Growing Power

on July 29, 2011 at 11:15 AM

Renewable energy is increasingly at the core of the global electricity sector, propelling much of its growth.

Renewable energy delivered almost a fifth of global electricity production in 2010 and now comprises some 25% of global power-generating capacity, reflecting proactive government policies worldwide, particularly in China, according to the latest global assessment of renewables development.

The Renewables 2011 Global Status Report, released on Thursday, found that wind, solar, biomass, and other renewable fuels accounted for about half of the estimated 194 gigawatts of new electricity capacity added during 2010, and that their use grew strongly in all end-use sectors — power, heat and transport.

For more on the increased viability of renewable energy amid rapid sector growth, see: Sunlight Synergies.

Existing renewable power capacity rose to 1,320 GW in 2010, up 8% from 2009, while renewables excluding hydro generated 312 GW, an increase of 25%, according to the report from the Worldwatch Institute, a Washington DC-based environmental policy organization.

“Renewables are growing at an enormous rate,” said Alexander Ochs, the group’s climate and energy director, who called for a further increase to slow climate change.

“If we want to prevent climate change from spinning out of control, we need to scale up our efforts to accelerate renewable-energy development,” Ochs said in a statement.

Global new investment in renewable energy rose to $211 billion last year from $160 billion in 2009, and more than five times the amount invested in 2004.

Within the total, investment in renewable-energy companies, utility-scale generation, and biofuel projects rose 17% to $143 billion, a majority of which was invested for the first time in developing countries, notably China.

Solar voltaics added 17 GW, more than twice their growth rate in 2009, for a total of 40 GW, or some seven times the capacity in place in 2005, according to the 116-page report.

Wind capacity grew by 38 GW to 198 GW, driven primarily by China, which accounted for half the global market. China also dominated the world market for solar hot water capacity, which grew by 25 GW in 2010. Increases were also seen in the contribution of hydropower, biomass, and biofuels, notably ethanol.

Leveling The Playing Field

The new investment is being driven by government policy, the report said. At least 119 countries had official goals or policies for renewables use, more than twice the number in 2005. At least 95 countries have policies that support renewable power generation.

But the alternative energy portfolio standards adopted by many US states are hurting utilities by requiring them to use increasing proportions of higher-cost renewable fuels to meet the standards, said George Ellis, president of the Pennsylvania Coal Association, whose members produce about 80% of the state’s bituminous coal.

The renewable requirements–in Pennsylvania’s case, 18% by 2020–are cutting into the market share of coal and other fossil fuels that could generate power more cheaply, Ellis said, calling for a “level playing field” in which all fuels can compete on cost.

“If you want energy security, you can’t afford to exclude any energy sources,” he said, noting that wind and solar currently generate less than 1% of Pennsylvania’s power.

The report said the biggest increase in renewable capacity was seen in China, which added an estimated 29 GW of grid-connected renewable capacity, an increase of 12% over 2009. Renewables accounted for some 26% of China’s total installed electric capacity in 2010, 18% of generation, and 9% of final energy consumption.

In Germany, which aims to get half its electricity from renewables by 2030, 16.8% of electricity consumed was from renewable sources, and about a third of that came from wind power.

In the US, renewable energy accounted for 10.9% of domestic primary energy production, an increase of 5.6% from 2009.

Photo Caption: Construction workers erect solar panels at Weighbridge, Wheal Jane, Baldhu on July 7, 2011 near Truro, England. A ceremony was held to mark the connection of the 1.4 KW solar farm, which on a 6.2 acre plot is the first in the South West and biggest in the UK to date, using 5,680 panels.