Water and sunlight are powerful elements in energy production, but wind takes the prize for current expansion. Wind power is probably the fastest-growing sector of the renewables industry, and it holds a level of promise that is for the most part unmarred by complaints of ruining the scenery: ABC News reports a U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) finding that dedicating 6 percent of U.S. land to wind farms could entirely replace our need for other energy sources.
Thus the growth explosion, perhaps. A wind farm is like a hydropower plant, but there's no need for a dam. The fuel in this case is wind. It spins the blades of a towering turbine, which turns a generator, which creates electricity. The relative affordability, efficiency and environmentally friendly nature of wind power make it one of the real stars of the renewable-energy future.
It's not entirely friendly to the environment, though. In addition to the "eyesore" problem, wind farms have also been found to disrupt the migratory patterns (and lives) of birds and bats. Also, wind is not the most reliable energy source. Even in very windy areas, energy production can sometimes be hit or miss.
Shortcomings aside, wind power has the ability to provide massive amounts of power directly to the grid. It's more conducive to large-scale generation than solar, less ecologically disruptive than hydropower, less polluting than biomass and further along in development than geothermal.
With current attempts to move large-scale farms offshore, enabling greater energy production without the eyesore issue of land-based turbines, wind power appears to be poised for even bigger things. Short of a major breakthrough in the nuclear fusion realm, wind could be our most promising hope for slowly breaking our pesky fossil-fuel habit -- maybe, someday, entirely.
It be nice if we could pull CO2 out of thin air and transform it into a fuel. HowStuffWorks looks at the science and how far off in the future it is.