Solar, Wind and Biofuel: A $246B Market in 2011

For those wondering if the clean energy economy will ever really take flight, there’s some renewable light at the end of the tunnel.

A report from Clean Edge that’s aptly titled “Clean Energy Trends 2012” says the solar photovoltaic, wind, and biofuel markets grew by 31 percent to $246.1 billion last year.

That’s a nice number but still nothing to compare with just the aggregate profits of the fossil fuel guys: over the past decade the top five oil and gas companies alone reported more than $1 trillion in profits and another $71 billion in profits during the first half of 2011. In addition, the oil, gas and coal industries receive massive subsidies, about six times as many as the global clean-energy industry, according to the report.

But that’s the same old depressing story. Clean Edge’s analysis of global clean-energy activity includes growth forecasts and market-sizing for the major clean-energy sectors as well as analyses of solar PV pricing, public market activity and performance, venture capital investments, and emerging industry trends.

Major findings from the report include:

  • The global market for solar photovoltaics increased from $71.2 billion in 2010 to $91.6 billion in 2011. While total market revenues were up 29 percent, installations grew more than 69 percent from 15.6 gigawatts in 2010 to more than 26 GW worldwide last year due to rapidly declining solar costs.
  • Last year’s global wind power installations equaled 41.6 GW, the largest year for global installations on record. Wind power totaled a record $71.5 billion in 2011, up 18 percent from $60.5 billion the prior year, and is projected to reach $116.3 billion in 2021.
  • Biofuels reached a record $83 billion in 2011, up from $56.4 billion the prior year. The increase was mostly due to a rise in ethanol and biodiesel prices, the result of higher costs for feedstock commodities.
  • The Clean Edge report projected that the cost to install solar PV systems will fall from an average of $3.47 per watt globally in 2011 to $1.28 within the next decade.
  • U.S.-based venture capital investments in clean tech increased 30 percent to $6.6 billion in 2011, according to data provided by Cleantech Group. The report found that clean tech’s percentage of total U.S. venture capital investments accounted for a record 23.2 percent of total U.S. venture activity last year.

Some clean-energy trends to watch this year include: greater military leadership on clean-energy deployment; a post-nuclear future in Japan; “deep retrofitting” of commercial buildings for energy efficiency; improvement and innovation in the waste-to-energy industry and new developments in energy storage.

Those are exciting developments and a quarter-trillion-dollar market for the solar, wind and biofuel sectors is impressive. While there’s still a long road ahead, maybe we are getting closer to the days of wind on our farms, sun on our rooftop solar panels and biofuel in our tanks.

[Image credit: “Clean Energy Trends 2012” cover via the Clean Edge website]


writer, editor, reader and general good (ok mostly good, well sometimes good) guy trying to get by

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