In 2010, the International Energy Agency predicted that global solar PV capacity could reach 3,000 GW or 11% of projected global electricity generation by 2050—enough to generate 4,500 TWh of electricity. Four years later, in 2014, the agency projected that, under its "high renewables" scenario, solar power could supply 27% of global electricity generation by 2050 (16% from PV and 11% from CSP).
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. 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."
Wind power - Air flow on the earth's surface can be used to push turbines, with stronger winds producing more energy. High-altitude sites and areas just offshore tend to provide the best conditions for capturing the strongest winds. According to a 2009 study, a network of land-based, 2.5-megawatt wind turbines in rural areas operating at just 20% of their rated capacity could supply 40 times the current worldwide consumption of energy.
2010 was a record year for green energy investments. According to a report from Bloomberg New Energy Finance, nearly US $243 billion was invested in wind farms, solar power, electric cars, and other alternative technologies worldwide, representing a 30 percent increase from 2009 and nearly five times the money invested in 2004. China had $51.1 billion investment in clean energy projects in 2010, by far the largest figure for any country.
The PV industry is beginning to adopt levelized cost of electricity (LCOE) as the unit of cost. The electrical energy generated is sold in units of kilowatt-hours (kWh). As a rule of thumb, and depending on the local insolation, 1 watt-peak of installed solar PV capacity generates about 1 to 2 kWh of electricity per year. This corresponds to a capacity factor of around 10–20%. The product of the local cost of electricity and the insolation determines the break even point for solar power. The International Conference on Solar Photovoltaic Investments, organized by EPIA, has estimated that PV systems will pay back their investors in 8 to 12 years. As a result, since 2006 it has been economical for investors to install photovoltaics for free in return for a long term power purchase agreement. Fifty percent of commercial systems in the United States were installed in this manner in 2007 and over 90% by 2009.
Photovoltaics were initially solely used as a source of electricity for small and medium-sized applications, from the calculator powered by a single solar cell to remote homes powered by an off-grid rooftop PV system. Commercial concentrated solar power plants were first developed in the 1980s. The 392 MW Ivanpah installation is the largest concentrating solar power plant in the world, located in the Mojave Desert of California.