In 2004, natural gas accounted for about 19 percent of the U.S. electricity mix. Use of natural gas is projected to increase dramatically in the next two decades if we continue on our current path, but supplies are limited and imports are increasing. Our growing reliance on natural gas combined with limited supplies makes this fuel subject to price spikes, which can have a significant impact on consumer energy costs. In addition, though natural gas is much cleaner than coal or oil, it does produce global warming emissions when burned. So, while the use of natural gas serves as a good transition to a cleaner future, it is not the ultimate solution.
A solar cell, or photovoltaic cell (PV), is a device that converts light into electric current using the photovoltaic effect. The first solar cell was constructed by Charles Fritts in the 1880s.[5] The German industrialist Ernst Werner von Siemens was among those who recognized the importance of this discovery.[6] In 1931, the German engineer Bruno Lange developed a photo cell using silver selenide in place of copper oxide,[7] although the prototype selenium cells converted less than 1% of incident light into electricity. Following the work of Russell Ohl in the 1940s, researchers Gerald Pearson, Calvin Fuller and Daryl Chapin created the silicon solar cell in 1954.[8] These early solar cells cost 286 USD/watt and reached efficiencies of 4.5–6%.[9]
Wind energy research dates back several decades to the 1970s when NASA developed an analytical model to predict wind turbine power generation during high winds.[136] Today, both Sandia National Laboratories and National Renewable Energy Laboratory have programs dedicated to wind research. Sandia’s laboratory focuses on the advancement of materials, aerodynamics, and sensors.[137] The NREL wind projects are centered on improving wind plant power production, reducing their capital costs, and making wind energy more cost effective overall.[138] The Field Laboratory for Optimized Wind Energy (FLOWE) at Caltech was established to research renewable approaches to wind energy farming technology practices that have the potential to reduce the cost, size, and environmental impact of wind energy production.[139] The president of Sky WindPower Corporation thinks that wind turbines will be able to produce electricity at a cent/kWh at an average which in comparison to coal-generated electricity is a fractional of the cost.[140]
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.