Growth of Global Solar and Wind Energy Continues to Outpace Other Technologies
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.
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Although hydropower remains the world’s leading renewable energy, solar and wind 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 U.S. (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 U.S. 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 twelfth 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 U.S., which reached total installed capacities of 75.3 GW and 60 GW, respectively.
The U.S. was the world’s top wind market in 2012. Overall capacity increased 28 percent as the country added 13.1 GW, double the amount it added in 2011. Increased domestic manufacturing of wind turbine parts, improved technological efficiency and lower costs helped spur this increase, but the greatest catalyst was the threat of expiration of the federal Production Tax Credit (PTC)—which provides tax credits for kilowatt-hours produced by wind turbines—at the end of 2012.
A slowdown was originally expected in 2013, but the U.S. Congress extended the PTC until the end of the year, which bodes well for many U.S. and European wind turbine and parts manufacturers that benefit from it.
The EU remained a dominant region for wind power, as it passed an important milestone by installing 11.9 GW of new capacity to reach 106 GW, representing 37.5 percent of the world’s market. Currently, wind accounts for 11.4 percent of the EU’s total installed generation capacity. Germany and Spain remained Europe’s largest wind markets, increasing their total installed capacity to 31.3 GW and 22.8 GW, respectively. The United Kingdom was third in new installations in 2012, at 1.9 GW, followed by Italy with 1.3 GW.
“Although policy uncertainties and changes will likely challenge the growth of solar and wind in the future, these technologies are nonetheless well poised to grow,” said Matt Lucky, report co-author and sustainable energy lead researcher at Worldwatch. “Declining solar technology prices, while challenging for current manufacturers, are helping solar to reach near grid-parity in many markets. With the decreasing cost of operating and maintaining wind farms, wind power is already cost competitive with conventional power energy sources in many markets.”
Further highlights from the new Worldwatch Institute report examining the global market for solar and wind energy production include:
- In 2012, installed capacity for concentrating solar thermal power (CSP) reached 2.55 GW, with 970 megawatts (MW) alone added in 2012.
- The Asia-Pacific region now accounts for 17 percent of global solar use, leaving it behind only Europe.
- Asia’s 15.5 GW of new installed wind capacity, the highest of any region in 2012, ensured that it remains on the heels of the EU.
- Political instability continued to slow growth in Africa and the Middle East, but installed capacity grew by 9.3 percent in 2012 compared with 2011’s rate of 2.6 percent.
Visit EcoWatch’s RENEWABLES page for more related news on this topic.
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One of nature's epic events is underway: Monarch butterflies' fall migration. Departing from all across the United States and Canada, the butterflies travel up to 2,500 miles to cluster at the same locations in Mexico or along the Pacific Coast where their great-grandparents spent the previous winter.
Millions of People Care About Monarchs<p>I will never forget the sights and sounds the first time I visited monarchs' overwintering sites in Mexico. Our guide pointed in the distance to what looked like hanging branches covered with dead leaves. But then I saw the leaves flash orange every so often, revealing what were actually thousands of tightly packed butterflies. The monarchs made their most striking sounds in the Sun, when they burst from the trees in massive fluttering plumes or landed on the ground in the tussle of mating.</p><p>Decades of educational outreach by teachers, researchers and hobbyists has cultivated a generation of monarch admirers who want to help preserve this phenomenon. This global network has helped restore not only monarchs' summer breeding habitat by planting milkweed, but also general pollinator habitat by planting nectaring flowers across North America.</p><p>Scientists have calculated that restoring the monarch population to a stable level of about 120 million butterflies will require <a href="https://doi.org/10.1111/icad.12198" target="_blank">planting 1.6 billion new milkweed stems</a>. And they need them fast. This is too large a target to achieve through grassroots efforts alone. A <a href="https://www.fws.gov/savethemonarch/CCAA.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">new plan</a>, announced in the spring of 2020, is designed to help fill the gap.</p>
Pros and Cons of Regulation<p>The top-down strategy for saving monarchs gained energy in 2014, when the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service <a href="https://www.fws.gov/southeast/pdf/petition/monarch.pdf" target="_blank">proposed</a> listing them as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. A decision is expected in December 2020.</p><p>Listing a species as endangered or threatened <a href="https://www.fws.gov/endangered/esa-library/pdf/listing.pdf" target="_blank">triggers restrictions</a> on "taking" (hunting, collecting or killing), transporting or selling it, and on activities that negatively affect its habitat. Listing monarchs would impose restrictions on landowners in areas where monarchs are found, over vast swaths of land in the U.S.</p><p>In my opinion, this is not a reason to avoid a listing. However, a "threatened" listing might inadvertently threaten one of the best conservation tools that we have: public education.</p><p>It would severely restrict common practices, such as rearing monarchs in classrooms and back yards, as well as scientific research. Anyone who wants to take monarchs and milkweed for these purposes would have to apply for special permits. But these efforts have had a multigenerational educational impact, and they should be protected. Few public campaigns have been more successful at raising awareness of conservation issues.</p>
<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="91165203d4ec0efc30e4632a00fdf57d"><iframe lazy-loadable="true" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/KilPRvjbMrA?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span>
The Rescue Attempt<p>To preempt the need for this kind of regulation, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service approved a <a href="https://www.fws.gov/savethemonarch/pdfs/Monarch%20CCAA-CCA%20Public%20Comment%20Documents/Monarch-Nationwide_CCAA-CCA_Draft.pdf" target="_blank">Nationwide Candidate Conservation Agreement for Monarch Butterflies</a>. Under this plan, "rights-of-way" landowners – energy and transportation companies and private owners – commit to restoring and creating millions of acres of pollinator habitat that have been decimated by land development and herbicide use in the past half-century.</p><p>The agreement was spearheaded by the <a href="http://rightofway.erc.uic.edu/" target="_blank">Rights-of-Way Habitat Working Group</a>, a collaboration between the University of Illinois Chicago's <a href="https://erc.uic.edu/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Energy Resources Center</a>, the Fish and Wildlife Service and over 40 organizations from the energy and transportation sectors. These sectors control "rights-of-way" corridors such as lands near power lines, oil pipelines, railroad tracks and interstates, all valuable to monarch habitat restoration.</p><p>Under the plan, partners voluntarily agree to commit a percentage of their land to host protected monarch habitat. In exchange, general operations on their land that might directly harm monarchs or destroy milkweed will not be subject to the enhanced regulation of the Endangered Species Act – protection that would last for 25 years if monarchs are listed as threatened. The agreement is expected to create up to 2.3 million acres of new protected habitat, which ideally would avoid the need for a "threatened" listing.</p>
A Model for Collaboration<p>This agreement could be one of the few specific interventions that is big enough to allow researchers to quantify its impact on the size of the monarch population. Even if the agreement produces only 20% of its 2.3 million acre goal, this would still yield nearly half a million acres of new protected habitat. This would provide a powerful test of the role of declining breeding and nectaring habitat compared to other challenges to monarchs, such as climate change or pollution.</p><p>Scientists hope that data from this agreement will be made publicly available, like projects in the <a href="https://www.fws.gov/savethemonarch/MCD.html" target="_blank">Monarch Conservation Database</a>, which has tracked smaller on-the-ground conservation efforts since 2014. With this information we can continue to develop powerful new models with better accuracy for determining how different habitat factors, such as the number of milkweed stems or nectaring flowers on a landscape scale, affect the monarch population.</p><p>North America's monarch butterfly migration is one of the most awe-inspiring feats in the natural world. If this rescue plan succeeds, it could become a model for bridging different interests to achieve a common conservation goal.</p>
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