Renewable energy, after its generation, needs to be stored in a medium for use with autonomous devices as well as vehicles. Also, to provide household electricity in remote areas (that is areas which are not connected to the mains electricity grid), energy storage is required for use with renewable energy. Energy generation and consumption systems used in the latter case are usually stand-alone power systems.
Solar panels converts the sun's light in to usable solar energy using N-type and P-type semiconductor material. When sunlight is absorbed by these materials, the solar energy knocks electrons loose from their atoms, allowing the electrons to flow through the material to produce electricity. This process of converting light (photons) to electricity (voltage) is called the photovoltaic (PV) effect. Currently solar panels convert most of the visible light spectrum and about half of the ultraviolet and infrared light spectrum to usable solar energy.
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.
Sunforce Wind Generators are primarily used to recharge all types of 12-Volt batteries, including lead-acid automotive batteries, deep-cycle (traction type) batteries, gel-cell batteries, and heavy-duty (stationary type) batteries. When using this wind generator to run appliances on a regular basis, the use of deep-cycle marine batteries is recommended. This type of battery is designed to withstand the frequent charge and discharge cycles associated with wind power use. Attempting to run the wind generator on an open circuit without a battery may cause damage to the generator or connected equipment.
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. 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". 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."
The New Zealand Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment found that the solar PV would have little impact on the country's greenhouse gas emissions. The country already generates 80 percent of its electricity from renewable resources (primarily hydroelectricity and geothermal) and national electricity usage peaks on winter evenings whereas solar generation peaks on summer afternoons, meaning a large uptake of solar PV would end up displacing other renewable generators before fossil-fueled power plants.
The British Energy Savings Trust report titled “Location, location, location”: This requires some reading-between-the-lines as the Trust is rather closely aligned with the small wind industry. They looked at 57 turbines for a year, a number of them building mounted, others tower mounted, and concluded that building mounted turbines did very poorly.
Similarly, in the United States, the independent National Research Council has noted that "sufficient domestic renewable resources exist to allow renewable electricity to play a significant role in future electricity generation and thus help confront issues related to climate change, energy security, and the escalation of energy costs … Renewable energy is an attractive option because renewable resources available in the United States, taken collectively, can supply significantly greater amounts of electricity than the total current or projected domestic demand."
The solar thermal power industry is growing rapidly with 1.3 GW under construction in 2012 and more planned. Spain is the epicenter of solar thermal power development with 873 MW under construction, and a further 271 MW under development. In the United States, 5,600 MW of solar thermal power projects have been announced. Several power plants have been constructed in the Mojave Desert, Southwestern United States. The Ivanpah Solar Power Facility being the most recent. In developing countries, three World Bank projects for integrated solar thermal/combined-cycle gas-turbine power plants in Egypt, Mexico, and Morocco have been approved.
A 1.5 (MW) wind turbine of a type frequently seen in the United States has a tower 80 meters (260 ft) high. The rotor assembly (blades and hub) weighs 22,000 kilograms (48,000 lb). The nacelle, which contains the generator, weighs 52,000 kilograms (115,000 lb). The concrete base for the tower is constructed using 26,000 kilograms (58,000 lb) reinforcing steel and contains 190 cubic meters (250 cu yd) of concrete. The base is 15 meters (50 ft) in diameter and 2.4 meters (8 ft) thick near the center.
Small wind turbines may be used for a variety of applications including on- or off-grid residences, telecom towers, offshore platforms, rural schools and clinics, remote monitoring and other purposes that require energy where there is no electric grid, or where the grid is unstable. Small wind turbines may be as small as a fifty-watt generator for boat or caravan use. Hybrid solar and wind powered units are increasingly being used for traffic signage, particularly in rural locations, as they avoid the need to lay long cables from the nearest mains connection point. The U.S. Department of Energy's National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) defines small wind turbines as those smaller than or equal to 100 kilowatts. Small units often have direct drive generators, direct current output, aeroelastic blades, lifetime bearings and use a vane to point into the wind.
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Run-of-the-river hydroelectricity plants derive energy from rivers without the creation of a large reservoir. The water is typically conveyed along the side of the river valley (using channels, pipes and/or tunnels) until it is high above the valley floor, whereupon it can allowed to fall through a penstock to drive a turbine. This style of generation may still produce a large amount of electricity, such as the Chief Joseph Dam on the Columbia river in the United States.
Despite these diverse developments, developments in fossil fuel systems almost entirely eliminated any wind turbine systems larger than supermicro size. In the early 1970s, however, anti-nuclear protests in Denmark spurred artisan mechanics to develop microturbines of 22 kW. Organizing owners into associations and co-operatives lead to the lobbying of the government and utilities and provided incentives for larger turbines throughout the 1980s and later. Local activists in Germany, nascent turbine manufacturers in Spain, and large investors in the United States in the early 1990s then lobbied for policies that stimulated the industry in those countries.
The windwheel of Hero of Alexandria (10 AD – 70 AD) marks one of the first recorded instances of wind powering a machine in history. However, the first known practical wind power plants were built in Sistan, an Eastern province of Persia (now Iran), from the 7th century. These "Panemone" were vertical axle windmills, which had long vertical drive shafts with rectangular blades. Made of six to twelve sails covered in reed matting or cloth material, these windmills were used to grind grain or draw up water, and were used in the gristmilling and sugarcane industries.
Currently, flying manned electric aircraft are mostly experimental demonstrators, though many small unmanned aerial vehicles are powered by batteries. Electrically powered model aircraft have been flown since the 1970s, with one report in 1957. The first man-carrying electrically powered flights were made in 1973. Between 2015–2016, a manned, solar-powered plane, Solar Impulse 2, completed a circumnavigation of the Earth.
Al Gore says the reason is innovation. “The cost-reduction curve that came to technologies like computers, smartphones and flat-panel televisions has come to solar energy, wind energy and battery storage,” he says. “I remember being startled decades ago when people first started to explain to me that the cost of computing was being cut in half every 18 to 24 months. And now this dramatic economic change has begun to utterly transform the electricity markets.”
The conversion of the rotational mechanical power generated by the rotor blades (known as the prime mover) into useful electrical power for use in domestic power and lighting applications or to charge batteries can be accomplished by any one of the following major types of rotational electrical machines commonly used in a wind power generating systems:
The electrical machine most commonly used for wind turbines applications are those acting as generators, with synchronous generators and induction generators (as shown) being commonly used in larger wind turbine generators, while smaller and home made wind turbines tend to use a low speed DC generator or Dynamo as they are small, cheap and a lot easier to connect up.
With investment subsidies, the financial burden falls upon the taxpayer, while with feed-in tariffs the extra cost is distributed across the utilities' customer bases. While the investment subsidy may be simpler to administer, the main argument in favour of feed-in tariffs is the encouragement of quality. Investment subsidies are paid out as a function of the nameplate capacity of the installed system and are independent of its actual power yield over time, thus rewarding the overstatement of power and tolerating poor durability and maintenance. Some electric companies offer rebates to their customers, such as Austin Energy in Texas, which offers $2.50/watt installed up to $15,000.
The array of a photovoltaic power system, or PV system, produces direct current (DC) power which fluctuates with the sunlight's intensity. For practical use this usually requires conversion to certain desired voltages or alternating current (AC), through the use of inverters. Multiple solar cells are connected inside modules. Modules are wired together to form arrays, then tied to an inverter, which produces power at the desired voltage, and for AC, the desired frequency/phase.