From the end of 2004, worldwide renewable energy capacity grew at rates of 10–60% annually for many technologies. In 2015 global investment in renewables rose 5% to $285.9 billion, breaking the previous record of $278.5 billion in 2011. 2015 was also the first year that saw renewables, excluding large hydro, account for the majority of all new power capacity (134 GW, making up 53.6% of the total). Of the renewables total, wind accounted for 72 GW and solar photovoltaics 56 GW; both record-breaking numbers and sharply up from 2014 figures (49 GW and 45 GW respectively). In financial terms, solar made up 56% of total new investment and wind accounted for 38%.
Sustainable energy is energy that is consumed at insignificant rates compared to its supply and with manageable collateral effects, especially environmental effects. Another common definition of sustainable energy is an energy system that serves the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their energy needs. Not all renewable energy is sustainable. While renewable energy is defined as energy sources that are naturally replenished on a human timescale, sustainable (often referred to as 'clean') energy must not compromise the system in which it is adopted to the point of being unable to provide for future need. The organizing principle for sustainability is sustainable development, which includes the four interconnected domains: ecology, economics, politics and culture. Sustainability science is the study of sustainable development and environmental science.
Projections vary. The EIA has predicted that almost two thirds of net additions to power capacity will come from renewables by 2020 due to the combined policy benefits of local pollution, decarbonisation and energy diversification. Some studies have set out roadmaps to power 100% of the world’s energy with wind, hydroelectric and solar by the year 2030.
Research is also undertaken in this field of artificial photosynthesis. It involves the use of nanotechnology to store solar electromagnetic energy in chemical bonds, by splitting water to produce hydrogen fuel or then combining with carbon dioxide to make biopolymers such as methanol. Many large national and regional research projects on artificial photosynthesis are now trying to develop techniques integrating improved light capture, quantum coherence methods of electron transfer and cheap catalytic materials that operate under a variety of atmospheric conditions. Senior researchers in the field have made the public policy case for a Global Project on Artificial Photosynthesis to address critical energy security and environmental sustainability issues.
Airflows can be used to run wind turbines. Modern utility-scale wind turbines range from around 600 kW to 5 MW of rated power, although turbines with rated output of 1.5–3 MW have become the most common for commercial use. The largest generator capacity of a single installed onshore wind turbine reached 7.5 MW in 2015. The power available from the wind is a function of the cube of the wind speed, so as wind speed increases, power output increases up to the maximum output for the particular turbine. Areas where winds are stronger and more constant, such as offshore and high altitude sites, are preferred locations for wind farms. Typically full load hours of wind turbines vary between 16 and 57 percent annually, but might be higher in particularly favorable offshore sites.
The stator is the “stationary” (hence its name) part of the machine and can have either a set of electrical windings producing an electromagnet or a set of permanent magnets within its design. The rotor is the part of the machine that “rotates”. Again, the rotor can have output coils that rotate or permanent magnets. Generally, generators and alternators used for wind turbine generators are defined by how they make generate their magnetism, either electromagnets or permanent magnets.
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.
There are numerous organizations within the academic, federal, and commercial sectors conducting large scale advanced research in the field of renewable energy. This research spans several areas of focus across the renewable energy spectrum. Most of the research is targeted at improving efficiency and increasing overall energy yields. Multiple federally supported research organizations have focused on renewable energy in recent years. Two of the most prominent of these labs are Sandia National Laboratories and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), both of which are funded by the United States Department of Energy and supported by various corporate partners. Sandia has a total budget of $2.4 billion while NREL has a budget of $375 million.
Biofuels - Rather than burning biomass to produce energy, sometimes these renewable organic materials are transformed into fuel. Notable examples include ethanol and biodiesel. Biofuels provided 2.7 percent of the world's fuels for road transport in 2010, and have the potential to meet more than 25 percent of world demand for transportation fuels by 2050.
Large three-bladed horizontal-axis wind turbines (HAWT), with the blades upwind of the tower produce the overwhelming majority of windpower in the world today. These turbines have the main rotor shaft and electrical generator at the top of a tower, and must be pointed into the wind. Small turbines are pointed by a simple wind vane, while large turbines generally use a wind sensor coupled with a yaw system. Most have a gearbox, which turns the slow rotation of the blades into a quicker rotation that is more suitable to drive an electrical generator. Some turbines use a different type of generator suited to slower rotational speed input. These don't need a gearbox, and are called direct-drive, meaning they couple the rotor directly to the generator with no gearbox in between. While permanent magnet direct-drive generators can be more costly due to the rare earth materials required, these gearless turbines are sometimes preferred over gearbox generators because they "eliminate the gear-speed increaser, which is susceptible to significant accumulated fatigue torque loading, related reliability issues, and maintenance costs."
In the case of a “wind turbine generator”, the wind pushes directly against the blades of the turbine, which converts the linear motion of the wind into the rotary motion necessary to spin the generators rotor and the harder the wind pushes, the more electrical energy can be generated. Then it is important to have a good wind turbine blade design to extract as much energy out of the wind as possible.
Those not satisfied with the third-party grid approach to green energy via the power grid can install their own locally based renewable energy system. Renewable energy electrical systems from solar to wind to even local hydro-power in some cases, are some of the many types of renewable energy systems available locally. Additionally, for those interested in heating and cooling their dwelling via renewable energy, geothermal heat pump systems that tap the constant temperature of the earth, which is around 7 to 15 degrees Celsius a few feet underground and increases dramatically at greater depths, are an option over conventional natural gas and petroleum-fueled heat approaches. Also, in geographic locations where the Earth's Crust is especially thin, or near volcanoes (as is the case in Iceland) there exists the potential to generate even more electricity than would be possible at other sites, thanks to a more significant temperature gradient at these locales.
There have been "not in my back yard" (NIMBY) concerns relating to the visual and other impacts of some wind farms, with local residents sometimes fighting or blocking construction. In the United States, the Massachusetts Cape Wind project was delayed for years partly because of aesthetic concerns. However, residents in other areas have been more positive. According to a town councilor, the overwhelming majority of locals believe that the Ardrossan Wind Farm in Scotland has enhanced the area.
Run-of-the-river hydroelectricity plants derive energy from rivers without the creation of a large reservoir. The water is typically conveyed along the side of the river valley (using channels, pipes and/or tunnels) until it is high above the valley floor, whereupon it can allowed to fall through a penstock to drive a turbine. This style of generation may still produce a large amount of electricity, such as the Chief Joseph Dam on the Columbia river in the United States.
In net metering the price of the electricity produced is the same as the price supplied to the consumer, and the consumer is billed on the difference between production and consumption. Net metering can usually be done with no changes to standard electricity meters, which accurately measure power in both directions and automatically report the difference, and because it allows homeowners and businesses to generate electricity at a different time from consumption, effectively using the grid as a giant storage battery. With net metering, deficits are billed each month while surpluses are rolled over to the following month. Best practices call for perpetual roll over of kWh credits. Excess credits upon termination of service are either lost, or paid for at a rate ranging from wholesale to retail rate or above, as can be excess annual credits. In New Jersey, annual excess credits are paid at the wholesale rate, as are left over credits when a customer terminates service.
This solar resource map provides a summary of the estimated solar energy available for power generation and other energy applications. It represents the average daily/yearly sum of electricity production from a 1 kW-peak grid-connected solar PV power plant covering the period from 1994/1999/2007 (depending on the geographical region) to 2015. Source: Global Solar Atlas]