We now know that the electrical generator provides a means of energy conversion between the mechanical torque generated by the rotor blades, called the prime mover, and some electrical load. The mechanical connection of the wind turbine generator to the rotor blades is made through a main shaft which can be either a simple direct drive, or by using a gearbox to increase or decrease the generator speed relative to the rotational speed of the blades.
In 2014 global wind power capacity expanded 16% to 369,553 MW.[83] Yearly wind energy production is also growing rapidly and has reached around 4% of worldwide electricity usage,[84] 11.4% in the EU,[85] and it is widely used in Asia, and the United States. In 2015, worldwide installed photovoltaics capacity increased to 227 gigawatts (GW), sufficient to supply 1 percent of global electricity demands.[86] Solar thermal energy stations operate in the United States and Spain, and as of 2016, the largest of these is the 392 MW Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System in California.[87][88] The world's largest geothermal power installation is The Geysers in California, with a rated capacity of 750 MW. Brazil has one of the largest renewable energy programs in the world, involving production of ethanol fuel from sugar cane, and ethanol now provides 18% of the country's automotive fuel. Ethanol fuel is also widely available in the United States.
In Denmark by 1900, there were about 2500 windmills for mechanical loads such as pumps and mills, producing an estimated combined peak power of about 30 (MW). The largest machines were on 24-meter (79 ft) towers with four-bladed 23-meter (75 ft) diameter rotors. By 1908 there were 72 wind-driven electric generators operating in the United States from 5 kW to 25 kW. Around the time of World War I, American windmill makers were producing 100,000 farm windmills each year, mostly for water-pumping.[9]
Commercial concentrated solar power plants were first developed in the 1980s. As the cost of solar electricity has fallen, the number of grid-connected solar PV systems has grown into the millions and utility-scale solar power stations with hundreds of megawatts are being built. Solar PV is rapidly becoming an inexpensive, low-carbon technology to harness renewable energy from the Sun.
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.