Renewable energy growing fast

Posted: 6 November 2005

Global investment in renewable energy set a new record of $30 billion in 2004, according to a report released in Beijing today. It says that technologies such as wind, solar, biomass, geothermal, and small hydro now provide 160 gigawatts of electricity generating capacity, or about 4 per cent of the world total.

"Renewable energy has become big business," said Eric Martinot, lead author of the Global Status Report published by the Renewable Energy Policy Network for the 21st Century (REN21). Martinot, who is a Senior Fellow at the Worldwatch Institute and a Lecturer at Tsinghua University in Beijing, notes that renewable energy is attracting some of the world's largest companies, including General Electric, Siemens, Sharp, and Royal Dutch Shell.

The report estimates that nearly 40 million households worldwide heat their water with solar collectors, most of them installed in the last five years. Altogether, renewable energy industries provide 1.7 million jobs, most of them skilled and well-paying.

The Global Status Report was compiled by Martinot, working with more than 100 researchers and contributors from at least 20 countries. Itprovides an assessment of several renewables technologies - small hydro, modern biomass, wind, solar, geothermal, and biofuels - that are now competing with conventional fuels in four distinct markets: power generation, hot water and space heating, transportation fuels, and rural (off-grid) energy supplies.

Government support

The report finds that government support for renewable energy is growing rapidly. At least 48 countries now have some type of renewable energypromotion policy, including 14 developing countries. Most targets are for shares of electricity production, typically 5-30 per cent, by the 2010-2012 timeframe. Mandates for blending biofuels into vehicle fuels have been enacted in at least 20 states and provinces worldwide as well as in three key countries -Brazil, China and India.

Government leadership provides the key to market success, according to the report. The market leaders in renewable energy in 2004 were Brazilin biofuels, China in solar hot water, Germany in solar electricity, and Spain in wind power.

Other findings in the report include:

  • The fastest growing energy technology in the world is grid-connected solar photovoltaic (PV), which grew in existing capacity by 60 per cent per year from 2000-2004, to cover more than 400,000 rooftops in Japan, Germany, and the United States. Second is wind power capacity, which grew by 28 per cent last year, led by Germany, with almost 17 gigawatts installed as of 2004.

  • Production of biofuels (ethanol and biodiesel) exceeded 33 billion litres in 2004, when ethanol displaced about 3 per cent of the1,200 billion litres of gasoline globally.

  • An estimated US $500 million goes to developing countries each year as development assistance for renewable energy projects, training, and market support, with the German Development Finance Group (KfW), the World Bank Group, and the Global Environment Facility (GEF) providing the majority of these funds, and dozens of other donors and programmes providing the rest.

  • Over 4.5 million 'green' power consumers in Europe, the United States, Canada, Australia, and Japan purchased renewable electricity atthe retail level or via certificates in 2004.

Global forum

The Global Status Report fills a gap in the international energy reporting arena, which has tended to neglect the emerging renewable energy technologies. Regular updates will be produced in the future. The report was produced and published by the Worldwatch Institute andreleased today at the Beijing International Renewable Energy Conference 2005, sponsored by the Government of China.

This Conference brings together government and private leaders from around the world, providing a forum for international leadership on renewable energy. It follows an earlier gathering in Bonn, Germany, in 2004.

The creation of REN21 was sponsored by the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development and the German Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety. Formally established in Copenhagen in June 2005, REN21 is now supported by a steering committee of 11 governments, 5 intergovernmental organisations,5 non-governmental organisations, and several regional, local, and private ones.

To read the full report 'Renewables 2005: Global Status Report', see Worldwatch