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.
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Maybe you reside on a boat, vacation in a remote cabin, or live off-grid like me. Or perhaps you’re just interested in lowering your energy bill. Either way, with a handful of inexpensive and easy-to-source materials, you can build a homemade wind generator, making electricity yours for the taking for as long as the wind is blowing. You’ll be able to light up that storeroom, power your barn, or use a generator to keep all your vehicle batteries charged.
As competition in the wind market increases, companies are seeking ways to draw greater efficiency from their designs. One of the predominant ways wind turbines have gained performance is by increasing rotor diameters, and thus blade length. Retrofitting current turbines with larger blades mitigates the need and risks associated with a system-level redesign. As the size of the blade increases, its tendency to deflect also increases. Thus, from a materials perspective, the stiffness-to-weight is of major importance. As the blades need to function over a 100 million load cycles over a period of 20–25 years, the fatigue life of the blade materials is also of utmost importance. By incorporating carbon fiber into parts of existing blade systems, manufacturers may increase the length of the blades without increasing their overall weight. For instance, the spar cap, a structural element of a turbine blade, commonly experiences high tensile loading, making it an ideal candidate to utilize the enhanced tensile properties of carbon fiber in comparison to glass fiber. Higher stiffness and lower density translates to thinner, lighter blades offering equivalent performance. In a 10 (MW) turbine—which will become more common in offshore systems by 2021—blades may reach over 100 m in length and weigh up to 50 metric tons when fabricated out of glass fiber. A switch to carbon fiber in the structural spar of the blade yields weight savings of 20 to 30 percent, or approximately 15 metric tons.
Green-e is a voluntary certification program for renewable electricity products. The Green-e program establishes consumer protection and environmental standards for electricity products, and verifies that these products meet the standards. The Green-e logo certifies that at least half the power supplied is from renewable sources. Many products will carry the Green-e logo, and the best way to find the most environmentally sensitive providers is by doing some comparison research. To find out which Green-e certified products are available in your state, visit Green-e's electric choices page. Questions about particular providers can be directed to the Center for Resources Solutions, which administers the Green-e program, at (415) 561-2100.
When power flows from the generator to your house, electrons get mixed together on the wires. You can't specify which electrons you get, but you can make sure that your money goes to support clean, sustainable generators, which has the effect of making the whole system "greener". To do this, you will need to look closely at utility marketing claims and materials. To ensure that the claims are truthful, many states now require disclosure labels, just like the nutrition labels on food packages. But don't hesitate to ask for more information directly from potential suppliers, including the percentage of power derived from each fuel source and the level of each of the above emissions compared with the regional average.
In an electricity system without grid energy storage, generation from stored fuels (coal, biomass, natural gas, nuclear) must be go up and down in reaction to the rise and fall of solar electricity (see load following power plant). While hydroelectric and natural gas plants can quickly follow solar being intermittent due to the weather, coal, biomass and nuclear plants usually take considerable time to respond to load and can only be scheduled to follow the predictable variation. Depending on local circumstances, beyond about 20–40% of total generation, grid-connected intermittent sources like solar tend to require investment in some combination of grid interconnections, energy storage or demand side management. Integrating large amounts of solar power with existing generation equipment has caused issues in some cases. For example, in Germany, California and Hawaii, electricity prices have been known to go negative when solar is generating a lot of power, displacing existing baseload generation contracts.
Solar energy is a flexible energy technology: it can be built as distributed generation (located at or near the point of use) or as a central-station, utility-scale solar power plant (similar to traditional power plants). Both of these methods can also store the energy they produce for distribution after the sun sets, using cutting edge solar + storage technologies.
^ Jump up to: a b c d Alsema, E.A.; Wild – Scholten, M.J. de; Fthenakis, V.M. Environmental impacts of PV electricity generation – a critical comparison of energy supply options Archived 6 March 2012 at the Wayback Machine. ECN, September 2006; 7p. Presented at the 21st European Photovoltaic Solar Energy Conference and Exhibition, Dresden, Germany, 4–8 September 2006.
A parabolic trough consists of a linear parabolic reflector that concentrates light onto a receiver positioned along the reflector's focal line. The receiver is a tube positioned along the focal points of the linear parabolic mirror and is filled with a working fluid. The reflector is made to follow the sun during daylight hours by tracking along a single axis. Parabolic trough systems provide the best land-use factor of any solar technology. The SEGS plants in California and Acciona's Nevada Solar One near Boulder City, Nevada are representatives of this technology.