Renewables stay on trajectory despite stuttering economies

July 19, 2011
REN21 renewable energy

The Renewable Energy Policy Network for the 21st Century (REN21) says in a new report that, despite the economic recession and incentive cuts in many countries, renewable energy continues to grow rapidly worldwide.

According to the report, which was produced in collaboration with a global network of research partners, renewable energy supplied an estimated 16 percent of global final energy consumption and delivered close to 20 percent of global electricity in 2010. Renewable capacity now comprises about a quarter of total global power-generating capacity.

"The global performance of renewable energy despite headwinds has been a positive constant in turbulent times," says Mohamed El-Ashry, Chairman of REN21's Steering Committee. "Today, more people than ever before derive energy from renewables as capacity continues to grow, prices continue to fall, and shares of global energy from renewable energy continue to increase."

Solar explosion

Globally, wind power added the most new capacity (followed by hydro-power and solar PV), but for the first time ever, Europe added more PV than wind capacity with Germany installing more PV in 2010 than the entire world added in 2009. The global solar PV production and markets more than doubled in comparison with 2009, thanks to government incentive programmes and the continued fall in PV module prices.

The solar sector 2010 saw a more than doubling of the module production compared to the levels of 2009. The REN21 report estimates that there were 23.9 GW of cells and 20 GW of modules produced in 2010, pushing its prices down by 14 percent.

China's JA Solar and US-based First Solar led the market with a share of 6 percent in solar PV, followed by Chinese companies Yingli Green Energy and Trina Solar with 5 percent, and a 4 percent market share for Germany's Q-Cells.

Renewable energy policies continue to be the main driver behind renewable energy growth. By early 2011, at least 119 countries had some type of policy target or renewable support policy at the national level, more than doubling from 55 countries in early 2005. More than half of these countries are in the developing world. Of all the policies employed by governments, feed-in tariffs remain the most common.

As previously revealed in the UNEP Global Trends in Renewable Energy Investment 2011 report, investment in renewables reached a record USD211 billion last year - about a third more than the USD160 billion invested in 2009, and more than five times the amount invested in 2004.

"More and more of the world's people are gaining access to energy services through renewables, not only to meet their basic needs, but also to enable them to develop economically," says El-Ashry.

Renewable energy in even the most remote areas is ensuring that more of the world's people are gaining access to basic energy services, including lighting and communications, cooking, heating and cooling, and water pumping, while also generating economic growth through services such as motive power.

A safe bet

Sven Teske, the renewable energy expert for Greenpeace International, said that the continuing rise of renewable energy is good news for the global economy.

"Renewable energy is proving itself to be a safe bet for investors, and continues to see substantial growth, even in the face of global recession and price wars over oil scarcity. The REN21 findings show that global ambition for a world powered by renewable energy is not only desirable, it is also achievable," Teske said.

But he warned that governments must not be complacent, stressing that the transition to a green economy can only be achieved with the support of policies that favor renewable energy.