Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Renewables Are 50% of World's New 2011 Generation Capacity

The numbers are simply stunning, but they add up to the Golden Age of Renewable Energy.

One-half of the 208,000 megawatts of new generating capacity built in the world during 2011 were renewable energy power plants. Wow!

In the USA, renewables accounted for 39% of all generation capacity added during 2011.

The world now has 1,360,000 megawatts of renewable energy generation.  That is more electric generation capacity than the total generating capacity of all types in the USA.

Global 2011 renewables investment reached $257 billion, with solar exploding to $147 billion.  The USA saw $51 billion invested in renewables last year.

Solar and wind prices fell 50% and 10% respectively around the world, as economies of scale and technical improvements make these power sources cheaper with the passing of each year.

These and many, many more numbers are in the Renewables 2012 Global Status Report that is compiled REN21.  For the Report, go to: .ren21.net/default.aspx?tabid=5434.  A summary of the report can be found at: esciencenews.com/articles/2012/06/11/global.investment.renewable.energy.powers.record.257.billion.

I urge a review of the report and then ask yourself, do you agree with Mr. Fanning's view (CEO of Southern Company) that renewables are a niche play?

The Golden Age of Renewables is underway and will coincide with the natural gas booms.


  1. Is the renewable wattage you cite nominal (name plate) wats or are they actual wats produced?
    Usually, renewables (wind and solar) produce maybe 25% of nominal wats, because of intemittency.

    This tendency to ignore this fact and to compare fosil power plant capacity to renewable nominal capacity is standard practice of renewables enthusiasts, but it seens dishonest to me.

  2. It is capacity built in 2011. You are right that capacity of course is not the same as production. Generally renewables have lower capacity, though natural gas plants in the USA operated at a fraction of their capacity when gas prices were high.

  3. "Generally renewables have lower capacity"
    That's an understatement. Renewables have, typically, 25% capacity, while gas plants have, potentially, about 90% capacity. (10% of tthe time is for maintenance).
    Another big difference is that gas plants can be fired up when you want, i.e. - when you need them, while renewables produce intermittently, at unpredicatble times, and are not available as needed.
    Finally: the big quantity of renewables that was built, was built not because they are useful and competitive, i.e. not because of technical or economic considerations, but because of arbitrary mandates by governments. Absent the mandates there would be no renewables (except hydro).

    1. 1. biomass plants have high capacity factors and they are the second biggest source of renewables after hydro.
      Geothermal and concentrated solar thermal plants have high capacity factors too. Offshore wind and good wind resource land wind farms have factors around 40%,

      GE states that its wind farms produce electricity at 5 cents per kilowatt-hour, a very competitive price for new generation, and that is without subsidies.

      Solar is at grid parity in 200 of 1200 utility service territories in the USA.
      Solar at a business or home competes against the electric rate that includes generation, transmission, and distribution.

      The only thing that has declined as much as gas in price in the last 3 years is solar, with wind not farm behind.

  4. Solar and wind still can't compete without mandates or subsidies.
    Solar on home roofs or businesses are at "grid parity" because they don't pay for the grid or distribution system, and don't pay for the backup power infrastracture. Still they would not be installed, i.e. - won't be economical, unless there was a mandate for utilities to buy any excess solar power (above self consuption) at retail prices.

    Wind needs expensive extra connecting power lines. It also enjoys mandates: utilities are forced to buy all the power that wind produces, whether needed at the moment it is supplied, or not.

    My assertion is correct: without subsidies and mandates there would be no wind or solar instalations at all.

    Spain declared a moratorium on renewable subsidies in January, and not one wat of new renewable capacity was installed since then (except for projects that have been approved before that date).

    1. You have changed your assertion. You first said that without subsidies and mandates there would be no renewables built. Now you say that without subsidies and mandates there would be no wind or solar built. Big difference.

      In Europe gas costs about $10 per mcf. In Asia it costs $16. Wind is competitive with gas at about $5 per mcf. It is competitive with coal too when a good wind resource is available. And that is without addressing the considerable issue of external costs that are not included in the price of electricity. Wind most certainly will be built in many parts of the world, including some parts of the USA, given the 5 cent pricing.

      Texas is installing wind when it is 13 years ahead of its mandate. In other words it met the mandate 13 years ahead of schedule. It is tough to beat 5 cent power for new construction. Wind on the Gulf Coast of Texas is particularly competitive and attractive. There are many other examples.

      When a utility price is at about 14 cents per kilowatt-hour bundled, solar today will often provide a lower cost levelized cost of energy over a 25 year period than any reasonable projection of grid power. That would be true with or without net metering.

      Moreover solar produces best close to the hours of highest prices in the generation market. Texas is considering allowing peak prices to go to $9 per kilowatt-hour. Solar produces well in the hottest and most expensive 500 hours in the year.

      But the key point is that solar and wind continue to fall sharply in price but now from an already competitive position in some places (high utility/generation costs plus strong wind or solar resource).

  5. You again ignore the elephant in the room: fossil electricity is 14 cents, but it is available as needed, wind is 5 cents (maybe) but unavailable on demand, and, mostly not needed when available - at night.
    The utility that uses wind, has to build a fossil plant as backup, so it's costs would be the costs of the fossil plant + the cost of the wind turbine.

    Under current laws, the utilities are forced to buy every watt that wind supplies - that is the mandate which, when canceled, renders wind un-economic. There are also, usually, feed in tariffs which also fix the price for years in advance.

    The wind farms built in Texas and everywhere else rely on this mandate - that assures them that every watt produced will be promptly paid for, and at usually high feed in prices - not the 5 cents it might cost.

    Solar power makes more sense than wind, but it, too, is uncompetitive without feed in tariffs and mandates.

    From your original piece one might have got the impression that wind and solar compete with fossil power on an equal basis. That is false, wind and solar are driven by mandates and feed in tariffs. When you compare fossil capacity to wind and solar capacity (as you did) you compare apples to oranges.

    As to the assertion that wind and solar will continue to fall sharply in price - that's a prophecy which will have to be tested with the time.

  6. Jacob:

    Every power plant must be backed up on grids. PJM keeps spinning reserves going all the time and did so before any wind or solar were on the grid. Why? Because a nuke or big coal plant can stop without warning production. Typically the amount of spinning reserve is sized to be more than the single biggest power plant that operates on a grid. Again no machine or power plant does not need back up, though the smaller units pose less risk to the system. Analysis shows that wind does not add to the need for back-up until it reaches the 5% to 10% level for a grid. Then the additional cost is about 0.5 cents per kilowatt-hour. New wind costs 5 cents. Add 0,5 cents if you want. It is still highly competitive because it has no fuel cost and will see essentially minor cost increases over 25 years of production. Wind in wholesale markets bid zero (as do nukes) because it has very low production costs (zero fuel again) and is always dispatched. It takes whatever the market clearing price is and can do so because its production costs are well below 1 cent per kilowatt-hour. Wind is being built in Texas even though the mandate has been completed 13 years ahead of schedule. It is being built in Indiana without a mandate. Its total cost for new generation is attractive and competitive with gas when gas is at $5 per mcf. In most of the world, gas is much more than that.

  7. I would like all subsidies, mandates and feed-in tariffs to stop, and them we'll see how competitive wind and solar are.

    The "green' capacity that has been built so far (except hydro) has been built under the regime of mandates, subsidies and feed-in tariffs, so it cant' be compared to other power plants, which don't receive these subsidies.

  8. Jacob, your assertions are patently incorrect. It is all spelled out in the attached document but if you don't care to read all of it, both conventional (fossil fuel) and nuclear generation have been receiving LARGER subsidies than renewable generation has.


    I don't know how else put it. Even so, we should prefer (and be willing to pay more for) renewable electricity. One must consider the staggering environmental, healthcare, political, and other costs associated with using fossil fuels (especially coal). Without accounting for these additional costs, it isn't possible to make an apples to apples comparison between conventional and renewable power.