Renewable Energy 2010: 16% of Global Energy; Nearly 11% in the US

REN21’s “Renewables 2011″ Global Status Report is a remarkable one, particularly in light of the lasting effects of the “Great Recession” and all that took place in 2010. The REN21 report shows that renewable energy growth was strong last year.

Renewable resources wound up supplying 16% of global final energy consumption and showed strong growth in all three sectors tracked – power, heat and transport. When it comes to electricity, renewable resources supplied an estimated 20% of global annual demand. Renewable power accounted for approximately 50% of new electric capacity globally and delivered nearly 20% of the global electricity supply. By early 2011, fully 25% of global power capacity from all sources came from renewables.

Particularly noteworthy, China and emerging market countries now account for more than 50% of renewable energy resources, while renewable energy rose 5.6% in the US, to account for about 10.9% of domestic primary energy production.

Design and process improvements, manufacturing cost reductions and improved efficiency, particularly in solar, but across the board in wind turbines and biofuel and biomass processing technology all contributed to growth.

Support for renewable energy in terms of government policy continued to improve as well. At least 118 countries had some form of renewable energy policy target or support policy in place at the national level, that’s more than double the number that did in 2005, when REN21 issued its first report.

A Tumultuous Year in Review

“2010 proved to be an eventful year in terms of significant events affecting the renewable energy industry and markets,” REN21 chairman Mohamad El-Ashry notes in the foreword of the report. The US and EU governments continued their attempts to support fledgling economic recoveries and stave off another financial system collapse as their counterparts in China and other leading emerging market countries criticized the US and began to initiate actions to stem rising inflation and the international hot money flows into their countries.

The upward trend of agricultural and metals prices remained intact as investors and savers continued to lose faith in the US dollar and other fiat currencies of the world’s largest developed economies.

Several events highlighted the external, “exogenous” economic risks and threats associated with our overwhelming dependence on oil, natural gas and coal.

2010 will be remembered as the year BP‘s Macondo offshore oil platform exploded in the Gulf of Mexico, resulting in deaths and lasting environmental and economic damage. ‘Arab Spring’ revolts against de facto dictatorships in the Middle East rocked the region, causing further environmental damage while radically altering and heightening uncertainty with regard to oil and natural gas production, international relations and overall economic prospects.

Natural gas prices continued weak as “fracking,” or hydraulic fracturing of tightly packed, carbon-rich shale deposits gained credence and popularity around the world, which also led to increasing concerns about its environmental and health effects, as well as the regulators’ ability to adequately assess them and prevent catastrophes.

Climate Change 2010: Drought and Polar Thawing

2010 average global surface temperature tied 2005 as the warmest year on record. Evidence of the potential impacts for ongoing climate change were seen in persistent dry or drought conditions in several important agricultural regions around the world, including the western US, Australia, Russia and parts of the Amazon Basin.

Warming in the polar regions continued, heightening concerns about the possible effects of glacial melting on ocean currents and climate, as well as sea levels. Oil companies, the “bonanza” syndrome was evident as oil and gas companies intensified lobbying efforts for permission to explore for oil and natural gas in the Arctic.

Growth Across the Board

In the face of all that transpired, trends reflect strong growth and investment across all market sectors, according to the REN21 report.

On average, solar PV, wind power, concentrating solar thermal power (CSP), solar water heating systems and biofuels grew from around 15% to nearly 50% annually between 2005 and 2010.
Biomass and geothermal for power and heat grew strongly, as well, while wind power added the most new capacity, followed by hydropower and solar PV.

Following are some additional highlights from REN21’s 2010 Global Status Report:

In the United States, renewable energy accounted for about 10.9% of domestic primary energy production (compared with nuclear’s 11.3%), an increase of 5.6% relative to 2009.

China added an estimated 29 GW of grid-connected renewable capacity, for a total of 263 GW, an increase of 12% compared with 2009. Renewables accounted for about 26% of China’s total installed electric capacity, 18% of generation, and more than 9% of final energy consumption in 2010.

Germany met 11% of its total final energy consumption with renewable sources, which accounted for 16.8% of electricity consumption, 9.8% of heat production (mostly from biomass), and 5.8% of transport fuel consumption. Wind power accounted for nearly 36% of renewable generation, followed by biomass, hydropower, and solar photovoltaics (PV).

Several countries met higher shares of their electricity demand with wind power in 2010, including Denmark (22%), Portugal (21%), Spain (15.4%), and Ireland (10.1%).

An independent journalist, researcher and writer, my work roams across the nexus where ecology, technology, political economy and sociology intersect and overlap. The lifelong quest for knowledge of the world and self -- not to mention gainful employment -- has led me near and far afield, from Europe, across the Asia-Pacific, Middle East and Africa and back home to the Americas. Twitter: @mightysparrow LinkedIn: andrew burger Google+: Andrew B Email: