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Clean Energy Stunner: Renewable Power Tops Fossil Fuels for First Time

By Joe Romm  

"Clean Energy Stunner: Renewable Power Tops Fossil Fuels for First Time"

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Renewable energy is surpassing fossil fuels for the first time in new power-plant investments, shaking off setbacks from the financial crisis….

Electricity from the wind, sun, waves and biomass drew $187 billion last year compared with $157 billion for natural gas, oil and coal, according to calculations by Bloomberg New Energy Finance using the latest data. Accelerating installations of solar- and wind-power plants led to lower equipment prices, making clean energy more competitive with coal.

That’s the latest, amazing news from Bloomberg.

Last week, Bloomberg New Energy Finance reported that renewable energy investments are projected to double over the next eight years and reach $395 billion per year.  No, that isn’t enough to stabilize emissions and control climate change, according to the International Energy Agency.  But it is still very impressive.

Here’s more from Bloomberg:

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The renewables boom, spurred by about $66 billion of subsidies last year, intensified competition between wind- turbine and solar-panel manufacturers, gutting margins from the biggest producers led by Vestas Wind Systems A/S and First Solar Inc. The 95-member WilderHill New Energy Index of renewable- energy stocks has tumbled 40 percent this year, steeper than the 14 percent drop in the MSCI World Index….

The wind-energy industry is now more focused on the “sometimes bewildering variety of domestic and regional policies” than on the UN negotiations as a source of impetus for growth, said Steve Sawyer, secretary-general of the Brussels-based Global Wind Energy Council.

As well as renewables spending exceeding that on new fossil plants, last year also was the first time expenditure in developing countries, mainly China, exceeded that in the industrialized world, Sawyer said, predicting both trends will continue.

The New Energy Finance figures exclude investment that merely replaces existing plants, and its renewables tally excludes money spent on building large hydropower projects.

Wind operators are likely to install 43 gigawatts of generating capacity this year and 48 gigawatts next year, up from 36 gigawatts in 2010, GWEC estimates.

And this is all happening without a price for global warming pollution or fossil fuels  that reflect their very real harm to humans (see Economics Stunner: “Oil and Coal-Fired Power Plants Have Air Pollution Damages Larger Than Their Value Added”; Natural Gas Damage Larger Than Its Value Added For Even Low CO2 Prices).

So the tragedy is that if we were even halfway serious about averting catastrophic global warming, we could deploy carbon free technology at a much faster rate and give the next generation fighting chance.

‹ Large-Scale Carbon Capture and Storage: Feasibility, Permanence and Safety Issues Remain Unresolved

Occupy Wall Street Humor ›

26 Responses to Clean Energy Stunner: Renewable Power Tops Fossil Fuels for First Time

  1. Leif says:

    Jobs are important as well as a functioning economy. Neither one of which we have now. However it is important to focus on the Green Awakening Economy for jobs, not just any jobs. Humanity has worked for capitalism and corporations for well over 200 years and look around at what we have reaped. We have dug a huge hole to lift the 1% to its current stratospheric heights. There is not enough resources to lift the rest with the same paradigm. Only by embracing a new paradigm that requires capitalism and corporations to work for humanity and sustainable earth life support systems first and foremost and profits second can humanity prosper, and that can only be accomplished by embracing green energy and all that it implies. The current paradigm requires that we all stand on the backs of our brothers to see the light which is unacceptable. All the while the sun shines brightly above but our vision is blinded to only see deeper into the earth for ecocidal fossil resources.

    • David Smith says:

      On one point; the modern corporation came into existence following the American Civil War. That’s about 140 years ago. An interesting documentary, “the Corporation” covers it’s development to its current position of supremacy. Highly recommended. Available on Netflix, instant view. Businesses abusing workers, etc goes back much further, of course.

  2. Hardy says:

    Leif, and the 99% gained nothing in the last 200 years?

    I’m not the 1%, but I’m pretty damn happy with my two cars, house, xbox, ipad, ipod, iphone, transportation anywhere in the world in less than a day, instant communications anywhere in the world, and much cleaner world than 100 years ago.

    Yes, embrace green technologies. It’s the direction we need to go, but it’s hogwash to say that only the 1% benefited over the last 200 years. Capitalism has improved everyone’s standard of living.

    • Leif says:

      Hardy, you happen to be one that is not standing on the bottom of the pile. You need to broaden your view. Yet even you are the inheritor of degraded ecosystems, acidified lakes, earth, and oceans. Exploited resources. Health threatening air for you and your children. Diminished sea life and species. Barren earth that only supplies your food via artificial fertilizer that is itself dependent on rapidly diminishing resources. Recycled drinking water from the effluent of those above. A national debt with interest alone that would fund the educational system of the Nation. IMO your definition of “improved” could use refinement. Do you think for a moment that you could not have your toys and still not have sustainable life support systems?

    • nyc-tornado10 says:

      “I’m not the 1%, but I’m pretty damn happy with my two cars, house, xbox, ipad, ipod, iphone”

      Perhaps you are not familiar with the conditions at the foxcon slave labor camp, which produces most apple products, and products for a number of other american high tech corporations.

      The foxcon slave labor camp in china enslaves over 400,000 young people, some just children, under some of the worst working conditions in the world. There are many reports on the conditions that these apple computer slaves work under, googe “foxconn apple “.

      It is part of the shame of america that apple computer now has more money than the united states government, all produced by chinese slave labor. Apple has some of the highest mark-ups of any retailer, they certainly can afford to give their slaves better working conditions.

    • mulp says:

      “Capitalism has improved everyone’s standard of living.”

      Let’s talk capitalism: investing billions in wind and solar power capital is capitalism.

      Mining oil and coal is pillage and plunder, it takes a capital asset like mineral deposits and burns it up, gone forever in one shot. All capital assets depreciate, but depreciating capital totally in its first productive use with nothing left but waste is the worst capitalism ever, second only to the capitalism of investing in nuclear bombs which might be as destructive as burning fossil fuels if used, but most act to create jobs building them, watching them, then salvaging them. But the burnt fossil fuels can’t be salvaged and just keep causing harm.

      And Wall Street in the past several decades has been feeding capitalism to a monster of pillage and plunder. Wall Street’s sole purpose these days is pillage and plundering your savings for its own profits, leaving you with as little of your savings as possible.

  3. darth says:

    Off topic, but have you had a chance to look at the paper mentioned in this article?

    http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/greenspace/2011/11/co2-sensitivity-possibly-less-than-most-extreme-projections.html

    Didn’t seen anything about it on realclimate yet either.

    • Joe Romm says:

      A lot of poor reporting on a study that probably is wrong, but in any case only barely germane to our predicament.

      • Tommy Tolson says:

        The only report I found with any information I could use was/is on Science Daily, with an interview of the lead author of the study in question.

        All it says different, that I can determine, being a fiction writer and not a physicist or a paleoclimatologist, is that the data seems to say we have time to mitigate.

        This information went to “Science” in January, 2011, long before the IEA loaded current data into their model that resulted in Fatih Birol’s statement that if we don’t get “an agreement” in Durban that we’ve lost our chance to mitigate climate change, since 450 ppm is a tipping point and the global energy infrastructure will provide that by itself within 5 years if BAU continues.

        So it seems to me that injecting complacency into the decision-making system is, at best, unintelligent.

        • Dennis Tomlinson says:

          An increase from 390 ppm to 450 ppm in five years would be an average increase of 12 ppm-per-year. That’s several times greater than even the horrible 2010 increase was.

          • I think what he’s trying to say here is not that we reach 450 ppm in 5 years, but that we will be locked into it as the current combustion infrastructure runs its life-span; without building anything new…within five years. The rate of growth and power-needs expansion of an increasingly consuming populace make that combustion business drop-off unlikely…IEA is suggesting we need a different strategy than “build more plant”. Well, actually, it’s screaming it…

    • fj says:

      kind of strange since observations indicate acclerating climate change

      in any case, the faster-than-light neutrino is more fun

      maybe it goes a little schizo before changing its mind back from that of an anti-neutrino

    • Tim says:

      I’m not a climate scientist – just a physical inorganic chemist. Nevertheless, the passage,

      “In fact, a climate sensitivity of more than 6 [degrees] would completely freeze over the planet,” Schmittner pointed out, referring to the ice age. Which, of course, didn’t happen. The ice sheets and glaciation only reached so far toward the equator and then stopped. “So, from that observation alone that it was pretty clear to me that those high climate sensitivities are out of the question, as they are virtually impossible.”

      coming from a climate scientist, strikes me as surprisingly naive, at best. The downward temperature sensitivity in ice ages was limited by the fact that the CO₂ driving was never nearly as negative as the future CO₂ driving will be positive – even after accounting for the logarithmic dependence of the driving on atmospheric CO₂ concentration.

      • Leif says:

        In addition most climate predictions going forward do not account for additional forcing from methane release from denuded land instead if green forests, albedo shifts, melting perma frost, grass land instead of jungle, etc. Those forcing all work to enhance CO2 effects where as toward the cold end of the spectrum some are already frozen out others have a negative effect.

  4. Bob LaVelle says:

    Hardy,

    Your reply to Leif and comment on capitalism raises a question. How does an ever-expanding economy operate indefinitely in a finite world? Specifically, how can an economy perpetually expand when it depends upon continuously pulling the atmosphere, the Earth, the oceans, the biosphere, etc., through itself in order to maintain economic growth?

  5. fj says:

    it’s not really clean energy, it’s clean design through and through

    for fun here are some record-breaking zero carbon vehicles

    Sail Rocket http://sailrocket.com/videos_VSR1
    Ice Record challenge: http://bit.ly/tm9C3K
    126 mph Wind Powered Car http://bit.ly/uRsnLK

  6. As much as I see this as an encouraging trend, I’ll be happy when new renewable energy investments produce more gigawatt-hours per year than fossil fuel-based investments.

    In other words, based on this news, how many gigawatt-hours will result from those RE investments compared to fossil fuels? I bet it’s less than half. In many ways, this only helps the fossil fuel folks portray RE as more expensive — that is, they can point to the fact that they supply twice or more energy with the same (or less) investment.

    We have a long way to go, folks. That said, that more capital is flowing to renewable energy projects is a big breakthrough, because this is ultimately about capital reallocation.

  7. james corbett says:

    Conservatives are always bleating about the “free market’s” ability to produce the best results, but a marriage between the “free market” and government is necessary when the costs of research/production of an untested idea are so great that no company can afford the risk. How about a 100 Billion dollar prize to the company that produces a clean alternate fuel that has he same energy content as a gallon of gasoline, but can be sold for 50 cents or less a gallon?

    • Zach says:

      You don’t even have to go so far as 50 cents. Just make this new fuel cost the same, or less per unit of energy as gasoline and everybody would use it. People drive miles to save .20 cents per gallon at a cheaper gas station.

  8. james corbett says:

    Evan a trillion dollar prize would not be too much–we’d get all the money back in a year or two.

  9. James Newberry says:

    When I first glanced at the vertical axis phrase “Installed cost . . . ” I thought of the installed project cost per watt of capacity. Of course, this is incorrect as the graph refers to the life cycle cost of electricity in $/kWh.

    The word “Installed” is not required since if it is not installed the project would not provide any electric service. Nonetheless, it is an outstanding representation of undeniable progress. It also indicates “grid parity” and the resulting tremendous growth potential in the years ahead to assist in replacement of an aging existing utility infrastructure.

    Thanks Climate Progress and Professor Sachs.

  10. Dr.A.Jagadeesh says:

    News Bloomberg is amazing. But the situation in many other countries is quite different Renewables are only supplementary power to Conventional power.

    Dr.A.Jagadeesh Nellore(AP),India
    E-mail: anumakonda.jagadeesh@gmail.com

  11. h4x354x0r says:

    To completely replace our dependence on fossil fuels, we would have to cover roughly 3-5% of the continental US landmass with current PVC technology. (this estimate includes extra capacity for peak use, production for storage to cover intermittency, transmission losses, etc.)

    Besides figuring out which 3-5% of our landmass we would cover, we’ve still got to solve all the problems of storage, transportability, transmission, etc. It’s a huge, huge undertaking. At current production rates, it would take 30 years to produce that many PVC panels. But despite all these hurdles, solar power is the only source of energy that can actually completely replace fossil fuel energy use, with capacity to spare.

    It’s great to see the convergence of relative costs. That means there will be a lot more resources poured into developing and maturing all the technologies required to make it reality. Let’s get going – go solar!

  12. free transit says:

    Renewable energy is being consumed by growth, thereby extending the life of fossil-fuel based corporatism. It will help this system survive longer and hasten the end of civilization.