The recession was supposed to slow down white-hot renewable energy growth. A lack of financing and tax equity was to reduce the wind and solar markets as much as 50% in 2009. Instead, last year brought new records in capacity additions. Wind power in the US grew 9.9 GW (almost 40%) to extend the US lead as top producer of wind power globally. And while robust solar numbers won’t be available until March, many analysts predict that the solar market definitely grew in the US and probably throughout the world.
Global Growth Shines
The global wind power market also grew at an astounding rate — clocking a 37.5% growth rate in its annual market (37 GW vs. 27 GW in 2008). China’s annual growth became the biggest in the world at 13 GW, which makes sense due to their larger electricity demand growth. At the end of 2009, China became the 3rd largest wind energy producer after the US and Germany (35.1 GW, 25.8 GW, and 25.1 GW). China will become the 2nd biggest wind producer in 2010 and may challenge the US by 2011.
The global solar market didn’t grow as quickly due to the collapse of its top market of 2008 — Spain (~50% of the world market that year). But Germany rode to the rescue and extended its lead as the biggest solar power producer in the world (it may have passed 8 GW). Germans took advantage of a 40+% decrease in solar module prices and had record growth (becoming ~50% of the global market themselves).
In the US
As I wrote last year, wind was already replacing oil-fired electricity in 2008. In 2009, wind took some market share from the most polluting power source, coal. In the years ahead, wind and solar can provide for new electricity demand growth and then begin to take significant bites out of the market for the leading electricity sources, coal and natural gas.
At 35 GW, wind now produces ~2% of US electricity demand. At almost 2 GW, solar produces ~.1% of US electricity demand. Biomass and geothermal produce ~1.5% and hydro almost 7%. The big three power sources today are nuclear (~20%), natural gas (~23%), and coal (~45%). When you look at particular states, it is exciting to see that wind power already provides three states with more than 20% of their power needs (Wyoming, Iowa, and North Dakota). By 2023, wind could provide 20% of the whole country’s electricity and solar another 12.5% (based on growth rates of 17.6% per year for wind – half the recent rate – and 40.4% for solar – a slight pickup from the last few years).
The US Energy Information Administration predicts US demand growth for electricity at a rate of 1% per year through 2035. I personally think that rate is higher than necessary as electricity demand growth has fallen every decade since the 1950s and it only grew .4% per year in the ’00s. Increased efficiency efforts can help electricity demand stay flat or even fall, as Google presents in its Clean Energy 2030 Plan.
Trends in Europe as a Glimpse at Our Future?
Europe installed over 10 GW of wind power capacity in 2009. The continent now gets ~9% of its electricity from wind and wind was the top source of of new electrical capacity at 39%. Solar power was third at 16% after natural gas which supplied 26%. Adding hydro and biomass, renewable energy provided 61% of new capacity. Meanwhile, coal is on the decline, as over 3 GW were decommissioned. The US can accomplish this same feat of most new demand coming from renewables in 2010 and beyond.
Price Curves Favorable for Wind & Solar
The prices of wind and solar should continue to drop in 2010, as opposed to an increase in the price of oil, natural gas, and coal. This trend should help maintain swift growth from these sources and make them the new energy titans within a few more years.
The Human Toll of Fossil Fuels
As I discussed a few months back, our addiction to fossil fuels has a serious human toll (on top of inducing global warming and hurting air quality). The tragic blast at a Connecticut power plant that killed at least five people today is a grim reminder of this. Our transition to an efficient reliance on renewable energy will help to reduce such accidents in the future.
Nuclear & “Clean Coal” Not a Near-term Remedy
While Obama has been trumpeting nuclear and “clean coal” as a necessary bridge to a renewable energy future that he thinks is decades away, renewables are actually better situated to provide for us. It takes ten years to commission and build a new nuclear power plant. And carbon sequestration coal is not market-ready yet. In contrast, wind and solar are growing quickly, proven technologies, and falling in cost. Here’s to further record growth for wind and solar in 2010 — finally putting to rest any doubts that they can lead us to a new climate-friendly energy future.
Onwards in the Sustainable Energy Transition-