Reliance on rare earth minerals for components has risked expense and price volatility as China has been main producer of rare earth minerals (96% in 2009) and had been reducing its export quotas of these materials.[56] In recent years, however, other producers have increased production of rare earth minerals and China has removed its reduced export quota on rare earths leading to an increased supply and decreased cost of rare earth minerals, increasing the viability of the implementation of variable speed generators in wind turbines on a large scale.[57]
Renewable energy power plants do provide a steady flow of energy. For example, hydropower plants, ocean thermal plants, osmotic power plants all provide power at a regulated pace, and are thus available power sources at any given moment (even at night, windstill moments etc.). At present however, the number of steady-flow renewable energy plants alone is still too small to meet energy demands at the times of the day when the irregular producing renewable energy plants cannot produce power.
The terms wind energy or wind power describe the process by which the wind is used to generate mechanical power or electricity. Wind turbines convert the kinetic energy in the wind into mechanical power. This mechanical power can be used for specific tasks (such as grinding grain or pumping water) or a generator can convert this mechanical power into electricity.
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.[89] An additional $450 billion will be invested to expand this fledgling system over the next 20 years to meet increasing demand.[90] 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.[91]
Most current solar power plants are made from an array of similar units where each unit is continuously adjusted, e.g., with some step motors, so that the light converter stays in focus of the sun light. The cost of focusing light on converters such as high-power solar panels, Stirling engine, etc. can be dramatically decreased with a simple and efficient rope mechanics.[55] In this technique many units are connected with a network of ropes so that pulling two or three ropes is sufficient to keep all light converters simultaneously in focus as the direction of the sun changes.
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.[13] The SEGS plants in California and Acciona's Nevada Solar One near Boulder City, Nevada are representatives of this technology.[14][15]
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.[69] 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."[70]
Large three-bladed horizontal-axis wind turbines (HAWT), with the blades upwind of the tower produce the overwhelming majority of windpower in the world today. These turbines have the main rotor shaft and electrical generator at the top of a tower, and must be pointed into the wind. Small turbines are pointed by a simple wind vane, while large turbines generally use a wind sensor coupled with a yaw system. Most have a gearbox, which turns the slow rotation of the blades into a quicker rotation that is more suitable to drive an electrical generator.[25] Some turbines use a different type of generator suited to slower rotational speed input. These don't need a gearbox, and are called direct-drive, meaning they couple the rotor directly to the generator with no gearbox in between. While permanent magnet direct-drive generators can be more costly due to the rare earth materials required, these gearless turbines are sometimes preferred over gearbox generators because they "eliminate the gear-speed increaser, which is susceptible to significant accumulated fatigue torque loading, related reliability issues, and maintenance costs."[26]
Many industrialized nations have installed significant solar power capacity into their grids to supplement or provide an alternative to conventional energy sources while an increasing number of less developed nations have turned to solar to reduce dependence on expensive imported fuels (see solar power by country). Long distance transmission allows remote renewable energy resources to displace fossil fuel consumption. Solar power plants use one of two technologies:
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