Renewable Energy Sector Growing Despite Down Economy
Although the economy experienced a downturn in 2009, renewable energy did not, a recent report by the World Watch Institute found. Last year, renewable energy accounted for about half of the estimated 194 gigawatts (GW) of new electric capacity added globally. Renewable energy supplied close to 20 percent of global electricity last year, and by early this year that increased to one-quarter.
In the U.S., renewable energy accounted for about 10.9 percent of domestic primary energy production (nuclear was 11.3 percent), a 5.6 percent increase from 2009. From 2005-2010, total global capacity of solar PV, wind power, concentrating solar power, solar water heating systems and biofuels grew at average rates from 15 to 50 percent a year. By early 2011, at least 119 countries had some type of target or renewable support policy at the national level, up from 55 countries in early 2005.
Wind and solar PV have increased greatly in the last few decades. In the 1990s, wind power existed in only a handful of countries, but is now in at least 83 countries. Solar PV capacity was added in over 100 countries during 2010.
Total investment in renewables was $211 in 2010, up from $160 billion in 2009, “continuing the steady annual increase seen since tracking first began in 2004,” the report stated. Asset finance of new-utility-scale projects (wind and solar farms, biofuel and solar thermal plants) accounted for almost 60 percent. Investment in small-scale distributed generation projects, mainly solar PV, accounted for $60 billion of the investment. The $15 billion alone invested in solar hot water collectors not included, which would bring it to $226 billion. An additional $40 to $45 billion was invested in large hydropower.
The capacity of each type of renewable energy studied in the report increased the last few years:
- Wind: 38 GW added in 2009
- Solar PV: Global production and markets more than doubled last year, and an estimated 17 GW of capacity was added globally
- CSP: 740 MW was added between 2007 to 2010, with more than half of it installed last year
- Solar hot water/heating: Capacity increased last year by an estimated 25 GW
- Biomass power and heat: An estimated 62 GW capacity operating last year
- Biofuels: Provided about 2.7 percent of global road transport fuels last year. Ethanol increased production by 17 percent, with the U.S. and Brazil accounting for 88 percent of production
- Geothermal power and heat: Geothermal plants operated in at least 24 countries last year, and geothermal energy was used directly for heat in at least 78countries
- Hydropower: Globally hydropower represented 16 percent of electricity production last year with 30 GW added
- Ocean energy: At least 25 countries are involved in ocean energy development. An estimated six MW (megawatts) of wave (two MW) and tidal stream (four MW) capacity installed last year
Photo: Jon Callascallas