This sets sustainable energy apart from other renewable energy terminology such as alternative energy by focusing on the ability of an energy source to continue providing energy. Sustainable energy can produce some pollution of the environment, as long as it is not sufficient to prohibit heavy use of the source for an indefinite amount of time. Sustainable energy is also distinct from low-carbon energy, which is sustainable only in the sense that it does not add to the CO2 in the atmosphere.
Wind turbines are generally inexpensive. They will produce electricity at between two and six cents per kilowatt hour, which is one of the lowest-priced renewable energy sources. And as technology needed for wind turbines continues to improve, the prices will decrease as well. In addition, there is no competitive market for wind energy, as it does not cost money to get ahold of wind. The main cost of wind turbines are the installation process. The average cost is between $48,000 and $65,000 to install. However, the energy harvested from the turbine will offset the installation cost, as well as provide virtually free energy for years after.
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A photovoltaic system converts light into electrical direct current (DC) by taking advantage of the photoelectric effect. Solar PV has turned into a multi-billion, fast-growing industry, continues to improve its cost-effectiveness, and has the most potential of any renewable technologies together with CSP. Concentrated solar power (CSP) systems use lenses or mirrors and tracking systems to focus a large area of sunlight into a small beam. Commercial concentrated solar power plants were first developed in the 1980s. CSP-Stirling has by far the highest efficiency among all solar energy technologies.
Materials for wind turbine parts other than the rotor blades (including the rotor hub, gearbox, frame, and tower) are largely composed of steel. Modern turbines use a couple of tons of copper for generators, cables, and such. Smaller wind turbines have begun incorporating more aluminum based alloys into these components in an effort to make the turbines lighter and more efficient, and may continue to be used increasingly if fatigue and strength properties can be improved. Prestressed concrete has been increasingly used for the material of the tower, but still requires much reinforcing steel to meet the strength requirement of the turbine. Additionally, step-up gearboxes are being increasingly replaced with variable speed generators, increasing the demand for magnetic materials in wind turbines. In particular, this would require an increased supply of the rare earth metal neodymium.
One issue that has often raised concerns is the use of cadmium (Cd), a toxic heavy metal that has the tendency to accumulate in ecological food chains. It is used as semiconductor component in CdTe solar cells and as buffer layer for certain CIGS cells in the form of CdS. The amount of cadmium used in thin-film PV modules is relatively small (5–10 g/m²) and with proper recycling and emission control techniques in place the cadmium emissions from module production can be almost zero. Current PV technologies lead to cadmium emissions of 0.3–0.9 microgram/kWh over the whole life-cycle. Most of these emissions arise through the use of coal power for the manufacturing of the modules, and coal and lignite combustion leads to much higher emissions of cadmium. Life-cycle cadmium emissions from coal is 3.1 microgram/kWh, lignite 6.2, and natural gas 0.2 microgram/kWh.
Electricity for my off-grid cabin comes from solar and wind power stored in a bank of four 6-volt golf cart batteries wired for a 12-volt system. A charge controller and battery minder keep my system from under- or overcharging. The whole shebang cost me less than $1,000, and I have lights, fans, a television and stereo, refrigeration, and a disco ball that goes up for special occasions.
Turbines used in residential applications can range in size from 400 Watts to 100 kW (100 kW for very large loads), depending on the amount of electricity you want to generate. For residential applications, you should establish an energy budget and see whether financial incentives are available. This information will help determine the turbine size you will need. Because energy efficiency is usually less expensive than energy production, making your house more energy efficient will probably be more cost effective and will reduce the size of the wind turbine you need (see How Can I Make My Home More Energy Efficient?). Wind turbine manufacturers, dealers, and installers can help you size your system based on your electricity needs and the specifics of your local wind resource and micro-siting.
Climate change concerns coupled with high oil prices and increasing government support are driving increasing rates of investment in the sustainable energy industries, according to a trend analysis from the United Nations Environment Programme. According to UNEP, global investment in sustainable energy in 2007 was higher than previous levels, with $148 billion of new money raised in 2007, an increase of 60% over 2006. Total financial transactions in sustainable energy, including acquisition activity, was $204 billion.
Renewable electricity production, from sources such as wind power and solar power, is sometimes criticized for being variable or intermittent, but is not true for concentrated solar, geothermal and biofuels, that have continuity. In any case, the International Energy Agency has stated that deployment of renewable technologies usually increases the diversity of electricity sources and, through local generation, contributes to the flexibility of the system and its resistance to central shocks.
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.
Wind turbines allow us to harness the power of the wind and turn it into energy. When the wind blows, the turbine's blades spin clockwise, capturing energy. This triggers the main shaft, connected to a gearbox within the nacelle, to spin. The gearbox sends that energy to the generator, converting it to electricity. Electricity then travels down the tower to a transformer, where voltage levels are adjusted to match with the grid.
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.
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“Volkswagen Converting Zwickau Automotive Plant to Produce Electric Vehicles” • In a move that it believes is the first of its kind in the world for a major car factory, VW is converting its auto factory in Zwickau, Germany from internal combustion vehicle production to manufacture of electric vehicles. The plant makes 330,000 cars per year. [CleanTechnica]
Many of the largest operational onshore wind farms are located in the USA and China. The Gansu Wind Farm in China has over 5,000 MW installed with a goal of 20,000 MW by 2020. China has several other "wind power bases" of similar size. The Alta Wind Energy Center in California is the largest onshore wind farm outside of China, with a capacity of 1020 MW of power. Europe leads in the use of wind power with almost 66 GW, about 66 percent of the total globally, with Denmark in the lead according to the countries installed per-capita capacity. As of February 2012, the Walney Wind Farm in United Kingdom is the largest offshore wind farm in the world at 367 MW, followed by Thanet Wind Farm (300 MW), also in the UK.
Within emerging economies, Brazil comes second to China in terms of clean energy investments. Supported by strong energy policies, Brazil has one of the world’s highest biomass and small-hydro power capacities and is poised for significant growth in wind energy investment. The cumulative investment potential in Brazil from 2010 to 2020 is projected as $67 billion.
Cleaner air and water: Burning fossil fuels releases greenhouse gases (GHG) into the atmosphere. GHG contribute to global climate change, rising sea levels and unpredictable weather patterns that can be costly in terms of human and economic losses. Burning fossil fuels also releases contaminants in to the air and water near the power generation source. Alternative energy sources can produce the same electricity in a greener way. You can shrink your carbon footprint, help curb climate change and reduce air and water pollution when you choose renewable electricity.
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: