Renewables are Growing Fast: What’s New?

Paris — If you’re looking for a comprehensive resource for renewable energy installation figures, look no further: The Renewables Global Status report was released last week, and it provides a great snapshot of where and how renewables are being developed around the world.
The report was released by the Renewable Energy Policy Network for the 21st Century, also known as REN21, and it provides an upbeat picture for renewables, despite the murky outlook for the global economy.
The report was originally released in 2005. Since then, solar PV has grown by 60 percent annually, wind by 27 percent, solar hot water by 19 percent, according to the authors. In 2009, renewables made up more than half of investment in global power generation. And that’s with depressed oil and gas prices, lenders being very choosy about projects and individual consumers facing their own financial problems. Total investment in the industry was about $150 billion last year.
Other than the stellar investment figures during a slow year for most other industries, there’s not much surprising in the 2009 report. The industry continues to move along – increasingly in developing countries – driven largely by robust public policy. Where policy lacks, investment does too.
Perhaps the most important trend is the role of China in the global renewable energy market. According to the report, the country produces about 40 precent of solar PV panels, 30 percent of wind turbines and 77 percent of solar hot water systems globally. The Chinese presence will impact investment decisions of companies as they work to compete with “The China Price,” and decide where to locate manufacturing facilities.
Many organizations like the International Energy Agency and the Energy Information Administration put together yearly figures on renewables. But none do it quite as comprehensively and clearly as the REN21 folks do. It’s worth keeping around as a go-to resource for figures on the industry.
Here are some other highlights taken straight from the report about the various renewables sectors:
  • Wind: Trends include new growth in off shore development, the growing popularity of distributed, small- scale grid-connected turbines, and new wind projects in a much wider variety of geographical locations around the world and within countries. Firms continue to increase average turbine sizes and improve technologies, such as with gearless designs.
  • Grid-connected solar PV: The industry has been responding to price declines and rapidly changing market conditions by consolidating, scaling up, and moving into project development. Thin-film PV has experienced a rapidly growing market share in recent years, reaching 25 percent. A growing of number of solar PV plants are so-called “utility- scale” plants 200-kW and larger, which now account for one-quarter of total grid-connected solar PV capacity.
  • Biomass power: Biomass power plants exist in over 50 countries around the world and supply a growing share of electricity. Several European countries are expanding their total share of power from biomass, including Austria (7 per- cent), Finland (20 percent), and Germany (5 percent). Biogas for power generation is also a growing trend in several countries.
  • Geothermal power: Geothermal power plants now exist in 19 countries, and new plants continue to be commissioned annually—for example in Indonesia, Italy, Turkey, and the United States in 2009.
  • Concentrating solar thermal power (CSP): CSP emerged as a significant new power source during 2006–2010, after initial stalled development some two decades earlier. By early 2010, 0.7 GW of CSP was in operation, all in the U.S. Southwest and Spain, with construction or planning under way for much more capacity in many more countries.
  • Solar hot water/heating: China continues to dominate the world market for solar hot water collectors, with some 70 percent of the existing global capacity. Europe is a distant second with 12 percent. Virtually all installations in China are for hot water only. But there is a trend in Europe toward larger “combi” systems that provide both water and space heating; such systems now account for half of the annual market.
  • Biomass and geothermal heating: Biomass heating markets are expanding steadily, particularly in Europe. Trends include growing use of solid biomass pellets, use of biomass in building-scale or community-scale combined-heat- and-power plants (CHP), and use of biomass for centralized district heating systems. Use of geothermal direct-use heat plants and ground-source heat pumps is also growing. Globally, there exists some 500 gigawatts-thermal (GWth) of heating capacity from biomass (270 GWth), solar (170 GWth), and geothermal (60 Gwth).
  • Biofuels: Corn ethanol, sugar ethanol, and biodiesel are the primary biofuels markets, although others like biogas for transport and other forms of ethanol are also significant. Corn accounts for more than half of global ethanol production, and sugar cane for more than one-third. The United States and Brazil accounted for almost 90 percent of global ethanol production. The second-generation biofuels industry has seen many research and pilot-production plants commissioned, most with some form of partial public funding.
Although wind and solar are clearly scaling up the fastest, the REN21 report shows that the other industries are making some good gains as well.

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