Published on April 12th, 2014 | by Zachary Shahan


Falling Solar Panel Prices Resulted In Global Boom In Solar In 2013, Less Total Investment

April 12th, 2014 by  

In 2013, solar power capacity grew 26% while investment in solar power dropped 23%. There’s only one way that divergence makes sense — there was a continued drop in installed solar panel prices in 2013. Old news to CleanTechnica readers, but news that we continue to share, as it’s some of the most important news of the decade.

A new report from Bloomberg New Energy Finance and the United Nations Environment Programme goes into more details on renewable energy prices and renewable energy investment in 2013. Climate Central‘s Bobby Magill has written a great on the subject, so here it is as a repost:

Cheap Solar Power Pushes Renewables Growth Worldwide

The share of total global electricity production generated by renewable energy is climbing, mainly because solar photovoltaic systems are becoming less expensive, according to a report released Monday by the United Nations Environment Programme and Bloomberg New Energy Finance.

Wind, solar and other renewables, excluding hydropower, were 8.5 percent of total global electric power generation last year, up from 7.8 percent in 2012, the report says.

Source: Argonne National Laboratory

That comes just after Bloomberg and Pew Charitable Trusts issued a report last week saying investments in renewables worldwide has been declining since their peak in 2011, with the U.S. lagging behind China in overall investments in wind, solar and other renewables.

The reports come about a week after the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released the second part to its fifth assessment report, stating with certainty that humans are going to have to adapt to a world enduring climate change caused by greenhouse gas emissions from people burning fossil fuels. Renewables help reduce the climate-changing, energy-related carbon dioxide emissions.

Monday’s report, “Global Trends in Renewable Energy Investment 2014,” released during Bloomberg’s “Future of Energy Summit”  this week in New York City, says that renewables, not including hydropower, accounted for 43.6 percent of total global new electric generating capacity last year, preventing an estimated 1.2 gigatons of carbon dioxide emissions from being released into the atmosphere.

The report shows that there was a 14 percent drop in global investments in renewables partly for the same reason renewables’ market share is growing — the cost of solar panels is falling.

Solar power generating capacity worldwide increased 26 percent in 2013 over the previous year, from 31 gigawatts in 2012 to 39 gigawatts in 2013 despite total investment in solar falling 23 percent from $135.6 billion to about $104 billion, according to the report.

Other reasons for the drop in investment include uncertainty in renewables policy in many countries and a boost in investment in climate-changing fossil fuels.

The shale oil and gas boom hit renewables investments hard in the U.S., the report says.

Though the U.S. was the largest investor among developed economies in renewables last year at $33.9 billion, it was down 10 percent from 2012 because low natural gas prices helped bring about the shale gas boom, depressing clean energy development, according to the report.

The shale gas boom also contributes to overall uncertanty about the United States’ policy commitment to renewables, the report says.

Credit: Bloomberg New Energy Finance

The global renewables picture is more positive, however.

“We’re not seeing anything in any way, anything we can characterize as a collapse in renewable energy investments,” Michael Liebreich, chairman of the advisory board for Bloomberg New Energy Finance, said during a news conference Monday.

He said unsubsidized renewable electric power plants are being built across the globe as they become more able to compete with fossil fuel power generation.

Clean energy stocks had seen a 78 percent decline over four and a half years, bottoming out in July 2012 followed by a 54 percent gain in 2013 as solar and wind manufacturers regained profitability.

“Renewable energy is actually looking like it’s doing its part,” Liebreich said.

Report lead author Angus McCrone, chief editor at Bloomberg New Energy Finance, said the report is not “dressing up” the bad news of declines in renewables investments worldwide.

“What we’re saying now is that there’s a bit of blue sky on the horizon even though the overall investment numbers are down,” McCrone said, adding that trends in the cost-competitiveness of renewables, particularly wind and solar, are striking.

There are more and more places across the globe where renewable energy is being installed without any subsidy, or the renewables are being installed because they’re cheaper than the available fossil fuel technology, he said.

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About the Author

is tryin' to help society help itself (and other species) with the power of the typed word. He spends most of his time here on CleanTechnica as its director and chief editor, but he's also the president of Important Media and the director/founder of EV Obsession, Solar Love, and Bikocity. Zach is recognized globally as a solar energy, electric car, and energy storage expert. Zach has long-term investments in TSLA, FSLR, SPWR, SEDG, & ABB — after years of covering solar and EVs, he simply has a lot of faith in these particular companies and feels like they are good cleantech companies to invest in.

  • hammad

    Using solar panels get electricity and preserve the environmentsystem

  • drevney

    From this data and my calculation, and I’m a far for being sure about it as I did not see the figure anywhere, is that the world electricity share of solar is between 0.5 – 0.8%, does that sound correct to you?

    Crossing the 1% milestone would be very significant. I guess if what I wrote is true that would happened in about year from now.

    • Bob_Wallace

      Share your math. What are you using for global electricity consumption and for global CF?

      I’ve found nothing about percent of world production but did find – “PV now covers 3% of the electricity demand in Europe”

      • Ronald Brakels

        I don’t know about Europe as a whole but Italy gets 7.8% of its electricity from solar, Germany 6.2%, and Greece 5.8%. Australia may get 3% of its electricity from solar this year and currently the state of South Australia gets about 5.25% of its electricity use from rooftop solar and by the end of the year may be getting 6.5% of its electricity from solar if, and only if, the installation rate flatlines and stays the same as last year. And while feed in tariffs this year will be set to “theft” solar has proven remarkably resilient to cuts. Or not that remarkably seeing as distributers keep jacking up the cost of grid electricity and then whining about how terrible rooftop solar is because it prevents them from getting all the money.

  • Bob_Wallace

    “31 gigawatts in 2012 to 39 gigawatts in 2013 despite total investment in solar falling 23 percent from $135.6 billion to about $104 billion”

    $4.37 billion per GW of solar in 2012.

    $2.67 billion per GW of solar in 2013.

    23% less invested.

    26% more solar.

  • Phil McCracken

    I used to think wind power was our only answer but with the amazing drop in cost for solar, I now believe that will become the dominant power source. Every appropriate roof covered with solar panels will not only shade the roof but provide power when it’s most needed.
    But, how many years does it take to erase the true environmental cost of production in environmentally lax China plus the international shipment?

    • Bob_Wallace

      “But, how many years does it take to erase the true environmental cost of production in environmentally lax China plus the international shipment?”
      How does one answer that question?

      First, are you sure that China is still creating a big mess while manufacturing solar panels? My understanding is that things were being cleaned up but I’ve heard nothing about the progress made or not made.
      Then the “international shipment” part. Minimal. Solar panels repay the energy it takes to manufacture them in less than one year (thin film) or two years (silicon).

      If a lot of bunker oil was being used to ship panels from China then one would expect North American manufacturers would have more ability to compete.

    • International shipping is incredibly energy efficient. Don’t count on shipping to add very much to the environmental footprint of solar panels.

      An indication is 10 g CO2 per ton-km. A 200 W solar panel weighs around 15 kg. Suppose we need another 15 kg for packaging (cardboard, pallet, container) then that is 200 W per 30 kg, or 33 * 200 = 6600 W per ton.

      From Shanghai to Rotterdam is 22,000 km. So 22000 * 0.01 kg = 220 kg of CO2 to transport 6600 W of solar panels.

      On a south facing roof in my country 6600 W will yield 6600 kWh per year. Our grid mix produces 600 g of CO2 per kWh. That works out to a saving of 4000 kg CO2 per year. 220/4000 * 365 = 20 average days to recoup the CO2 emissions from shipping in not-so-sunny Holland.

  • Banned by Bob

    And the Virtuous Circle continues.

    Shale may impact Renewables here in. N. America until costs come down further, but there is no reason to see Solar in particular do anything but grow in the high energy cost regions particularly across Asia.

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