Growth in renewables capacity, annual and five-year average
By 2010, renewable energy had reached a clear tipping point in the context of global energy supply, concludes the “Renewables 2010 Global Status Report.” With renewables comprising fully one quarter of global power capacity from all sources and delivering 18% of global electricity supply in 2009, the latest release of the definitive assessment of the state of the global renewable energy industry from the Renewable Energy Policy Network for the 21st Century (REN21) details the current status and key trends of global markets, investment, industry and policies related to renewable energy.
Investment in new renewable power capacity continued to increase during 2009, despite challenges posed by the global financial crisis, lower oil prices, and slow progress with climate change policy. For the second year in a row, more money was invested in new renewable power capacity than in new fossil fuel capacity. The renewable generating capacity installed over the past two years accounts for nearly 50% of total generating capacity added to the world’s grids over this period.
Furthermore, the rapid adoption beyond the industrialized world means that today more than half of the existing renewable power capacity is in developing countries.
Installed capacity by region and technology for 2009
These trends reflect strong growth and investment across all market sectors including power generation, heating and cooling, and transport fuels. Grid-connected solar PV has grown by an average of 60% every year for the past decade, increasing 100-fold since 2000. During the period from year-end 2004 through 2009, consistently high growth year-after-year marked virtually every other renewable technology as well. During those five years, annual growth rates averaged 27% for wind power capacity, 19% for solar water heating, and 20% for ethanol production. Indeed, as other economic sectors declined around the world, existing renewable capacity continued to grow during 2009 at rates close to, or exceeding, those in previous years. Market growth for some technologies – including wind and concentrating solar power, and solar water heating – exceeded their five-year averages in 2009. Annual production of ethanol and biodiesel increased 10% and 9%, respectively, despite layoffs and ethanol plant closures in the United States and Brazil. Biomass and geothermal for power and heat also grew strongly last year.
In May, the Asian Development Bank started a major drive to promote solar power across the region. Last year, the Indian government approved an ambitious National Solar Mission, which seeks a huge increase in the country’s solar-energy capabilities. Bangladesh, with the support of the World Bank, is aiming to have one million remote rural homes supplied with solar panels by the end of 2012.
And in India, where nearly 40 percent of households have no access to electricity, companies like Selco Solar and Orb Energy have helped tens of thousands of families and small entrepreneurs purchase solar panels.
All worthy causes. So worthy and sensible, in fact, that you may well ask why on earth they did not take off much earlier. The answer, as is so often the case, is political support “” or, until relatively recently, the lack of it “” and, inevitably, cost.
“The upfront costs of installing solar-electricity-generating farms, plus high borrowing costs and the fact that developing nations struggle to access long-term capital, have inhibited the growth of solar energy until recently,” said Seethapathy Chander, chairman of the committee on energy issues at the Asian Development Bank in Manila.
“It takes a long time before investment costs are recouped, and you need long-term financing until that stage is reached.”
China, the world’s largest greenhouse gas emitter, hopes definite measures for the next decade will be implemented after the United Nations conference in South Africa scheduled for the end of next year, Li told the newspaper. The biggest obstacle to reaching an accord is the U.S., he said. Without domestic legislation, the U.S. can’t participate in forming a legally binding international agreement, he said, as cited by the Economic Times.
UN and national envoys have said chances concluding a treaty to reduce global warming gas emissions are slim after the Copenhagen summit in 2009 produced only a non-binding accord. UN talks failed because developing nations called for richer countries to adopt tighter targets on the gases blamed for global warming.
China and India say developed nations must cut emissions by 40 percent from 1990 levels by 2020, and poorer countries need room to raise their greenhouse gases to allow them to grow. China has pledged to reduce the amount of carbon dioxide it emits for each unit of economic output by 40 percent to 45 percent by 2020 from 2005 levels.
Li, head of international negotiations at the National Development and Reform Commission, which represents China in the talks along with the Foreign Ministry, said participants have “pragmatic” expectations of this year’s summit in Cancun, Mexico. He added that this does not mean the Cancun meeting can’t make any progress.
Magnet power is emerging as a jack-of-all-trades in new green technology, and its latest trick could mean a big cut in the energy used for lighting. The Office of Naval Research Global has partnered with the Tokyo Institute of Technology to develop a device for harvesting residual magnetic power from electrical currents. In an experimental installation at a military hotel in Tokyo, the device racked up a peak power savings of 39 percent. Its success has lead to a plan to equip the entire facility with new device, called the Magnetic Energy Recovery Switch (MERS).
MERS is basically a way to control the flow of electricity more efficiently. The experimental installation, at the Hardy Barracks hotel in Tokyo, involved several fluorescent lights. In addition to saving energy, the MERS technology also generates less heat and helps to reduce electromagnetic interference. The proposed expansion of MERS to other areas at Hardy Barracks would occur next year, involving a break room, printing room, laundry, gym, and offices.
In case you’re wondering why the Office of Naval Research is involved in the project, the Navy has been front and center in the U.S. military’s sustainability efforts. Along with a growing number of solar power and biofuel projects, the Navy has worked with the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency on high-efficiency LED lighting systems for Navy ships. At a forum last year, the Office of Naval Research affirmed its commitment to environmental stewardship and sustainable energy, and reaffirmed its role in bringing new technologies and alternative energy to the civilian world.
China is doing moon shots. Yes, that’s plural. When I say “moon shots,” I mean big, multibillion-dollar, 25-year-horizon, game-changing investments. China has at least four going now: One is building a network of ultramodern airports; another is building a web of high-speed trains connecting major cities; a third is in bioscience, where the Beijing Genomics Institute this year ordered 128 DNA sequencers “” from America – giving China the largest number in the world in one institute to launch its own stem cell genetic engineering industry; and, finally, Beijing just announced that it was providing $15 billion in seed money for the country’s leading auto and battery companies to create an electric car industry, starting in 20 pilot cities. In essence, China Inc. just named its dream team of 16-state-owned enterprises to move China off oil and into the next industrial growth engine: electric cars.
Not to worry. America today also has its own multibillion-dollar, 25-year-horizon, game-changing moon shot: fixing Afghanistan.
This contrast is not good. I was recently at a Washington Nationals baseball game. While waiting for a hot dog, I overheard the conversation behind me. A management consultant for a big national firm was telling his colleagues that his job was to “market products to the Department of Homeland Security.” I thought to myself: “Oh, my! Inventing studies about terrorist threats and selling them to the U.S. government, is that an industry now?”
We’re out of balance – the balance between security and prosperity. We need to be in a race with China, not just al-Qaida. Let’s start with electric cars.
The electric car industry is pivotal for three reasons, argues Shai Agassi, the CEO of Better Place, a global electric car company that next year will begin operating national electric car networks in Israel and Denmark. First, the auto industry was the foundation for America’s manufacturing middle class. Second, the country that replaces gasoline-powered vehicles with electric-powered vehicles – in an age of steadily rising oil prices and steadily falling battery prices – will have a huge cost advantage and independence from imported oil. Third, electric cars are full of power electronics and software.