Solar panels converts the sun's light in to usable solar energy using N-type and P-type semiconductor material. When sunlight is absorbed by these materials, the solar energy knocks electrons loose from their atoms, allowing the electrons to flow through the material to produce electricity. This process of converting light (photons) to electricity (voltage) is called the photovoltaic (PV) effect. Currently solar panels convert most of the visible light spectrum and about half of the ultraviolet and infrared light spectrum to usable solar energy.
Moving towards energy sustainability will require changes not only in the way energy is supplied, but in the way it is used, and reducing the amount of energy required to deliver various goods or services is essential. Opportunities for improvement on the demand side of the energy equation are as rich and diverse as those on the supply side, and often offer significant economic benefits.
The early development of solar technologies starting in the 1860s was driven by an expectation that coal would soon become scarce. Charles Fritts installed the world's first rooftop photovoltaic solar array, using 1%-efficient selenium cells, on a New York City roof in 1884. However, development of solar technologies stagnated in the early 20th century in the face of the increasing availability, economy, and utility of coal and petroleum. In 1974 it was estimated that only six private homes in all of North America were entirely heated or cooled by functional solar power systems. The 1973 oil embargo and 1979 energy crisis caused a reorganization of energy policies around the world and brought renewed attention to developing solar technologies. Deployment strategies focused on incentive programs such as the Federal Photovoltaic Utilization Program in the US and the Sunshine Program in Japan. Other efforts included the formation of research facilities in the United States (SERI, now NREL), Japan (NEDO), and Germany (Fraunhofer–ISE). Between 1970 and 1983 installations of photovoltaic systems grew rapidly, but falling oil prices in the early 1980s moderated the growth of photovoltaics from 1984 to 1996.
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.
Second-generation technologies include solar heating and cooling, wind power, modern forms of bioenergy and solar photovoltaics. These are now entering markets as a result of research, development and demonstration (RD&D) investments since the 1980s. The initial investment was prompted by energy security concerns linked to the oil crises (1973 and 1979) of the 1970s but the continuing appeal of these renewables is due, at least in part, to environmental benefits. Many of the technologies reflect significant advancements in materials.
The primary obstacle that is preventing the large scale implementation of solar powered energy generation is the inefficiency of current solar technology. Currently, photovoltaic (PV) panels only have the ability to convert around 24% of the sunlight that hits them into electricity. At this rate, solar energy still holds many challenges for widespread implementation, but steady progress has been made in reducing manufacturing cost and increasing photovoltaic efficiency. Both Sandia National Laboratories and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), have heavily funded solar research programs. The NREL solar program has a budget of around $75 million  and develops research projects in the areas of photovoltaic (PV) technology, solar thermal energy, and solar radiation. The budget for Sandia’s solar division is unknown, however it accounts for a significant percentage of the laboratory’s $2.4 billion budget. Several academic programs have focused on solar research in recent years. The Solar Energy Research Center (SERC) at University of North Carolina (UNC) has the sole purpose of developing cost effective solar technology. In 2008, researchers at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) developed a method to store solar energy by using it to produce hydrogen fuel from water. Such research is targeted at addressing the obstacle that solar development faces of storing energy for use during nighttime hours when the sun is not shining. In February 2012, North Carolina-based Semprius Inc., a solar development company backed by German corporation Siemens, announced that they had developed the world’s most efficient solar panel. The company claims that the prototype converts 33.9% of the sunlight that hits it to electricity, more than double the previous high-end conversion rate. Major projects on artificial photosynthesis or solar fuels are also under way in many developed nations.
There are different types of inverters for solar use (string, central, micro). If you’re hoping to install the solar PV system yourself, selecting the best inverter will require serious research and careful planning. If you work through a professional solar installer, on the other hand, the company should help take care of inverter selection for you.
Besides the greening of fossil fuel and nuclear power plants, another option is the distribution and immediate use of power from solely renewable sources. In this set-up energy storage is again not necessary. For example, TREC has proposed to distribute solar power from the Sahara to Europe. Europe can distribute wind and ocean power to the Sahara and other countries. In this way, power is produced at any given time as at any point of the planet as the sun or the wind is up or ocean waves and currents are stirring. This option however is probably not possible in the short-term, as fossil fuel and nuclear power are still the main sources of energy on the mains electricity net and replacing them will not be possible overnight.
Floatovoltaics are an emerging form of PV systems that float on the surface of irrigation canals, water reservoirs, quarry lakes, and tailing ponds. Several systems exist in France, India, Japan, Korea, the United Kingdom and the United States. These systems reduce the need of valuable land area, save drinking water that would otherwise be lost through evaporation, and show a higher efficiency of solar energy conversion, as the panels are kept at a cooler temperature than they would be on land. Although not floating, other dual-use facilities with solar power include fisheries.
In the United States, one of the main problems with purchasing green energy through the electrical grid is the current centralized infrastructure that supplies the consumer’s electricity. This infrastructure has led to increasingly frequent brown outs and black outs, high CO2 emissions, higher energy costs, and power quality issues. An additional $450 billion will be invested to expand this fledgling system over the next 20 years to meet increasing demand. In addition, this centralized system is now being further overtaxed with the incorporation of renewable energies such as wind, solar, and geothermal energies. Renewable resources, due to the amount of space they require, are often located in remote areas where there is a lower energy demand. The current infrastructure would make transporting this energy to high demand areas, such as urban centers, highly inefficient and in some cases impossible. In addition, despite the amount of renewable energy produced or the economic viability of such technologies only about 20 percent will be able to be incorporated into the grid. To have a more sustainable energy profile, the United States must move towards implementing changes to the electrical grid that will accommodate a mixed-fuel economy.
Since 2013 the world's highest-situated wind turbine was made and installed by WindAid and is located at the base of the Pastoruri Glacier in Peru at 4,877 meters (16,001 ft) above sea level. The site uses the WindAid 2.5 kW wind generator to supply power to a small rural community of micro entrepreneurs who cater to the tourists who come to the Pastoruri glacier.
At the end of 2014, worldwide PV capacity reached at least 177,000 megawatts. Photovoltaics grew fastest in China, followed by Japan and the United States, while Germany remains the world's largest overall producer of photovoltaic power, contributing about 7.0 percent to the overall electricity generation. Italy meets 7.9 percent of its electricity demands with photovoltaic power—the highest share worldwide. For 2015, global cumulative capacity is forecasted to increase by more than 50 gigawatts (GW). By 2018, worldwide capacity is projected to reach as much as 430 gigawatts. This corresponds to a tripling within five years. Solar power is forecasted to become the world's largest source of electricity by 2050, with solar photovoltaics and concentrated solar power contributing 16% and 11%, respectively. This requires an increase of installed PV capacity to 4,600 GW, of which more than half is expected to be deployed in China and India.
A study of the material consumption trends and requirements for wind energy in Europe found that bigger turbines have a higher consumption of precious metals but lower material input per kW generated. The current material consumption and stock was compared to input materials for various onshore system sizes. In all EU countries the estimates for 2020 exceeded and doubled the values consumed in 2009. These countries would need to expand their resources to be able to meet the estimated demand for 2020. For example, currently the EU has 3% of world supply of fluorspar and it requires 14% by 2020. Globally, the main exporting countries are South Africa, Mexico and China. This is similar with other critical and valuable materials required for energy systems such as magnesium, silver and indium. In addition, the levels of recycling of these materials is very low and focusing on that could alleviate issues with supply in the future. It is important to note that since most of these valuable materials are also used in other emerging technologies, like LEDs, PVs and LCDs, it is projected that demand for them will continue to increase.
Jump up ^ Faunce, T. A.; Lubitz, W.; Rutherford, A. W. (Bill); MacFarlane, D.; Moore, G. F.; Yang, P.; Nocera, D. G; Moore, Tom A; Gregory, Duncan H; Fukuzumi, Shunichi; Yoon, Kyung B.; Armstrong, F. A.; Wasielewski, M. R.; Styring, S. (2013), "Energy and environment policy case for a global project on artificial photosynthesis", Energy & Environmental Science, 6 (3): 695–698, doi:10.1039/C3EE00063J, archived from the original on 16 August 2013
Manufacturers often claim that their vertical axis turbine is superior to a horizontal one, because it always faces the wind. So does any horizontal axis turbine, thanks to their tail or yaw mechanism. If the airflow is such that wind directions change drastically from one second to the next it means you have lots of turbulence, and that means it is a poor place to put any wind turbine, HAWT or VAWT.
Several groups in various sectors are conducting research on Jatropha curcas, a poisonous shrub-like tree that produces seeds considered by many to be a viable source of biofuels feedstock oil. Much of this research focuses on improving the overall per acre oil yield of Jatropha through advancements in genetics, soil science, and horticultural practices. SG Biofuels, a San Diego-based Jatropha developer, has used molecular breeding and biotechnology to produce elite hybrid seeds of Jatropha that show significant yield improvements over first generation varieties. The Center for Sustainable Energy Farming (CfSEF) is a Los Angeles-based non-profit research organization dedicated to Jatropha research in the areas of plant science, agronomy, and horticulture. Successful exploration of these disciplines is projected to increase Jatropha farm production yields by 200-300% in the next ten years.
In terms of ocean energy, another third-generation technology, Portugal has the world's first commercial wave farm, the Aguçadora Wave Park, under construction in 2007. The farm will initially use three Pelamis P-750 machines generating 2.25 MW. and costs are put at 8.5 million euro. Subject to successful operation, a further 70 million euro is likely to be invested before 2009 on a further 28 machines to generate 525 MW. Funding for a wave farm in Scotland was announced in February, 2007 by the Scottish Executive, at a cost of over 4 million pounds, as part of a £13 million funding packages for ocean power in Scotland. The farm will be the world's largest with a capacity of 3 MW generated by four Pelamis machines. (see also Wave farm).
Marine energy (also sometimes referred to as ocean energy) refers to the energy carried by ocean waves, tides, salinity, and ocean temperature differences. The movement of water in the world's oceans creates a vast store of kinetic energy, or energy in motion. This energy can be harnessed to generate electricity to power homes, transport and industries. The term marine energy encompasses both wave power – power from surface waves, and tidal power – obtained from the kinetic energy of large bodies of moving water. Reverse electrodialysis (RED) is a technology for generating electricity by mixing fresh river water and salty sea water in large power cells designed for this purpose; as of 2016 it is being tested at a small scale (50 kW). Offshore wind power is not a form of marine energy, as wind power is derived from the wind, even if the wind turbines are placed over water. The oceans have a tremendous amount of energy and are close to many if not most concentrated populations. Ocean energy has the potential of providing a substantial amount of new renewable energy around the world.
Above this rated speed, the wind loads on the rotor blades will be approaching the maximum strength of the electrical machine, and the generator will be producing its maximum or rated power output as the rated wind speed window will have been reached. If the wind speed continues to increase, the wind turbine generator would stop at its cut-out point to prevent mechanical and electrical damage, resulting in zero electrical generation. The application of a brake to stop the generator for damaging itself can be either a mechanical governor or electrical speed sensor.
High Temperature Geothermal energy is from thermal energy generated and stored in the Earth. Thermal energy is the energy that determines the temperature of matter. Earth's geothermal energy originates from the original formation of the planet and from radioactive decay of minerals (in currently uncertain but possibly roughly equal proportions). The geothermal gradient, which is the difference in temperature between the core of the planet and its surface, drives a continuous conduction of thermal energy in the form of heat from the core to the surface. The adjective geothermal originates from the Greek roots geo, meaning earth, and thermos, meaning heat.
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.