NREL: 23% Of Global Electricity Generation Supplied By Renewable Sources

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Originally published on 1Sun4All.

The National Renewable Energy Lab (NREL) released a report — 2012 Renewable Energy Data Book — in October of 2013 regarding the status of renewable energy globally and in the US. The report has an abundance of great charts and, in reading through the pages, I discovered that renewable energy accounts for 23% of all electricity generation worldwide (4,892 TWh) (on page 41). I’ve brought out a few of the relevant charts and findings. I hope you enjoy them as much as I do.

In 2012, Germany led the world in cumulative solar photovoltaic installed capacity, reports the NREL. The United States leads the world in geothermal and biomass installed capacity. China leads in wind, and Spain leads in solar thermal electric generation (STEG). The following is from the 2012 Renewable Energy Data Book:

Leading Countries For Installed Renewable Energy

NREL Renewable

Image courtesy of NREL | 2012 Renewable Energy Data Book

  • Cumulative global renewable electricity installed capacity has grown by 97% from 2000 to 2012 (from 748 GW to 1,470 GW).
  • Countries with extensive solar policies—such as Germany, Spain, and Italy— lead the world in solar photovoltaic (PV) deployment.

Renewable Electricity By Technology For The World’s Top Countries

NREL Renewable

Image courtesy of NREL | 2012 Renewable Energy Data Book

Zach mentioned the weakness of this chart is that it doesn’t address the per capita or per GDP leaders. From his post, 18 Fun Renewable Energy Charts From NREL Director Dan Arvizu & Ren21′s Renewables 2013 Global Status Report, he offered the latest on those for wind and solar:

  1. Top Solar Power Countries
  2. Top Wind Power Countries Per Capita
  3. Top Wind Power Countries Per GDP

More findings from NREL’s 2012 Renewable Energy Data Book:

Total Global Renewable Electricity Capacity

NREL Renewable

Image courtesy of NREL | 2012 Renewable Energy Data Book

  • The installed global renewable electricity capacity doubled between 2000 and 2012, and represents a significant and growing portion of the total energy supply both globally and in the United States.

Growth of the World’s Sustainable Energy Resources from 2000 to 2012

NREL Renewable

Image courtesy of NREL | 2012 Renewable Energy Data Book

As a nation, and a global people, we have a significant amount of work to do to change what is happening. I look forward to seeing this report for 2013 with the measurement of the advances we made in the last year.

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Amber Archangel

-- I am an artist, painter, writer, interior designer, graphic designer, and constant student of many studies. Living with respect for the environment close at hand, the food chain, natural remedies for healing the earth, people and animals is a life-long expression and commitment. As half of a home-building team, I helped design and build harmonious, sustainable and net-zero homes that incorporate clean air systems, passive and active solar energy as well as rainwater collection systems. Private aviation stirs a special appeal, I would love to fly in the solar airplane and install a wind turbine in my yard. I am a peace-loving, courageous soul, and I am passionate about contributing to the clean energy revolution. I formerly designed and managed a clean energy website,

Amber Archangel has 195 posts and counting. See all posts by Amber Archangel

16 thoughts on “NREL: 23% Of Global Electricity Generation Supplied By Renewable Sources

  • I realize most of the data does not include 2013 but I just want to add to the good news the massive 400 MW hydroelectric dam just completed in Bui, Ghana.


    But even before that, Ghana is way ahead of most countries in the world in renewable energy.

    Total Electrical Grid capacity (2012) = 14,675 GW

    Share of fossil energy = 0%

    Share of renewable energy (hydro, bio energy, thermal energy) = 99%

    Share of renewable energy (solar, wind energy) = 1%

    Perhaps they aren’t praised as much as countries like Denmark because of this: Ghana produces 200,000 barrels of crude oil per day on average.

    Never the less, this PV project now being built shows they should be touted as a great example of a country transitioning to 100% renewable energy:The biggest photovoltaic (PV) and largest solar energy plant in Africa, the Nzema project, based in Ghana, will be able to provide electricity to more than 100,000 homes.[13] The 155 megawatt plant will increase Ghana’s electricity generating capacity by 6%.

    • I’ll take my hat of for Ghana. Especially compared to countries like Denmark who has been (and still is) burning coal like crazy to generate electricity. That map is rather to show who is the most behind and trying to catch up….but it’s good that the worlds largest polluters are starting to do something because they have the possibility to make real difference once they become environmentally friendly.

      • “Share of renewable energy (hydro, bio energy, thermal energy) = 99%

        Share of renewable energy (solar, wind energy) = 1%

        Perhaps they aren’t praised as much as countries like Denmark because of this: Ghana produces 200,000 barrels of crude oil per day on average.”

        Wow, Norway and Ghana are extra-continental energy twins.

        • Coal use is dropping in Denmark. They are now burning about 1/3rd as much as at peak in 1997.

      • On October 28th 2013 at 2am, Denmark managed to produce 122% of its electricity needs by wind. Google ‘how wind met all of Denmark’s electricity needs for 90 hours’.

  • I’m trying to work out how Australia got on the list for CSP. We have a little bit of it here and there but I didn’t think it would be enough to get the number five spot on a list. Or number six spot as Egypt and Morocco are fused together in fourth place.

  • Calling hydropower “renewable” is only partly true – there’s a huge amount of environmental destruction that happens when you dam rivers, changing shoreline ecologies, eliminating wetlands, blocking fish migration. In the case of smaller dams, they also tend to silt up, so they’re not all long-term renewable.

    • Hydro is renewable energy.

      There is no “forever”, perfect renewable energy. Solar panels probably become useless after a couple hundred of years, wind turbines wear out after 3, 4 decades.

      Even the Sun will let us down in a few billion years.

      Hydro has more environmental problems than some other technologies but less than fossil fuels.

      • Actually solar panels loose efficiency with time quicker than people think. More like 20 to 30 year lifespan and they consume a lot of raw materials to produce. Dams seem to offend environmentalists but I think if they are well planned and placed are a great source of power. Nuclear is still one of my favorites but a hard sell after Fukishima. Bottom line is that it is difficult to generate power without sacrificing something.

        • That’s actually very incorrect, Barry.

          Our oldest array of solar panels is now almost 40 years old. At the age of 35 they were taken down and tested in the lab before being reinstalled. Over the 35 years they had been in operation they lost 3.88% performance. Just over 0.1% per year.

          The National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) performed a meta-analysis of studies that examined the long term degradation rates of various PV panels. They found that the 1% per year rule was somewhat pessimistic for panels made prior to the year 2000, and today’s panels, with better technology and improved manufacturing techniques, have even more stamina than their predecessors. For monocrystalline silicon, the most commonly used panel for commercial and residential PV, the degradation rate is less than 0.5% for panels made before 2000, and less than 0.4% for panels made after 2000. That means that a panel manufactured today should produce 92% of its original power after 20 years, quite a bit higher than the 80% estimated by the 1% rule.

          Crystalline silicon modules located in extreme climates showed high degradation rates. For very cold climates, panels subjected to heavy wind and snow loads suffered the most. On the other hand, panels in similar climates that were installed in a facade, eliminating the snow load, had very low rates of degradation. At the other extreme, panels in desert climates exhibited large decreases in production over time – close to 1% per year – mainly due to high levels of UV exposure. Panels in more moderate climates such as the northern United States had degradation rates as low as 0.2% per year. Those panels could retain 96% of their production capabilities after 20 years.

          Degradation rates are used in solar site assessments in order to estimate the energy production over the life of a system and to calculate the payback period and return on investment. Like everything in engineering, we always assume the worst and hope for the best, so overestimating the degradation rate isn’t necessarily a bad thing. On the other hand, we want realistic estimates so we don’t scare away potential customers who think they’ll need to replace their modules after 25 years. Given the results of NREL’s analysis, it may be beneficial to adjust the rule of thumb so it accounts for the conditions under which the panels will operate.

          Solar panels do require materials to manufacture but the amount is small for the amount of electricity produced and most of the materials used are recyclable.

          Dams have to be carefully planned in order to not do significant damage. In the US we have a large number of existing dams which can be converted to power producers and the ability install minimally damaging run of river hydro.

          Nuclear is simply too expensive Even if we were willing to live with the danger of meltdowns and the very long term problem of radioactive waste it would make no economic sense to build new nuclear.

          New nuclear in the US and western Europe is running from 15 to 20 cents per kWh. Plus subsidies.

          New onshore wind in the US is under 4 cents, unsubsidized.

          New PV solar in the US is about 6 cents, unsubsidized.

          The price of both wind and solar should be considerably lower before a new nuclear plant could be built. Their prices are dropping every year.

          • I live in Canada so one can assume the worst conditions for longevity. Solar costs go well beyond panels as you probably know. Battery banks and inverters are a piece of the equation often not given enough emphasis. Most alternative energy also requires an existing conventional grid to be practical, unless one is talking about off grid independent systems in isolated areas. In Canada most of those rely on Diesel backup which pullutes even more because they run so much in the northern winters. Tough problems.

          • OK, let’s assume you live in an area with a lot of snow loading. That would put panel loss in the area of 0.4% per year. Panels would still be at 92% of new when 20 years old, 88% of new at age 30, 84% at age 40. In order to maintain full output one would need to add an additional panel from time to time.

            Inverters don’t seem to be failing too rapidly. I would guess 10 years would be about the bottom of the failure range. You can get 20 year warranties on inverters by paying a bit extra. And the cost of inverters is falling rapidly.

            If you’re installing solar while on the grid there’s no need for batteries.

            Off the grid becomes practical if it would cost one some money to hook up. The current rule of thumb is that if you are a quarter mile or more from the grid then you should run the numbers and see if staying off the grid would work for you.

            Fifteen or so years back when I bought this property I was given a bid for $16/foot to bring in power. Assuming that the price is still there a quarter mile run would cost overy $20k. And the price has probably gone up. One can put in a pretty good system for $20k.

            It would have cost me $300,000 to hook up to the grid. My system cost me $10k including a backup generator. I’m getting ready to more than double the wattage of my panels because panel prices have dropped so low. That should greatly lower my generator use.

          • Pollute is the word I tried spelling with thick fingers. Ultimately the problem is the more inhospitable the climate the more energy you need. I would like to live in Hawaii. No furnace, no a/c. A few fans of course.

          • Canada has a lot of hydro and good wind resources. Solar would be only part of the energy mix in Canada.

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