The typical cost factors for solar power include the costs of the modules, the frame to hold them, wiring, inverters, labour cost, any land that might be required, the grid connection, maintenance and the solar insolation that location will receive. Adjusting for inflation, it cost $96 per watt for a solar module in the mid-1970s. Process improvements and a very large boost in production have brought that figure down to 68 cents per watt in February 2016, according to data from Bloomberg New Energy Finance. Palo Alto California signed a wholesale purchase agreement in 2016 that secured solar power for 3.7 cents per kilowatt-hour. And in sunny Dubai large-scale solar generated electricity sold in 2016 for just 2.99 cents per kilowatt-hour – "competitive with any form of fossil-based electricity — and cheaper than most."
The International Geothermal Association (IGA) has reported that 10,715 MW of geothermal power in 24 countries is online, which is expected to generate 67,246 GWh of electricity in 2010. This represents a 20% increase in geothermal power online capacity since 2005. IGA projects this will grow to 18,500 MW by 2015, due to the large number of projects presently under consideration, often in areas previously assumed to have little exploitable resource.
The incentive to use 100% renewable energy, for electricity, transport, or even total primary energy supply globally, has been motivated by global warming and other ecological as well as economic concerns. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has said that there are few fundamental technological limits to integrating a portfolio of renewable energy technologies to meet most of total global energy demand. Renewable energy use has grown much faster than even advocates anticipated. At the national level, at least 30 nations around the world already have renewable energy contributing more than 20% of energy supply. Also, Professors S. Pacala and Robert H. Socolow have developed a series of "stabilization wedges" that can allow us to maintain our quality of life while avoiding catastrophic climate change, and "renewable energy sources," in aggregate, constitute the largest number of their "wedges".
Technology advances are opening up a huge new market for solar power: the approximately 1.3 billion people around the world who don't have access to grid electricity. Even though they are typically very poor, these people have to pay far more for lighting than people in rich countries because they use inefficient kerosene lamps. Solar power costs half as much as lighting with kerosene. As of 2010, an estimated 3 million households get power from small solar PV systems. Kenya is the world leader in the number of solar power systems installed per capita. More than 30,000 very small solar panels, each producing 12 to 30 watts, are sold in Kenya annually. Some Small Island Developing States (SIDS) are also turning to solar power to reduce their costs and increase their sustainability.
Wind turbines do work; put them in nice, smooth air and their energy production is quite predictable (we will get to predicting it a bit further on in this story). The honest manufacturers do not lie or exaggerate, their turbines really can work as advertised in smooth, laminar airflow. However, put that same turbine on a 40 feet tower and even if the annual average wind speed is still 5 m/s at that height, its energy production will fall far short of what you would predict for that value. How short is anybody’s guess, that is part of the point; it is impossible to predict the effect of turbulence other than that it robs the energy production potential of any wind turbine. Roof tops, or other locations on a house, make for poor turbine sites. They are usually very turbulent and on top of that their average wind speeds are usually very low.
In 2011, the International Energy Agency said that "the development of affordable, inexhaustible and clean solar energy technologies will have huge longer-term benefits. It will increase countries' energy security through reliance on an indigenous, inexhaustible and mostly import-independent resource, enhance sustainability, reduce pollution, lower the costs of mitigating climate change, and keep fossil fuel prices lower than otherwise. These advantages are global. Hence the additional costs of the incentives for early deployment should be considered learning investments; they must be wisely spent and need to be widely shared". Italy has the largest proportion of solar electricity in the world, in 2015 solar supplied 7.8% of electricity demand in Italy. In 2016, after another year of rapid growth, solar generated 1.3% of global power.
As the section above shows, anything under 5 m/s annual average wind speed is not going to be worth-while if you want any economic benefit out of a wind turbine. Even with government incentives, you would be better off with solar for most places. Let us take this a bit further, and assume your backyard is pretty windy, a full 6 m/s (13.4 mph) annual average wind speed at 100′ height. You get a 6 kW wind turbine installed, and shell out $50,000 for that privilege. If the installer did her job properly, the turbine is spinning in nice, clean, laminar air, and it will produce around 13,000 kWh per year. You are the kind of person that wins the lottery on a regular basis, marries a beauty queen (or king), and has kids that all go to ivy-league universities; your wind turbine never breaks and you do not have to shell out a single buck for maintenance over 20 years. Now your turbine has produced around 260,000 kWh of electricity, which works out to 19.2 cents per kWh in cost. Maybe you pay more than for electricity and it is worth it, but your are likely not getting rich, and any repairs and maintenance will drive that price up in a hurry.
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]