A report by the United States Geological Survey estimated the projected materials requirement in order to fulfill the US commitment to supplying 20% of its electricity from wind power by 2030. They did not address requirements for small turbines or offshore turbines since those were not widely deployed in 2008, when the study was created. They found that there are increases in common materials such as cast iron, steel and concrete that represent 2–3% of the material consumption in 2008. Between 110,000 and 115,000 metric tons of fiber glass would be required annually, equivalent to 14% of consumption in 2008. They did not see a high increase in demand for rare metals compared to available supply, however rare metals that are also being used for other technologies such as batteries which are increasing its global demand need to be taken into account. Land, whbich might not be considered a material, is an important resource in deploying wind technologies. Reaching the 2030 goal would require 50,000 square kilometers of onshore land area and 11,000 square kilometers of offshore. This is not considered a problem in the US due to its vast area and the ability to use land for farming and grazing. A greater limitation for the technology would be the variability and transmission infrastructure to areas of higher demand.
This sets sustainable energy apart from other renewable energy terminology such as alternative energy by focusing on the ability of an energy source to continue providing energy. Sustainable energy can produce some pollution of the environment, as long as it is not sufficient to prohibit heavy use of the source for an indefinite amount of time. Sustainable energy is also distinct from low-carbon energy, which is sustainable only in the sense that it does not add to the CO2 in the atmosphere.
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.