Usually however, renewable energy is derived from the mains electricity grid. This means that energy storage is mostly not used, as the mains electricity grid is organised to produce the exact amount of energy being consumed at that particular moment. Energy production on the mains electricity grid is always set up as a combination of (large-scale) renewable energy plants, as well as other power plants as fossil-fuel power plants and nuclear power. This combination however, which is essential for this type of energy supply (as e.g. wind turbines, solar power plants etc.) can only produce when the wind blows and the sun shines. This is also one of the main drawbacks of the system as fossil fuel powerplants are polluting and are a main cause of global warming (nuclear power being an exception). Although fossil fuel power plants too can be made emissionless (through carbon capture and storage), as well as renewable (if the plants are converted to e.g. biomass) the best solution is still to phase out the latter power plants over time. Nuclear power plants too can be more or less eliminated from their problem of nuclear waste through the use of nuclear reprocessing and newer plants as fast breeder and nuclear fusion plants.
Any solar PV system that’s tied to the grid will use a bi-directional meter. When you use electricity from the grid, you’ll see your meter move forward. But when your solar PV system produces electricity, any excess will go back into the grid and your meter will move backward. This is called “net metering,” and the utility company will credit your bill for the excess electricity generated.
Manufacturers often claim that their vertical axis turbine is better at extracting power from low speed winds. Unfortunately the laws of physics get in the way here: There is very little power in low speed winds. The blade of a vertical or horizontal type turbine is equally good at extracting that power, though with the vertical type the blades move at an angle to the wind where they do not extract energy for part of every rotation, adding drag and making a vertical type turbine just a little less efficient than a similar sized horizontal one. There is no advantage when it comes to low winds.
The life-cycle greenhouse-gas emissions of solar power are in the range of 22 to 46 gram (g) per kilowatt-hour (kWh) depending on if solar thermal or solar PV is being analyzed, respectively. With this potentially being decreased to 15 g/kWh in the future. For comparison (of weighted averages), a combined cycle gas-fired power plant emits some 400–599 g/kWh, an oil-fired power plant 893 g/kWh, a coal-fired power plant 915–994 g/kWh or with carbon capture and storage some 200 g/kWh, and a geothermal high-temp. power plant 91–122 g/kWh. The life cycle emission intensity of hydro, wind and nuclear power are lower than solar's as of 2011 as published by the IPCC, and discussed in the article Life-cycle greenhouse-gas emissions of energy sources. Similar to all energy sources were their total life cycle emissions primarily lay in the construction and transportation phase, the switch to low carbon power in the manufacturing and transportation of solar devices would further reduce carbon emissions. BP Solar owns two factories built by Solarex (one in Maryland, the other in Virginia) in which all of the energy used to manufacture solar panels is produced by solar panels. A 1-kilowatt system eliminates the burning of approximately 170 pounds of coal, 300 pounds of carbon dioxide from being released into the atmosphere, and saves up to 105 gallons of water consumption monthly.
What is a small wind turbine? Anything under, say, 10 meters rotor diameter (30 feet) is well within the “small wind” category. That works out to wind turbines with a rated power up to around 20 kW (at 11 m/s, or 25 mph). For larger wind turbines the manufacturers are usually a little more honest, and more money is available to do a good site analysis. The information in this article is generic: The same applies to all the other brands and models, be they of the HAWT (Horizontal Axis Wind Turbine) or VAWT (Vertical Axis Wind Turbine) persuasion.
Floating solar arrays are PV systems that float on the surface of drinking water reservoirs, quarry lakes, irrigation canals or remediation and tailing ponds. A small number of such systems exist in France, India, Japan, South Korea, the United Kingdom, Singapore and the United States. The systems are said to have advantages over photovoltaics on land. The cost of land is more expensive, and there are fewer rules and regulations for structures built on bodies of water not used for recreation. Unlike most land-based solar plants, floating arrays can be unobtrusive because they are hidden from public view. They achieve higher efficiencies than PV panels on land, because water cools the panels. The panels have a special coating to prevent rust or corrosion. In May 2008, the Far Niente Winery in Oakville, California, pioneered the world's first floatovoltaic system by installing 994 solar PV modules with a total capacity of 477 kW onto 130 pontoons and floating them on the winery's irrigation pond. Utility-scale floating PV farms are starting to be built. Kyocera will develop the world's largest, a 13.4 MW farm on the reservoir above Yamakura Dam in Chiba Prefecture using 50,000 solar panels. Salt-water resistant floating farms are also being constructed for ocean use. The largest so far announced floatovoltaic project is a 350 MW power station in the Amazon region of Brazil.
Renewable energy power plants do provide a steady flow of energy. For example, hydropower plants, ocean thermal plants, osmotic power plants all provide power at a regulated pace, and are thus available power sources at any given moment (even at night, windstill moments etc.). At present however, the number of steady-flow renewable energy plants alone is still too small to meet energy demands at the times of the day when the irregular producing renewable energy plants cannot produce power.
Technology advances are opening up a huge new market for solar power: the approximately 1.3 billion people around the world who don't have access to grid electricity. Even though they are typically very poor, these people have to pay far more for lighting than people in rich countries because they use inefficient kerosene lamps. Solar power costs half as much as lighting with kerosene. As of 2010, an estimated 3 million households get power from small solar PV systems. Kenya is the world leader in the number of solar power systems installed per capita. More than 30,000 very small solar panels, each producing 12 to 30 watts, are sold in Kenya annually. Some Small Island Developing States (SIDS) are also turning to solar power to reduce their costs and increase their sustainability.
There is more trouble with rated power: It only happens at a “rated wind speed”. And the trouble with that is there is no standard for rated wind speed. Since the energy in the wind increases with the cube of the wind speed, it makes a very large difference if rated power is measured at 10 m/s (22 mph), or 12 m/s (27 mph). For example, that 6 meter wind turbine from the previous section could reasonably be expected to produce 5.2 kW at 10 m/s, while it will do 9 kW at 12 m/s!
Wind turbines are manufactured in a wide range of vertical and horizontal axis. The smallest turbines are used for applications such as battery charging for auxiliary power for boats or caravans or to power traffic warning signs. Slightly larger turbines can be used for making contributions to a domestic power supply while selling unused power back to the utility supplier via the electrical grid. Arrays of large turbines, known as wind farms, are becoming an increasingly important source of intermittent renewable energy and are used by many countries as part of a strategy to reduce their reliance on fossil fuels. One assessment claimed that, as of 2009, wind had the "lowest relative greenhouse gas emissions, the least water consumption demands and... the most favourable social impacts" compared to photovoltaic, hydro, geothermal, coal and gas.
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. The current largest photovoltaic power station in the world is the 850 MW Longyangxia Dam Solar Park, in Qinghai, China.