Technology improvements and policies to promote research, development, and installation of solar have resulted in tremendous drops in the cost of solar power over the past several years. Even without taking important health and safety costs (note that a Harvard study concluded in 2011 that the health costs of coal are $500 billion a year in the U.S.), environmental costs, energy security costs, and other social costs into account, solar is already cost-competitive with new electricity from conventional energy options like coal and nuclear energy (if you take into account how long it would take coal or nuclear plants to get built) — see the graphs below.
Photovoltaic systems use no fuel, and modules typically last 25 to 40 years. Thus, capital costs make up most of the cost of solar power. Operations and maintenance costs for new utility-scale solar plants in the US are estimated to be 9 percent of the cost of photovoltaic electricity, and 17 percent of the cost of solar thermal electricity. Governments have created various financial incentives to encourage the use of solar power, such as feed-in tariff programs. Also, Renewable portfolio standards impose a government mandate that utilities generate or acquire a certain percentage of renewable power regardless of increased energy procurement costs. In most states, RPS goals can be achieved by any combination of solar, wind, biomass, landfill gas, ocean, geothermal, municipal solid waste, hydroelectric, hydrogen, or fuel cell technologies.
Third-generation technologies are not yet widely demonstrated or commercialised. They are on the horizon and may have potential comparable to other renewable energy technologies, but still depend on attracting sufficient attention and RD&D funding. These newest technologies include advanced biomass gasification, biorefinery technologies, solar thermal power stations, hot dry rock geothermal energy and ocean energy.
Turbines used in wind farms for commercial production of electric power are usually three-bladed. These have low torque ripple, which contributes to good reliability. The blades are usually colored white for daytime visibility by aircraft and range in length from 20 to 80 meters (66 to 262 ft). The size and height of turbines increase year by year. Offshore wind turbines are built up to 8(MW) today and have a blade length up to 80 meters (260 ft). Usual tubular steel towers of multi megawatt turbines have a height of 70 m to 120 m and in extremes up to 160 m.
Grid parity, the point at which the cost of photovoltaic electricity is equal to or cheaper than the price of grid power, is more easily achieved in areas with abundant sun and high costs for electricity such as in California and Japan. In 2008, The levelized cost of electricity for solar PV was $0.25/kWh or less in most of the OECD countries. By late 2011, the fully loaded cost was predicted to fall below $0.15/kWh for most of the OECD and to reach $0.10/kWh in sunnier regions. These cost levels are driving three emerging trends: vertical integration of the supply chain, origination of power purchase agreements (PPAs) by solar power companies, and unexpected risk for traditional power generation companies, grid operators and wind turbine manufacturers.[dead link]
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.
The oldest solar thermal power plant in the world is the 354 megawatt (MW) SEGS thermal power plant, in California. The Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System is a solar thermal power project in the California Mojave Desert, 40 miles (64 km) southwest of Las Vegas, with a gross capacity of 377 MW. The 280 MW Solana Generating Station is a solar power plant near Gila Bend, Arizona, about 70 miles (110 km) southwest of Phoenix, completed in 2013. When commissioned it was the largest parabolic trough plant in the world and the first U.S. solar plant with molten salt thermal energy storage.
VAWT type turbines have no inherent advantage over HAWT type turbines. There, we have said it! VAWTs do not do any better in turbulent wind than HAWTs. Leaving the Savonius type VAWTs out (the type that looks like an oil drum cut in half – they have very poor efficiency anyway), both horizontal and vertical type turbines rely on an airfoil, a wing, to produce power. Airfoils simply do not work well in turbulent air; the wind needs to hit them at just the right angle and eddies wreak havoc. Couple that with the insistence of vertical axis turbine manufacturers to install their devices on very short towers or rooftops, and you get the picture. It will not work.
At the end of 2006, the Ontario Power Authority (OPA, Canada) began its Standard Offer Program, a precursor to the Green Energy Act, and the first in North America for distributed renewable projects of less than 10 MW. The feed-in tariff guaranteed a fixed price of $0.42 CDN per kWh over a period of twenty years. Unlike net metering, all the electricity produced was sold to the OPA at the given rate.
In the case of a “wind turbine generator”, the wind pushes directly against the blades of the turbine, which converts the linear motion of the wind into the rotary motion necessary to spin the generators rotor and the harder the wind pushes, the more electrical energy can be generated. Then it is important to have a good wind turbine blade design to extract as much energy out of the wind as possible.
This solar resource map provides a summary of the estimated solar energy available for power generation and other energy applications. It represents the average daily/yearly sum of electricity production from a 1 kW-peak grid-connected solar PV power plant covering the period from 1994/1999/2007 (depending on the geographical region) to 2015. Source: Global Solar Atlas]