Growth of Global Solar and Wind Energy Continues to Outpace Other Technologies

New Worldwatch Institute study examines the global market for solar and wind energy production.


| August 12, 2013



Use of wind energy

Solar power consumption increased by 58 percent, and the use of wind power increased by 18 percent.


Photo by Fotolia/chungking

Global use of solar and wind energy continued to grow significantly in 2012. Solar power consumption increased by 58 percent, to 93 terrawatt-hours (TWh), and the use of wind power increased by 18 percent, to 521 TWh. Although hydropower remains the world's leading renewable energy, solar and wind energy continue to dominate investment in new renewable capacity and are quickly becoming the highest-profile renewable energy sources, write Worldwatch staff in the Institute's latest Vital Signs Online trend.

Global solar and wind energy capacities continued to grow even though new investments in these energy sources declined during 2012. Global investment in solar energy in 2012 was $140.4 billion, an 11 percent decline from 2011, and wind investment was down 10 percent, to $80.3 billion. But due to lower costs for both technologies, total installed capacities grew sharply.

Solar photovoltaic (PV) installed capacity grew by 41 percent in 2012, reaching 100 gigawatts (GW). Over the past five years alone, installed PV capacity grew by 900 percent from 10 GW in 2007. The countries with the most installed PV capacity today are Germany (32.4 GW), Italy (16.4 GW), the United States (7.2 GW), and China (7.0 GW).

Europe remains dominant in solar, accounting for 76 percent of global solar power use in 2012. Germany alone accounted for 30 percent of the world's solar power consumption, and Italy added the third most capacity of any country in 2012 (3.4 GW). Spain added the most concentrating solar thermal power capacity (950 MW) in 2012 as well. However, Italy reached the subsidy cap for its feed-in tariff (FIT) program in June 2013 while Spain recently made a retroactive change in its FIT policies, meaning growth in solar energy will likely slow in these countries in the near future.

Due to slowing global economic growth, easing demand, and oversupply, there were significant net losses in the Chinese PV industry, which supplies more than half of the world market. The net losses have been exacerbated by growing trade wars between China and both the European Union (EU) and the United States after these regions accused Chinese companies of dumping solar panels on their markets. Meanwhile, China's domestic demand is likely to grow. The country's 12th Five-Year Plan aims to reach 21 GW installed solar capacity by 2015 and 50 GW by 2020.

Total installed wind capacity edged up in 2012 by 45 GW to a total of 284 GW, an 18.9 percent increase from 2011. In keeping with recent years, the majority of new installed capacity was concentrated in China and the United States, which reached total installed capacities of 75.3 GW and 60 GW, respectively.

windyoldman
8/16/2013 9:06:16 AM

Polysilicon production is solar's dirty little secret. Polysilicon, or "poly" is the raw material used for making solar cells and requires a massive amount of energy to create. Once the stock is created, it must still be milled, fabricated, and installed in panels...consuming more energy, most likely from fossil fuel or nuclear energy sources. The reactors create a toxic by-product, they are hot and under massive pressures... the reaction is very tricky. Unlike both solar and nuclear power, there are no reactors or waste products, and the power density is 100-1000 times that of solar. The US is taking the correct course to develop wind over solar.






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