Hydro-electricity and geothermal electricity produced at favourable sites are now the cheapest way to generate electricity. Renewable energy costs continue to drop, and the levelised cost of electricity (LCOE) is declining for wind power, solar photovoltaic (PV), concentrated solar power (CSP) and some biomass technologies.[100] Renewable energy is also the most economic solution for new grid-connected capacity in areas with good resources. As the cost of renewable power falls, the scope of economically viable applications increases. Renewable technologies are now often the most economic solution for new generating capacity. Where "oil-fired generation is the predominant power generation source (e.g. on islands, off-grid and in some countries) a lower-cost renewable solution almost always exists today".[100] A series of studies by the US National Renewable Energy Laboratory modeled the "grid in the Western US under a number of different scenarios where intermittent renewables accounted for 33 percent of the total power." In the models, inefficiencies in cycling the fossil fuel plants to compensate for the variation in solar and wind energy resulted in an additional cost of "between $0.47 and $1.28 to each MegaWatt hour generated"; however, the savings in the cost of the fuels saved "adds up to $7 billion, meaning the added costs are, at most, two percent of the savings."[101]


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.

Conventional hydroelectricity works very well in conjunction with solar power, water can be held back or released from a reservoir behind a dam as required. Where a suitable river is not available, pumped-storage hydroelectricity uses solar power to pump water to a high reservoir on sunny days then the energy is recovered at night and in bad weather by releasing water via a hydroelectric plant to a low reservoir where the cycle can begin again.[109] However, this cycle can lose 20% of the energy to round trip inefficiencies, this plus the construction costs add to the expense of implementing high levels of solar power.


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.[47] 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.[48]
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.[119] 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.[120] 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.[121]

As of 2018, American electric utility companies are planning new or extra renewable energy investments. These investments are particularly aimed at solar energy, thanks to the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 being signed into law. The law retained incentives for renewable energy development. Utility companies are taking advantage of the federal solar investment tax credit before it permanently goes down to 10% after 2021. According to the March 28 S&P Global Market Intelligence report summary, "NextEra Energy Inc., Duke Energy Corp., and Dominion Energy Inc.’s utilities are among a number of companies in the sector contemplating significant solar investments in the near-term. Other companies, including Xcel Energy Inc. and Alliant Energy Corp., are undertaking large wind projects in the near-term, but are considering ramping up solar investments in the coming years."[96]
According to a 2011 projection by the International Energy Agency, solar power generators may produce most of the world's electricity within 50 years, reducing the emissions of greenhouse gases that harm the environment. Cedric Philibert, senior analyst in the renewable energy division at the IEA said: "Photovoltaic and solar-thermal plants may meet most of the world's demand for electricity by 2060 – and half of all energy needs – with wind, hydropower and biomass plants supplying much of the remaining generation". "Photovoltaic and concentrated solar power together can become the major source of electricity", Philibert said.[25]
While the material cost is significantly higher for all-glass fiber blades than for hybrid glass/carbon fiber blades, there is a potential for tremendous savings in manufacturing costs when labor price is considered. Utilizing carbon fiber enables for simpler designs that use less raw material. The chief manufacturing process in blade fabrication is the layering of plies. By reducing the number of layers of plies, as is enabled by thinner blade design, the cost of labor may be decreased, and in some cases, equate to the cost of labor for glass fiber blades.[51]
Okay, an “about solar” page wouldn’t be complete without a list of the largest solar power plants in the world, right? (Though, note that much of the solar power capacity in the world is in small installations and one of the prime advantages of solar is its decentralization and its ability to help “democratize” the electricity system — even the CIA and Department of Defense have focused on the national security benefits of solar.) Nonetheless, I think almost everyone loves a list of the “largest _________,” so here are two current lists (largest solar thermal power plants and largest solar photovoltaic power plants):
This discussion is mainly about factory-made grid-tie wind turbines. The off-grid crowd has an entirely different set of decisions and goals. The main ones are that for off-grid use economic viability in comparison with the electrical grid is not an issue, and a wind turbine can make up for the loss of sunlight (and PV electricity) in the winter months. For the DIY group there are several good turbine designs available; Hugh Piggott and the two Dans have written books that outline this step-by-step. Building your own turbine can be a great hobby, and some of the topics touched below apply (such as proper site selection), but this discussion is not about those. The decisions involved in making your own turbine, and the cost basis, have little overlap with a the process of having an installer put a factory-made turbine in your backyard.
Between maintenance and repairs, it would greatly help and keep your cost down if you can do some of the work yourself: Being able to safely tilt the turbine tower up or down will save you money. Understanding how the turbine works, how to stop it safely, how to trouble-shoot at least the minor issues can keep you in the black. We understand that installing a wind turbine is not for everyone. In fact, towers are dangerous, and for a good installation the devil is in the details. An experienced installer can make a real difference in putting up a turbine that will work better, and be more reliable over time. We really encourage you to have a professional installer to do the initial installation. However, throwing up your hands and calling your installer for routine maintenance, or every time there is a minor issue, will likely make you an unhappy wind turbine owner (even if it is your installer’s dream).

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.
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