More than 68% of New European Electricity Capacity Came From Wind and Solar in 2011

As the sovereign debt crisis unfolds in Europe, onlookers have questioned whether the region will stay committed to renewable energy. The answer so far is “yes.”

Even with a few countries pulling back on government support of the industry because of fiscal troubles, 2011 was still a huge year for deployment — with wind and solar alone representing almost 70% of new capacity.

That’s almost a 10-fold increase over deployment in 2000, when only 3.5 GW of renewable energy projects were installed. Last year, 32 GW of renewables — mostly wind and solar — were deployed across European countries.

The figures come from the European Wind Energy Association, which just released a report on industry growth.

Growth in Europe has consistently outstripped forecasts. The EU currently has a target of getting 20% of its final energy (heat, electricity and fuels) from renewable energy. Numerous countries have already surpassed their needed targets in the electricity and heating sectors, and it’s likely that the entire region will move past the goal well ahead of schedule.

It’s expected that renewable electricity sources will meet 34% of demand in Europe by 2020, with 25 of 27 countries to surpass their targets beforehand.

In 2011, solar PV accounted for 26.7% of capacity additions, wind power accounted for 21.4% of additions, and natural gas made up 22% of installations. Below that was coal at 4.8%, fuel oil at 1.6%, large hydro at 1.3%, and concentrating solar power at 1.1% of capacity.

(A side note to anyone confused by terms: It is always important to remember that “capacity” is the ability to do work. It is completely different than actual electricity generation. Just because 68% of new capacity was added in 2011, doesn’t mean that Europe will get 68% more electricity from renewables. Hence, the major differences in generation figures).

So what does Europe’s power capacity mix look like today?

Notice the stunning increase in wind, solar and natural gas — by far the top three choices for developers in the region. However, coal and fuel oil still have a very large market share. Some experts are concerned that a roll back of nuclear in various countries will increase the share of fossil fuels, particularly coal.

But with wind, solar and gas prices all declining to record lows, the combination of those three resources could prevent a sizable increase in coal development.

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8 Responses to More than 68% of New European Electricity Capacity Came From Wind and Solar in 2011

  1. Dr.A.JUagadeesh says:

    Yes. Wind is advancing in leaps and bounds in Germany, Spain etc. and offshore wind in UK. In the coming years it will further catch up.
    Dr.A.Jagadeesh Nellore(AP),India
    Wind Energy Expert

  2. quokka says:

    Just quoting nameplate capacity percentages tells little about effect on emissions. Number of TWh generated by each technology is the important number. According to the latest IEA monthly electricity statistics, the percentages for OECD Europe for the period Jan-Nov 2011 inclusive are:

    Combustible Fuels 52.3%
    Nuclear 25.2%
    Hydro 15.7%
    Geoth./Wind/Solar/Other 6.7%

    Capacity factor matters (a lot) and the figures quoted, in isolation, in the above article are grossly misleading.

  3. John Tucker says:

    Grossly being somewhat of an understatement.

  4. Klaus Kaiser says:

    “Capacity” is a great misnomer for wind or solar power, as it can rarely (if ever) be achieved. The fact is that wind power, on average, creates less than 10% of its “capacity”. In any event, the power grid could not safely handle more than that.

    Klaus Kaiser, Ph.D.

  5. Michael Barnes says:

    Based on my own experience with solar PV in Northern California, solar PV creates about one-sixth of its “capacity.”

  6. Tomas Sluiter says:

    The fact is, there is a TSRF (Total Solar Resource Fraction) that should be calculated before any solar PV instillation.

    Every area will have a insolation value that will tell you what your kWh/KW/yr will be. (minus tilt and orientation of your array….Most can achieve a 100% TSRF and not lose any percentage)

    Without looking I think N. California should have an insolation value of about 1400 kWh/KW of PV. Meaning if you put up a 6KW array (typical large residential size) you will gain 8,400 kWh annually. And lets assume you don’t have a TSRF of 100%.

    Lets say your roof points more westish…with a 40 degree tilt. Your TSRF might be around 80%….You will still create 6,720 kWh annually. More than what the typical house needs to become autonomous.

    At todays rate, you should be able to find an installer who could put up a 6KW array for 18K….And after state and federal subsidies you will probably pay 4K….And never have another electricity bill.

    So when you say “in my experience in N. California solar doesn’t fulfill it’s capacity”. You are really saying nothing. What is your capacity? What is your TSRF? What is your application?

  7. How can a generation resource that has 30-40% capacity factor “create less than 10% of its ‘capacity'”? And the idea that the electricity grid can only handle 10% variable resources is incorrect.

  8. Rodney Glasspoole says:

    Reading the article and then the comments has left me totally confused. Has Europe accomplished something worthwhile or not? Have they reduced dependence on fossil fuels?