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Published on January 16th, 2015 | by Joshua S Hill


Renewable Energy Growth To Outstrip Fossil Fuels

January 16th, 2015 by  

Renewable energy consumption is set to grow over the next few years, and according to a new report from the Economist Intelligence Unit, said growth will outstrip growth in the fossil fuel industry.

Despite this growth, non-fossil fuels are faced with political challenges that may hamper their ability to flourish.

Renewables are a growing commodity that, to the surprise of nobody, is taking up a lot of the attention of utilities and energy companies the world over. Add to that the declining reliance upon fossil fuels such as coal and oil — be it for environmental reasons, or for fear of investing in an energy strategy which may very well end up stranded — and renewable energy is a sure fire win.


However, as the report’s authors write, “non-fossil fuels lack the overarching policy support they need to make faster progress globally.”

The report, which investigated six industries and their prospects for 2015, highlighted the massive part China is having on the global energy scene.

According to the report, “China consumes almost one-half of all the coal burnt each year,” but as we have already seen, the country is also trying to make steps towards minimising their use of coal, the pollution that stems from coal use, and are even addressing the type of coal they use, ensuring that they use ‘cleaner’ coal.

China is also one of the major renewable energy giants, and the Economist believes that it will reach its 100 GW target for wind power generating capacity sometime this year. “Solar installations, too, will spread apace in the world’s biggest market for photovoltaic equipment,” the authors write.

Chinas has long been a focus of renewable energy proponents, as can be seen by treading back through CleanTechnica’s archives. Not only is China looking to mitigate its pollution and carbon emissions, but they are doing so by doubling-down on renewable energy’s. 2015 will prove a strong year for China’s energy industry’s, and hopefully we will continue to see the country make strides to minimise their carbon footprint.

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I'm a Christian, a nerd, a geek, and I believe that we're pretty quickly directing planet-Earth into hell in a handbasket! I also write for Fantasy Book Review (.co.uk), and can be found writing articles for a variety of other sites. Check me out at about.me for more.

  • James

    These comments have been absolutely fascinating. These types of discussions are exactly what I’m looking to do. If you don’t mind me asking, what degree do you guys have? How did you get to the point you are at?

    I’m an advocate for renewable energy but I don’t know where to get started…

    • Bob_Wallace

      My take is that there are people with widely varied backgrounds here. But most share an interest in learning about new developments and what works.

      We’ve made a big effort to minimize the number of people who simply want to be disruptive and keep the topics mainly to clean energy. Spammers, perpetual motion crackpots, trolls, and ranters are soon shown to the door.

      As for learning, many of us just jumped in at some point and started reading. You might want to go back over past articles and read the ones that interest you. Especially the ones that generate a lot of comments.

      Ask questions. Most people here are very glad to answer sincere questions and will take time to show you to other sources where you can broaden your knowledge. Speaking for Zach as well as myself, we’re trying to serve an educational purpose. Our thinking is that the more people know about renewable energy, the facts about renewable energy, the faster we’ll quit using fossil fuel.

  • eveee

    Here is something to consider. China has taken the lead in electricity demand, but is about equal to the US. Those are the biggest consumers. But US demand has leveled since about 2006. That gives pause to consider if projections take that into account.

    Here is EIA on US electricity. They have two graphs. Apparently, they noticed the recent flattening of US demand, so they graphed a low growth scenario.


    Here is the US electricity demand statistics.

    • eveee

      Obviously, both scenarios are wrong. Renewables will grow much more, and coal will not be flat. Why on earth would the trends suddenly depart from recent experience? No justification. Its just plain wrong. And natural gas good until 2040 with no drop off? Good luck with that. Depletion rates are staggering.

      • Bob_Wallace

        Nuclear is unlikely to hold that much market share. We just closed another reactor and several more are on life support. Further drops in wind and solar generation and about 25% of our nuclear fleet is likely to disappear.

        Additionally we have an aging nuclear fleet. Refurbishment and repair costs will almost certainly rise as these plants further age. Economics are working against nuclear in a big way.

        • eveee

          I can’t find any projected analysis that makes sense to me for 2030. I am looking for something with a big EV trend and V2G. I don’t see biogas or hydrogen storage, but do see pumped water and air, demand management, and smart grids. I see big growth in renewables by 2030. The big shock will be FF transport. Everyone thinks coal, but oil counts too. That and reforestation has a big role. Brazil has improved, but se Asia, bad.

          • Bob_Wallace

            Let’s call that the the “optimistic prediction”.

            I don’t think anyone, or at least any organization, is willing to put themselves in the position of having a prediction like that on the books. It’s fairly speculative

            I’ve got my own optimistic prediction. I do it a bit differently. In their formula to give a good chance of avoiding more than a 2C global temperature rise they state that we need a 40% to 70% decrease in CO2 from 2005 levels.

            My OP is that we’ll put ourselves on the 70% or a bit better slope over the next few years but past 2030 we’ll be on a 40% or better slope. I highly suspect we’ll largely be done with fossil fuels by 2050.

            From now to 2050 is 35 years. The US currently gets about 65% of its electricity from coal and natural gas. To get to zero FF would mean renewables gaining less than a 2% market share per year, something that seems very doable. We’re already installing wind at a 1% rate.

            If we get 200 mile range EVs in the next couple of years that market should take off and prices fall rapidly. I don’t see more than a handful of ICEVs on the road by 2050.

            By 2035 most of the climate change deniers will be dead or too old to be influential. Most of the people alive will have grown up learning about climate change in school and they will have watched it demonstrated in the real world.

            Fossil fuel industries will be shrunken and inconsequential. No political power left.

            It will be abundantly clear how cheap renewable energy is as we will have significant amounts of paid off wind and solar generation in service. It will make no sense to anyone to replace a worn out coal or gas plant with anything other than renewables.

            Were I to put numbers on growth I’d say we hit 1% wind and solar combined per year in the next 2-3 years, double that 2-4 years later, and perhaps settle in at a 4% grab per year until the job is done.

            What the US will do will be less than the best but better than the worst. Western Europe and Central America may get to 0% FF faster. China may take about the same amount of time. Russia and some other eastern countries may lag behind.

          • Bob_Wallace


            EOS is marketing their zinc-air batteries at $160/kWh and 10,000 cycles which works out to be a great price for short term storage. Cycling 1x per day would cost 4 cents/kWh and even storing for a week would be under 30c/kWh. Those are gas peaker killer prices.

            It really looks like flow and liquid metal batteries are going to work out and may be cheaper yet. Flow batteries have the advantage of being able to store long term for attractive prices as one has only to build larger storage and fill them with inexpensive chemicals.

            I don’t see a role for compressed air. Too lossy.

            I’m not sure we’ll see a lot more PuHS if liquid metal and flow batteries pan out.

            My remaining question is what we use for that last “0.1%” (Budischak). Large flow battery tanks? Stick with a small amount of NG? Develop a synthetic/bio fuel we can use in peakers?

            It may be the latter. We’re likely to need some liquid fuel for some applications.

          • Philip W

            Very well put, I completely agree!

          • eveee

            Bob – Thanks for writing that. Now I don’t have to. 🙂 Especially about tall the climate deniers being dead by 2035. LOL.

            It seems pernicious that Exxon Mobil and lots of other sources are willing to make erroneous over projections about coal, oil, and nuclear, but are afraid and only want to under project solar and wind.

            I would like to see realistic solar and wind in a graph with numbers.

            For some strange reason, IEA thinks solar will saturate in 2040 at about 5000 Twh. They are predicting only 17% solar by 2050 now, up from less than 2% projected only 2 years ago.

            Maybe we should plot the rate of change of IEA projections. 🙂


          • eveee

            Maybe I just like pictures. Less words….? Maybe GTM should have their own graph? 🙂

          • eveee

            Sorry. I meant CleanTechnica.

  • eveee

    All forecasts have some speculation, but maybe we can make them a little better. Just for perspective, how about using Clean Technica and BNEF instead of IER and going out to 2030 where its a little easier to forecast?

    “In terms of power produced, the share of renewables will increase from 22 per cent in 2012 to 37 per cent in 2030.”

    “The apocalyptic views about what it will cost to shift the world to renewable energy simply aren’t true,” Liebreich said in an interview. “Three years ago, we thought wind and solar would be cheap as chips, and they’ve even gone below that.” What this suggests, he says, “is that we are beyond the tipping point towards a cleaner energy future.”


    • Bob_Wallace

      “In terms of power produced, the share of renewables will increase from 22 per cent in 2012 to 37 per cent in 2030.”

      That’s 15% over 18 years. Hard to buy into that low a transition.

      • eveee

        Yes. That’s lumping the slow growth stuff with high growth. I should take a look at solar and wind separately and compare. Epdoubling every 5 years should put them over 20%. Is it just me, or are projections on the low side?

  • Michael G

    Any projection is simply a guess. We all know it can be off, but here is one projection used by the Institute for Energy Research:


    Not all that encouraging, actually. High rate of growth for renewables but from a small base. We all hope and believe it is wildly inaccurate, because of all the new tech coming down the road.

    • Philip W

      “Exxon Forecasts[…]”


      • Larmion

        And yet it’s very much in line with what other analysts forecast, at least until 2030: coal stagnant, wind and solar growing explosively from a very low base, gas growing strongly and nuclear growing slightly.

        It’s only after 2040 that their forecast gets dicey (further nuclear growth? Nobody really expects another big wave of orders after the current round. And renewables still so marginal?).

        But who cares, predictions that far into the future are meaningless regardless of source. Predicting where technology will stand by then is hard enough and politics is simply impossible.

        • eveee

          No, predictions are not meaningless regardless of source. That would mean all predictions were equally good (or bad). They are not. I get that its inherently probabilistic and worse the farther out you project. Who cares? Everybody.

          People base actions on their projections and they matter.
          For one, as the EIA kills projects with its wrong projections.
          IEA oil forecasts have huge influence.

          So when IEA changes course abruptly and states that solar will be the dominant source of electricity by 2050, its huge.

          Qualitatively, you are correct. In terms of the numbers, its still off. As expected, its off in the renewable area.

          Its hard to tell from the ExxonMobil graph, but it looks like wind and solar about double, maybe a little more from today until 2040. That does not fit with the facts. To double in 25 years, that would be miserable growth rate of 3%?

          There are other errors in ExxonMobils analysis. If you dig through there 2015 report, they show China Energy Intensity increasing. Hardly likely since China has announced the goal of decreasing energy intensity, for one.

      • eveee

        Here is an EIA (US) forecast. Spot any flaws? I do. Since when does a large physical quantity make a step function on a graph? And why does that step function start at present time? Since when does an existing rate trend suddenly depart starting at present time?

        IMO, they goofed when they made a discontinuity in demand. That propagated to their best guess for coal having a discontinuity, too. That doesn’t excuse projecting coal as steady after its downward trend. I wouldn’t bet on it after whats happened recently in the US.


        • Bob_Wallace

          The EIA’s prediction for solar and wind growth.

          What they are claiming is that once subsidies for wind and solar expire installation will stop and not resume for a decade or more.

          The EIA is smoking crack.

          • eveee

            Wish I could take all that, fold some more reasonable ideas in, and see how it looks. There are too many bad ones like this. Got anything with reasonable estimates for wind and solar based on what we see today’s growth rates are?

    • eveee

      Caution with sources. IER is an oil industry hack. I would not trust it. Its significant when it gets mentioned negatively in Mediamatters. IER bias is pretty transparent.

      “ATI Executive Director Tom Tanton is an energy industry consultant who has conducted research for the American Petroleum Institute and formerly served as the vice president of the oil industry-funded

      Institute for Energy Research.

      Weather forecaster Joe Bastardi and climate skeptic blogger Steve Milloy serve as advisorsto the think tank.”

      Tanton is notable among other things, for his phony attack on Texas wind energy, debunked by NREL and AWEA. He attempted to get extra fees levied against wind, claiming it required more integration costs. Fact is, wind requires less integration costs than conventional.



      • Bob_Wallace

        It’s “climate change denier Joe Bastardi”. The guy’s a crackpot.


        • eveee

          I just thought it was worth noting that source is -/($&@!”?

  • Marion Meads

    It would be nice to have the absolute numbers side by side with % growth. This way, we can realistically assess ourselves how far we have come and how far we still have to go. Never mind a growth rate of 1,000% if the absolute value base is insignificant compared to others.

    • Michael G
      • eveee

        Average growth solar/wind/biofuels 5.9%? Aw cmon. And lumping solar/wind/biofuels?

    • JamesWimberley

      Read the fable of the tortoise and the hare. Or to change the metaphor, that of the king, the sage, grains of rice and the chessboard. Compound interest is (third metaphor) the 500-pound gorilla.

      I’d change it round. If you have a growth rate of 1000%, it doesn’t matter how small your starting point is. You take over the world very quickly anyway. Solar pv’s CAGR isn’t 1000% but 40%, but a doubling time of 2 years makes it king pretty soon.

      • Agreed.

        And let’s not forget the ability for exponential change when the underlying economics shift substantially towards a new entrant.

        Renewable energy costs are still dropping without a pause and when they reach a certain treshold then we will see a fundamental shift towards them and a collapse of fossil fuels. I believe, this will happen in the next 5-10 years.

        E.g.: when the low-cost perovskite layer is successfully embedded into current solar cells, the /watt cost of solar will drop substantially again. That will result in further strong growth.

        • AltairIV

          I’ve said it before; there’s a perfect storm brewing in renewable energy and it’s almost upon us.

          Onshore wind is already the cheapest form of electricity in most places. Offshore wind and commercial solar are becoming competitive in the wholesale arena. Rooftop solar is now competitive with retail electrical rates in many areas. Battery storage (both for commercial and home use) is within a hair’s-breadth of being competitive. EV use and infrastructure are growing like wildfire. And the costs of all of these continue to trend downwards while performance and manufacturing capacity continues to increase. And last but not least the attitudes of the people are starting to change as these things become more common and familiar and knowledge of their benefits (not to mention the seriousness of climate change) percolates into the public consciousness.

          I fully expect that before the decade is out we’re going to see the beginnings of an explosion of change the likes of which haven’t been seen since the original industrial revolution, and likely even bigger and faster than that.

        • eveee

          sola – What you said. The new market entrant does not saturate growth until it has major market share. Since thats the goal of renewables, no problem.
          Lower renewables costs trends vs the rest guarantees that outcome.

      • Larmion

        The chess board works well as a methaphor/introduction to exponential functions, but it rarely works in the real world.

        Exponential growth never lasts. A logistic growth curve like the Gompertz or Verhulst curve is likely much more relevant – it’s already visible in wind power in countries that started early.

        • eveee

          Here is the deal. Sure exponential growth never lasts. But lets not get confused here. We are talking about new technologies entering markets. How does it work? The new tech comes down in price at some rate. Old tech dominates the market. When new tech reaches price parity, a burst of new tech growth. When does it stop. When new tech becomes the dominant market player. So if new tech become the largest player, who cares if it slows down at that point?
          Its not exactly like coal and oil are going to make a big comeback. Long term they have only one price direction. Up.
          Wind and solar prices. Down. That leaves an inevitable consequence of market dominance for renewables. Thats exactly how the market works today. Otherwise, US natural gas would not be pushing coal and nuclear out of the market for electricity. If anything, natural gas shows slowing, because it has gained market share. Wind and solar won’t slow down until their market share is much more significant. But then thats the goal.

          • Bob_Wallace

            Let’s see that picture once more. The one that shows how new technologies ramp up slowly at first, then accelerate and take over markets.

            Wind and solar will dominate due to cost. And neither has yet hit their respective cost limit. With solar on its way to 4c/kWh there’s going to be a huge market disruption. NG and coal can’t compete with that, especially when you add in the almost free generation after the 20 year payoff.

          • eveee

            We are going to see a major rise in wind and solar enablers. Smart grid, overcapacity, demand management, geographic dispersal, wind/ solar combinations, and finally, storage.

        • Bob_Wallace

          I’d be careful making assumptions about slowing growth rate for wind. There are complex forces at work.

          Wind and solar are receiving push back from the fossil fuel industry. The industry often has powerful friends in governments. Those pushes are unlikely to be successful in the long term, falling wind and solar prices will push past them. Wind and solar will gain more and more political power as they grow, create jobs, and feed into local/state tax revenues

          Concern over climate change is increasing and will almost certainly continue to increase as we get hit by more and more weather problems. That will create support for renewables and opposition to fossil fuels.

          Storage technologies are starting to appear which will make wind and solar 24 hour electricity sources. Coal won’t be able to compete when cheap wind and solar take away parts of its earning hours and stored wind/solar kill the profitable hours.

          The external cost of coal is becoming more widely recognized, There will be more pressure to reduce coal use in order to lower health care costs and improve the health of people who are subject to coal dust and emissions. There will be a larger push to see that coal plant waste is more responsibly stored which will drive up the cost of coal generation.

          We’re learning how to get more production from a wind turbine in less than optimal locations. That means less transmission costs. And it means more local support as the economic benefits are realized.

  • No way

    So in other words coal is still out growing any other source in terms of absolute numbers.

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