Conventional hydroelectricity works very well in conjunction with solar power, water can be held back or released from a reservoir behind a dam as required. Where a suitable river is not available, pumped-storage hydroelectricity uses solar power to pump water to a high reservoir on sunny days then the energy is recovered at night and in bad weather by releasing water via a hydroelectric plant to a low reservoir where the cycle can begin again. However, this cycle can lose 20% of the energy to round trip inefficiencies, this plus the construction costs add to the expense of implementing high levels of solar power.
Climate change and global warming concerns, coupled with high oil prices, peak oil, and increasing government support, are driving increasing renewable energy legislation, incentives and commercialization. New government spending, regulation and policies helped the industry weather the global financial crisis better than many other sectors. According to a 2011 projection by the International Energy Agency, solar power generators may produce most of the world's electricity within 50 years, reducing the emissions of greenhouse gases that harm the environment.
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.
We now know that the electrical generator provides a means of energy conversion between the mechanical torque generated by the rotor blades, called the prime mover, and some electrical load. The mechanical connection of the wind turbine generator to the rotor blades is made through a main shaft which can be either a simple direct drive, or by using a gearbox to increase or decrease the generator speed relative to the rotational speed of the blades.
As competition in the wind market increases, companies are seeking ways to draw greater efficiency from their designs. One of the predominant ways wind turbines have gained performance is by increasing rotor diameters, and thus blade length. Retrofitting current turbines with larger blades mitigates the need and risks associated with a system-level redesign. As the size of the blade increases, its tendency to deflect also increases. Thus, from a materials perspective, the stiffness-to-weight is of major importance. As the blades need to function over a 100 million load cycles over a period of 20–25 years, the fatigue life of the blade materials is also of utmost importance. By incorporating carbon fiber into parts of existing blade systems, manufacturers may increase the length of the blades without increasing their overall weight. For instance, the spar cap, a structural element of a turbine blade, commonly experiences high tensile loading, making it an ideal candidate to utilize the enhanced tensile properties of carbon fiber in comparison to glass fiber. Higher stiffness and lower density translates to thinner, lighter blades offering equivalent performance. In a 10 (MW) turbine—which will become more common in offshore systems by 2021—blades may reach over 100 m in length and weigh up to 50 metric tons when fabricated out of glass fiber. A switch to carbon fiber in the structural spar of the blade yields weight savings of 20 to 30 percent, or approximately 15 metric tons.
With advanced technology being developed, cellulosic biomass, such as trees and grasses, are also used as feedstocks for ethanol production. Ethanol can be used as a fuel for vehicles in its pure form, but it is usually used as a gasoline additive to increase octane and improve vehicle emissions. Bioethanol is widely used in the United States and in Brazil. The energy costs for producing bio-ethanol are almost equal to, the energy yields from bio-ethanol. However, according to the European Environment Agency, biofuels do not address global warming concerns. Biodiesel is made from vegetable oils, animal fats or recycled greases. It can be used as a fuel for vehicles in its pure form, or more commonly as a diesel additive to reduce levels of particulates, carbon monoxide, and hydrocarbons from diesel-powered vehicles. Biodiesel is produced from oils or fats using transesterification and is the most common biofuel in Europe. Biofuels provided 2.7% of the world's transport fuel in 2010.
Ross is now an energy celebrity, sitting on conference panels and lending Georgetown’s cachet to environmental-film screenings. And it isn’t only conservatives who buttonhole him. As if to prove the adage that no good deed goes unpunished, he also hears from people who worry about the impact of renewables. “They’ll come up to me and say with a straight face, ‘You know what? Those windmills are killing birds,’ ” Ross says. “ ‘Oh, really? I didn’t know that was a big interest of yours, but you know what the number-one killer of birds is in this country? Domestic house cats. Kill about four billion birds a year. You know what the number-two killer of birds is? Buildings they fly into. So you’re suggesting that we outlaw house cats and buildings?’ They go, ‘That's not exactly what I meant.’”