Pollutants such as sulphurous oxides (SOx), nitrous oxides (NOx), and particulate matter (PM) are produced from the combustion of biomass; the World Health Organisation estimates that 7 million premature deaths are caused each year by air pollution. Biomass combustion is a major contributor.
As of 2018, American electric utility companies are planning new or extra renewable energy investments. These investments are particularly aimed at solar energy, thanks to the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 being signed into law. The law retained incentives for renewable energy development. Utility companies are taking advantage of the federal solar investment tax credit before it permanently goes down to 10% after 2021. According to the March 28 S&P Global Market Intelligence report summary, "NextEra Energy Inc., Duke Energy Corp., and Dominion Energy Inc.’s utilities are among a number of companies in the sector contemplating significant solar investments in the near-term. Other companies, including Xcel Energy Inc. and Alliant Energy Corp., are undertaking large wind projects in the near-term, but are considering ramping up solar investments in the coming years."
DOE selected six companies for its 2007 Green Power Supplier Awards, including Constellation NewEnergy; 3Degrees; Sterling Planet; SunEdison; Pacific Power and Rocky Mountain Power; and Silicon Valley Power. The combined green power provided by those six winners equals more than 5 billion kilowatt-hours per year, which is enough to power nearly 465,000 average U.S. households. In 2014, Arcadia Power made RECS available to homes and businesses in all 50 states, allowing consumers to use "100% green power" as defined by the EPA's Green Power Partnership.
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In the 1980s and early 1990s, most photovoltaic modules provided remote-area power supply, but from around 1995, industry efforts have focused increasingly on developing building integrated photovoltaics and power plants for grid connected applications (see photovoltaic power stations article for details). Currently the largest photovoltaic power plant in North America is the Nellis Solar Power Plant (15 MW). There is a proposal to build a Solar power station in Victoria, Australia, which would be the world's largest PV power station, at 154 MW. Other large photovoltaic power stations include the Girassol solar power plant (62 MW), and the Waldpolenz Solar Park (40 MW).
Concentrating solar power plants with wet-cooling systems, on the other hand, have the highest water-consumption intensities of any conventional type of electric power plant; only fossil-fuel plants with carbon-capture and storage may have higher water intensities. A 2013 study comparing various sources of electricity found that the median water consumption during operations of concentrating solar power plants with wet cooling was 810 ga/MWhr for power tower plants and 890 gal/MWhr for trough plants. This was higher than the operational water consumption (with cooling towers) for nuclear (720 gal/MWhr), coal (530 gal/MWhr), or natural gas (210). A 2011 study by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory came to similar conclusions: for power plants with cooling towers, water consumption during operations was 865 gal/MWhr for CSP trough, 786 gal/MWhr for CSP tower, 687 gal/MWhr for coal, 672 gal/MWhr for nuclear, and 198 gal/MWhr for natural gas. The Solar Energy Industries Association noted that the Nevada Solar One trough CSP plant consumes 850 gal/MWhr. The issue of water consumption is heightened because CSP plants are often located in arid environments where water is scarce.
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The New Zealand Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment found that the solar PV would have little impact on the country's greenhouse gas emissions. The country already generates 80 percent of its electricity from renewable resources (primarily hydroelectricity and geothermal) and national electricity usage peaks on winter evenings whereas solar generation peaks on summer afternoons, meaning a large uptake of solar PV would end up displacing other renewable generators before fossil-fueled power plants.
Hydro-electricity and geothermal electricity produced at favourable sites are now the cheapest way to generate electricity. Renewable energy costs continue to drop, and the levelised cost of electricity (LCOE) is declining for wind power, solar photovoltaic (PV), concentrated solar power (CSP) and some biomass technologies. Renewable energy is also the most economic solution for new grid-connected capacity in areas with good resources. As the cost of renewable power falls, the scope of economically viable applications increases. Renewable technologies are now often the most economic solution for new generating capacity. Where "oil-fired generation is the predominant power generation source (e.g. on islands, off-grid and in some countries) a lower-cost renewable solution almost always exists today". A series of studies by the US National Renewable Energy Laboratory modeled the "grid in the Western US under a number of different scenarios where intermittent renewables accounted for 33 percent of the total power." In the models, inefficiencies in cycling the fossil fuel plants to compensate for the variation in solar and wind energy resulted in an additional cost of "between $0.47 and $1.28 to each MegaWatt hour generated"; however, the savings in the cost of the fuels saved "adds up to $7 billion, meaning the added costs are, at most, two percent of the savings."
According to a 2011 projection by the International Energy Agency, solar power generators may produce most of the world's electricity within 50 years, reducing the emissions of greenhouse gases that harm the environment. Cedric Philibert, senior analyst in the renewable energy division at the IEA said: "Photovoltaic and solar-thermal plants may meet most of the world's demand for electricity by 2060 – and half of all energy needs – with wind, hydropower and biomass plants supplying much of the remaining generation". "Photovoltaic and concentrated solar power together can become the major source of electricity", Philibert said.
Only a quarter of the worlds estimated hydroelectric potential of 14,000 TWh/year has been developed, the regional potentials for the growth of hydropower around the world are, 71% Europe, 75% North America, 79% South America, 95% Africa, 95% Middle East, 82% Asia Pacific. However, the political realities of new reservoirs in western countries, economic limitations in the third world and the lack of a transmission system in undeveloped areas, result in the possibility of developing 25% of the remaining potential before 2050, with the bulk of that being in the Asia Pacific area. There is slow growth taking place in Western counties, but not in the conventional dam and reservoir style of the past. New projects take the form of run-of-the-river and small hydro, neither using large reservoirs. It is popular to repower old dams thereby increasing their efficiency and capacity as well as quicker responsiveness on the grid. Where circumstances permit existing dams such as the Russell Dam built in 1985 may be updated with "pump back" facilities for pumped-storage which is useful for peak loads or to support intermittent wind and solar power. Countries with large hydroelectric developments such as Canada and Norway are spending billions to expand their grids to trade with neighboring countries having limited hydro.
A hybrid system combines (C)PV and CSP with one another or with other forms of generation such as diesel, wind and biogas. The combined form of generation may enable the system to modulate power output as a function of demand or at least reduce the fluctuating nature of solar power and the consumption of non renewable fuel. Hybrid systems are most often found on islands.