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Published on August 1st, 2013 | by Worldwatch Institute

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Growth Of Global Solar & Wind Energy Continues To Outpace Other Technologies

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August 1st, 2013 by
 

This post originally published on the Worldwatch Institute website

Global use of solar and wind energy continued to grow significantly in 2012. Solar power consumption increased by 58 percent, to 93 terrawatt-hours (TWh), and the use of wind power increased by 18 percent, to 521 TWh. Although hydropower remains the world’s leading renewable energy, solar and wind continue to dominate investment in new renewable capacity and are quickly becoming the highest-profile renewable energy sources, write Worldwatch staff in the Institute’s latest Vital Signs Online trend.

Global solar and wind energy capacities continued to grow even though new investments in these energy sources declined during 2012. Global investment in solar energy in 2012 was $140.4 billion, an 11 percent decline from 2011, and wind investment was down 10 percent, to $80.3 billion.But due to lower costs for both technologies, total installed capacities grew sharply.

Solar photovoltaic (PV) installed capacity grew by 41 percent in 2012, reaching 100 gigawatts (GW). Over the past five years alone, installed PV capacity grew by 900 percent from 10 GW in 2007. The countries with the most installed PV capacity today are Germany (32.4 GW), Italy (16.4 GW), the United States (7.2 GW), and China (7.0 GW).

Europe remains dominant in solar, accounting for 76 percent of global solar power use in 2012. Germany alone accounted for 30 percent of the world’s solar power consumption, and Italy added the third most capacity of any country in 2012 (3.4 GW). Spain added the most concentrating solar thermal power capacity (950 MW) in 2012 as well. However, Italy reached the subsidy cap for its feed-in tariff (FIT) program in June 2013 while Spain recently made a retroactive change in its FIT policies, meaning growth in solar energy will likely slow in these countries in the near future.

Due to slowing global economic growth, easing demand, and oversupply, there were significant net losses in the Chinese PV industry, which supplies more than half of the world market. The net losses have been exacerbated by growing trade wars between China and both the European Union (EU) and the United States after these regions accused Chinese companies of dumping solar panels on their markets. Meanwhile, China’s domestic demand is likely to grow. The country’s 12th Five-Year Plan aims to reach 21 GW installed solar capacity by 2015 and 50 GW by 2020.

Total installed wind capacity edged up in 2012 by 45 GW to a total of 284 GW, an 18.9 percent increase from 2011. In keeping with recent years, the majority of new installed capacity was concentrated in China and the United States, which reached total installed capacities of 75.3 GW and 60 GW, respectively.

The United States was the world’s top wind market in 2012. Overall capacity increased 28 percent as the country added 13.1 GW, double the amount it added in 2011. Increased domestic manufacturing of wind turbine parts, improved technological efficiency, and lower costs helped spur this increase, but the greatest catalyst was the threat of expiration of the federal Production Tax Credit (PTC)—which provides tax credits for kilowatt-hours produced by wind turbines—at the end of 2012.

A slowdown was originally expected in 2013, but the U.S. Congress extended the PTC until the end of the year, which bodes well for many U.S. and European wind turbine and parts manufacturers that benefit from it.

The EU remained a dominant region for wind power, as it passed an important milestone by installing 11.9 GW of new capacity to reach 106 GW, representing 37.5 percent of the world’s market. Currently, wind accounts for 11.4 percent of the EU’s total installed generation capacity. Germany and Spain remained Europe’s largest wind markets, increasing their total installed capacity to 31.3 GW and 22.8 GW, respectively. The United Kingdom was third in new installations in 2012, at 1.9 GW, followed by Italy with 1.3 GW.

“Although policy uncertainties and changes will likely challenge the growth of solar and wind in the future, these technologies are nonetheless well poised to grow,” said Matt Lucky, report co-author and Sustainable Energy Lead Researcher at Worldwatch. “Declining solar technology prices, while challenging for current manufacturers, are helping solar to reach near grid-parity in many markets. With the decreasing cost of operating and maintaining wind farms, wind power is already cost competitive with conventional power energy sources in many markets.”

Further highlights from the report:

  • In 2012, installed capacity for concentrating solar thermal power (CSP) reached 2.55 GW, with 970 megawatts (MW) alone added in 2012.
  • The Asia-Pacific region now accounts for 17 percent of global solar use, leaving it behind only Europe.
  •  Asia’s 15.5 GW of new installed wind capacity, the highest of any region in 2012, ensured that it remains on the heels of the EU.
  •  Political instability continued to slow growth in Africa and the Middle East, but installed capacity grew by 9.3 percent in 2012 compared with 2011’s rate of 2.6 percent

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  • Jonny.Sustainability

    It’s great to see that solar power and wind power are both growing in numbers and availability. I truly think that solar power is one of the easier ways to achieve sustainability in the near future. The Climate Reality Project once said that the sunlight hitting earth is over 4 times greater than the energy we actually require as a population. If we can harness some of that power, especially in arid desert-like regions where the sun always shines, solar power can become our main energy producer.

    In terms of governmental initiatives, I think the European governments have done well in encouraging solar power, but as Spain and Italy’s taxing systems are being challenged and this will lead to a slowing of growth, the governments need to step up to continue to endorse solar power. Solar power is not quite at the level yet where it can spread perfectly without support from the government. And if the government does support solar power, the nation can gain a solid long-lasting (and sustainable) infrastructure that is environmentally friendly. Although it may require a few more years of financial support, it is a undertaking that is more than worthwhile to provide for the needs of the future.

    As Matt Lucky, Worldwatch’s reporter, co-author, and Sustainable Energy Lead Researcher stated, Solar and Wind power are poised to grow. Many have said that there needs to be more solar companies taken out of the market, and the lowering of solar power’s stock price will hopefully achieve that. Overall, Solar power seems to be a very strong candidate for growth in the future, and possibly the main solution to our current issue of sustainability. Here’s to the sun!

    • Bob_Wallace

      4x is a little low…

      “The Sun provides 274 million gigawatt-years of solar energy, which translates to 8.2 million “quads” of Btu energy per year.

      The entire human race currently uses about 400 quads of energy (in all
      forms) per year. Put another way, the solar energy hitting the earth
      exceeds the total energy consumed by humanity by a factor of over 20,000
      times.”

      http://www.ecoworld.com/energy-fuels/how-much-solar-energy-hits-earth.html

      The price of installed solar in Europe is now so low that installations are continuing without subsidy in some places. Spain has a new large array going in with no subsidies.

      According to Deutsche Bank solar is being installed “south of Rome” for $1.20/W. At that price there’s no need for subsidies.

      At $1.20/W in the not-sunny Northeast US that would mean solar electricity for about 7c/kWh which is a great price for power that gets delivered during peak demand hours. In the sunny Southwest it would be electricity for about 5.5c/kWh.

      Now all we need to do is to catch up with Europe….

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