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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.
America is embracing renewables, slowly. In 2016, Massachusetts passed a law promoting a huge investment in wind and hydropower; the first megawatt is expected to hit the grid in 2020. Early this year New York State announced plans to spend 12 years building the infrastructure for a $6 billion offshore wind power industry. Hawaii has pledged to be powered entirely by renewable energy—in 2045. Atlanta’s goal is 2035 and San Francisco’s is 2030. Typically, plans to convert to sustainable energy stretch on for decades.
The theory of peak oil was published in 1956. In the 1970s environmentalists promoted the development of renewable energy both as a replacement for the eventual depletion of oil, as well as for an escape from dependence on oil, and the first electricity generating wind turbines appeared. Solar had long been used for heating and cooling, but solar panels were too costly to build solar farms until 1980.
For either photovoltaic or thermal systems, one option is to loft them into space, particularly Geosynchronous orbit. To be competitive with Earth-based solar power systems, the specific mass (kg/kW) times the cost to loft mass plus the cost of the parts needs to be $2400 or less. I.e., for a parts cost plus rectenna of $1100/kW, the product of the $/kg and kg/kW must be $1300/kW or less. Thus for 6.5 kg/kW, the transport cost cannot exceed $200/kg. While that will require a 100 to one reduction, SpaceX is targeting a ten to one reduction, Reaction Engines may make a 100 to one reduction possible.
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.
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.