2013: More Solar Than Wind

on November 29, 2013 at 12:00 PM

President Obama Visits Largest Photovoltaic Plant In U.S. In Nevada

Solar poised to challenge wind’s historical dominance

According to a newly released report by Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF), 2013 is expected to become the first year in which solar PVs beat wind in terms of megawatts of new installed capacity on a global level. It is a remarkable feat for solar energy, which is predicted to add 36.7 GW of new PV capacity vs. 35.5 GW for wind – 33.8 GW onshore plus 1.7GW offshore. In 2012, wind added 46.6 GW compared to 30.5 GW for solar PVs.

Data from NPD Solarbuzz indicates that over 9 GW of solar PVs will be installed globally in the 3rd Qtr 2013, a new record.

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A slowdown in the world’s two largest wind markets, China and the US, is responsible for the PVs taking the lead. Moreover, BNEF predicts that after years of oversupply and depressed profits, both sectors may move back to profitability in 2013. “Cost cuts and a refocusing on profitable markets and business segments have bolstered the financial performance of wind turbine makers and the surviving solar manufacturers,” said Michael Liebreich, chief executive of BNEF, adding, “Stock market investors have been noticing this change, and clean energy shares have rebounded by 66% since their lows of July 2012.”

BNEF’s head solar analyst Jenny Chase sees the dramatic cost reductions, combined with new incentive regimes in Japan and China, are increasing the likelihood of further, strong growth in PV volumes despite reduced solar incentives in Europe and adjustments made elsewhere.

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BNEF’s head of wind analysis, Justin Wu expects wind installations to shrink by as much as 25% in 2013, to their lowest level since 2008, due to projected slowdowns in the US and China caused by policy uncertainty. “However, falling technology costs, new markets and the growth of the offshore industry will ensure wind remains a leading renewable energy technology,” says Wu.

According to BNEF, onshore wind and PVs will contribute more or less equally to the world’s new electricity capacity additions between now and 2030. Wind is expected to account for 17% of the world’s new installed generation capacity by 2030 from 5% in 2012; the corresponding numbers for PVs are 16 and 2%. Global installed solar capacity.

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Perry Sioshansi is the President of Menlo Energy Economics and Editor & Publisher of EEnergy Informer. He can be reached at fpsioshansi@aol.com.
His latest two books are Energy Efficiency: Towards the End of Demand Growth and Evolution of Global Electricity Markets, both published in 2013 by Elsevier. Further details & 30% discount available here


  • Doug

    This news is certainly a long time coming! May the trend continue and complimentary tech advances abound.

    (BTW there’s a minor typo in the first table heading.)

  • Glenn

    Thanks for your update. Do you have information that indicates that the spate of solar installations (electric, thermal, lighting) in the US are due to factors other than federal and state subsidies?

    For example, recent US Treasury data on grants under section 1603 of the ARRA indicate that Treasury so far has passed out:

    3 grants totaling $92,641 for “solar lighting.”

    467 grants totaling $150,846,854 for “solar thermal.”

    7440 grants totaling $4,714,566,976 for “solar electricity.”

    These numbers do not include other federal tax breaks and subsidies for solar.


    • James Johnston

      Good question Glenn. I am sure you will be happy to know that in Utah (we actually have the fourth lowest electrical rates in the USA), Solar has achieved grid parity already, without any tax credits whatsoever. See …


      In addition, the learning rate associated with solar manufacturing suggests (calculated over the last couple of decades) suggests that solar efficiencies are approaching the rate of Moore’s law. Once again, I am sure you will be delighted to realize that the subsidies did exactly what they were designed to do. Likewise, I suspect that you recognize that the Depletion Allowance has probably outlived its usefulness!

  • Veritasortruth

    What do you do at night, in the wintertime or on days when there is no Sun? And what about when these panels get covered in dust? The last time I drove through the deserts of Nevada, Arizona and California on a trip I had about 1/16″ of dust on my car. Isn’t that going to happen with solar panels? Won’t that block out the sun or diminish the power output?

    • Bradley Brache

      -Solar panels actually collect solar energy BETTER in the winter.
      -Solar panels collect solar energy (pretty much) all day and all night. There are certain points of the day that are more OPTIMAL than others.
      -Dust will not diminish the power output as must as you may expect.

      If you are interested in getting a free solar quote please contact me directly:
      bbrache@wattsmarketingservicesinc.com or 410.218.4965

      • EMartin

        Dust actually does diminish power, but driving through the desert is a lot different than a panel sitting stationary. And the panels are washed on a regular basis to keep performance up.

    • Jeremy Gottlieb

      In order for solar (and wind) to become even larger players in the energy field, storage technology will need to continue to improve to release energy back into the grid when the Sun isn’t shining or the wind isn’t blowing. The dust is a factor that diminishes efficiency, but cleaning it will become a necessary task that will require laborers or robots to do. The NYT wrote a really interesting piece on solar panel-cleaning robots.