New technology is also being explored to make renewable energy sources—such as solar, wind and hydropower—more effective for meeting today’s growing energy demands.
Solar uses several different methods to produce power, with technology playing a big role. Solar energy doesn’t work at night and sometimes not even when the skies are clouded over, so technological advancements are needed to make it work all the time. One technique involves moveable mirrors focusing the sun’s rays onto a receiver containing molten salt; the salt is heated and flows through the receiver to power a generator. Another technology includes installing heat-absorbing materials that collect and store sunlight during the day and then release the heat at night.
Research into making wind power more cost effective and efficient is also under way. Wind turbine design has changed dramatically in the last couple of decades to reduce collision with birds. Turbine blades are now solid, so there are no lattice structures that entice birds to perch. Also, the blades’ surface area is much larger, so they don’t have to spin as fast to generate power. In 2009 the US Department of Energy granted $8 million to University of Minnesota scientists for research into wind turbines, field experiments and more.
According to a 2009 report by the European Wind Energy Association, the EU added more capacity in wind power in 2009 than any other power technology. The five-year UpWind program was a massive research and development project aimed at developing improved wind turbines that can be used for large-scale wind power in the future. The goal is to improve turbines to generate electricity to more European homes and buildings.
Offshore oil companies use wind turbines and solar energy to provide power to their offshore platforms rather than consuming oil.