#1 cleantech news, reviews, & analysis site in the world. Subscribe today. The future is now.

Clean Power

Published on September 5th, 2011 | by Susan Kraemer


Global Renewable Capacity Has Now Exceeded Nuclear

September 5th, 2011 by  

The world has now breached a tipping point of some significance. According to Phyllis Cuttino, Director of the Clean Energy Program at The Pew Charitable Trusts, and Michael Liebreich, CEO of Bloomberg New Energy Finance, the worldwide installed capacity of renewable energy has now surpassed that of nuclear power.

Writing for the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, the pair note that with increased investment in renewable energy over the last year, the world now has more renewable energy capacity in place than nuclear power.

Nuclear power has traditionally held up about 20-30% of the electricity supplied to the grid, from the days when clean power was almost totally supplied by hydroelectric power, geothermal power and nuclear power. But now as more wind, and to a lesser extent, more solar is added to the grid, that is changing. Global investment in (non-nuclear) renewable energy such as wind and solar grew 30% in 2010 and topped $243 billion.

Wind has garnered almost half of that total of renewable investment, 48%, with the adding some 40 gigawatts (GW) of generating capacity – enough to power 30 million homes. 17 GW of solar-generation capacity was added in 2010 from investments totaling US$79 billion, supplying enough electricity to power more than 12.5 million homes.

Most of the growth was outside the US, where rational long-term policies – from research, to financing, to feed-in tariffs and cap and trade – in the world’s largest economies have driven large-scale investment.

In 2009, the US took second place only to China, according to the previous Pew report covering the increase in renewable investments.

But in 2010, Pew’s new report shows that not just China, but also Germany has overtaken the entire US, to take second place. China attracted the most investment, $54 billion. Next was Germany, with $41.2 billion in renewable energy investment, at a time when non-Asian world economies are sluggish. The US investment was third, at $34 billion.

To put those figures in perspective, China has a population of 1.3 billion, Germany, 82 million, and the US 307 million.

Susan Kraemer@Twitter

Tags: , ,

About the Author

writes at CleanTechnica, CSP-Today and Renewable Energy World.  She has also been published at Wind Energy Update, Solar Plaza, Earthtechling PV-Insider , and GreenProphet, Ecoseed, NRDC OnEarth, MatterNetwork, Celsius, EnergyNow, and Scientific American. As a former serial entrepreneur in product design, Susan brings an innovator's perspective on inventing a carbon-constrained civilization: If necessity is the mother of invention, solving climate change is the mother of all necessities! As a lover of history and sci-fi, she enjoys chronicling the strange future we are creating in these interesting times.    Follow Susan on Twitter @dotcommodity.

  • We are rapidly being left in the dust of history. Other countries who have maintained legislative autonomy from the oil barons are speeding off into the renewable energy future.

    They must be laughing in the rear view mirror at the sight of our scramble to build something as absurd as a 1700 mile bituminous toxin pipeline across our central breadbasket and water supply.

    The inscription in the mirror says “You’re farther behind than it appears.”

    • Anonymous

      Well said.

      Wonderful wording skills 😀

  • Sue

    Somebody should tell this to Obama.

    • Anonymous

      Do you think he is not aware?

      Are you not aware of how often he has visited renewable energy equipment factories the last year and how much of the stimulus money he steered into renewable energy and electric vehicles?

    • Susan Kraemer

      Republicans in congress are preventing clean energy, not Democrats. Presidents have little immediate effect on legislation as congress writes and passes legislation.

    • Look to Obama’s executive order to the military to create energy security and lower costs with renewable energy installations. The amount of equipment being purchased by the military is improving supply chains and production volumes. Military land is not subject to NIMBY opposition, and no one can make a political negative out of saving money from military expenses, while improving security and readiness for troops. It can cost up to $400 a gallon to supply fuel to foreword troops in the mountains of Afghanistan. As much as 2/3 of troop fatalities come from attacks on fuel convoys. The use of solar and wind for field operations saves lives and reduced the amount of batteries needed for operations at temporary bases.
      The record keeping by the military use of renewable energy is valuable in determining which technologies and systems pay off the best, providing a testing service which is greatly needed.

  • Anonymous

    We really do need to use some measurement of renewables other than ‘nameplate’ capacity.

    No generation source is 100% always on. Using maximum output numbers as a metric is not a very accurate way to describe how much each generation technology is providing to our overall total.

    Wind is likely somewhere between 25% and 40% worldwide. Nuclear is probably about 90%. It’s going to take 3x or more nameplate wind to equal nameplate nuclear. Solar worldwide is likely under 20% of nameplate.

    The big celebration should come when output from renewables surpasses nuclear.

    No, the big celebration should come when output from renewables starts closing down fossil fuel generation. (Hopefully we dodge any more nuclear meltdowns in the interim.)

    • BlueRock

      That would make sense if demand was constant. It’s not.

      Solar doesn’t produce much electricity between midnight and 6 am – but people don’t need much electricity then either. So, criticising solar for having a ‘low’ capacity factor is misleading.

      Similarly, nuclear’s ‘high’ capacity factor (which is actually closer to 70 or 80% worldwide) is not necessarily a benefit. E.g. France has to import electricity at times of high demand (and pays top price) while exporting during periods of low demand (and is paid bottom price).

      Also, capacity factor is only one part of the energy equation. Free fuel forever and no emissions and no toxic waste and no risk of catastrophic failure are significant factors that leave nukes at a distinct disadvantage.

      Capacity factor is largely a red herring used to try and beat down renewables. The fossil / nuke lobbies have little else to work with.

      • Anonymous

        You’re making the issue something different.

        What I was talking about is using a better metric for determining the percentage of electricity we get from each source.

        Time of production is important, but different. Solar can be very valuable because it produces when demand is generally highest. Utilities pay serious money for peak hour power and solar can be a bargain.

        Protection against future increases in fuel costs is another advantage of renewable energy. Utilities can install wind, solar or geothermal knowing that their future costs are largely fixed and not subject to spiraling fossil fuel prices.

        Capacity is not a red herring, it’s a useful statistic. We need to have a measurement of how much renewable generation we’ve brought on line and how large the job ahead of us is. We just need a better measurement than nameplate capacity.

        • BlueRock

          Nope. Same issue. Again: capacity factor is a red herring used by fossil / nuke lobbies to confuse the unwary.

          I’ve seen the uninformed / misinformers claim “until they improve the capacity factor of wind @ 30% it will never compete with nuclear @ 90%.” It is, of course, nonsense. You just build more wind turbines and spread them apart to collect all that ‘free’ energy.

          There isn’t “a better measurement than nameplate capacity”. You can’t distil the myriad factors in to a single number. Not possible.

          Note: obviously capacity factor is a useful and necessary statistic. I’m saying it’s mostly not used as such. It’s mostly used to confuse in the public ‘debate’.

          • Anonymous

            Yes, talking about “installed (nameplate) capacity” is confusing. Talking about capacity factor in isolation is confusing. Talking about source percentage output is not.

            We know that our grid is about 44% coal, 20% nuclear, 9% renewable, whatever. We know that wind was 2% last year and is reaching 3% this year. These are meaningful numbers. They allow us to contrast and compare.

            Nameplate capacity is meaningless when the percentage of hours different technologies operate at capacity (or percentage of capacity) is different.

            You can’t compare offshore wind which might have a 50% capacity factor with solar which might have a 20% capacity factor on nameplate capacity alone. One meg of wind, nameplate, will yield 2.5x as much power as one meg of PV.

    • BlueRock

      P.S. There’s plenty to celebrate even if the battle is not yet won:

      * Renewables 2011 Global Status Report. Renewable energy accounted for approximately half of the estimated 194 gigawatts (GW) of new electric capacity added globally during 2010. Global investments in renewables up over 30% to a record $211 billion. http://www.ren21.net/REN21Activities/Publications/GlobalStatusReport/GSR2011/tabid/56142/Default.aspx + http://www.consumerenergyreport.com/2011/07/14/renewables-2011-global-status-report-released/

      • Anonymous

        First quarter of 2011 wind produced 2.5% of all US electricity. I think one month since logged 3%.

        Nuclear produces about 18%, so we have work left to do.

        In 2010 wind produced 21% of electricity in Denmark, 18% in Portugal, 16% in Spain, 14% in Ireland and 9% in Germany. We’re installing wind faster and we can catch up with them.

        Those are more meaningful numbers. They can’t be easily dismissed by people like John.

    • We constantly see opponents of wind talking about capacity factors. These numbers do not explain that wind turbines must have the ability to withstand gale force winds, so obviously the capacity is higher than the expected average use. No other system has the extremes of wind so those comparisons of “capacity factors” are worthless. What is important is production values, and again wind power is different because of the variability of the wind resource. The important number is the electricity produced compared to the money invested.
      Nuclear power claims capacities of 90%, but examined across the industry over time, those numbers are significantly less as we consider outages at nuclear plants that often extend years or months before restarting, and consider the number of plants that do not run for their expected lifespan for various reasons. the average lifespan for nuclear plants is about 20 years, even though most are designed for a 40 year lifespan. So historically, the stated capacity factor of 90% is really more like 45% in service, while average offshore wind is 40% of rated capacity. In times of strong wind, turbine electric production can surge to double the average, but nuclear power seldom increases over stated capacity.

      • On cost vs capacity factor: Exactly.

        On nuclear: the cost of taking care of nuclear waste for longer than humans have existed for should also be taken into account in the price and isn’t.

      • Bob_Wallace

        “the average lifespan for nuclear plants is about 20 years”

        I’ve got a book about the old barns of America. In the forward the author addresses the issue of how well barns were built ‘back then’.

        His response is that barns of all qualities were built. The really well built ones survived.

        It does seem that the nuclear industry is giving us a tour of the best built plants when they talk of their high capacity.

        They plot the route so that we don’t drive past the rotting hulks of the plants that closed early.

  • John

    Wake me up when it’s total energy produced instead of the imaginary installed renewable capacity.

Back to Top ↑