Renewable energy becoming mainstream

Posted: 3 March 2008

The renewable energy industry is stepping up its meteoric rise into the mainstream of the energy sector, according to the REN21 Renewables 2007 Global Status Report just published. Renewable energy production capacities are growing rapidly as a result of more countries enacting far-reaching policies.

The Report was released ahead of the Washington International Renewable Energy Conference (WIREC), taking place March 4-6 in Washington, D.C.

Prepared by the Renewable Energy Network for the 21st Century (REN21) in collaboration with the Worldwatch Institute, the Report paints an encouraging picture of rapidly expanding renewable energy markets, policies, industries, and rural applications around the world.

Renewable Energy Share of Global Final Energy Consumption, 2006
Renewable Energy Share of Global Final Energy Consumption, 2006
Renewable Energy Share of Global Final Energy Consumption, 2006. Click on image to enlarge.
In 2007, global wind generating capacity is estimated to have increased 28 per cent, while grid-connected solar photovoltaic (PV) capacity rose 52 per cent. "So much has happened in the renewable energy sector during the past five years that the perceptions of some politicians and energy-sector analysts lag far behind the reality of where the renewables industry is today," says Mohamed El-Ashry, Chair of REN21.

Renowned researcher Dr Eric Martinot led an international team of 140 researchers and contributors from both developed and developing countries to produce the report. He says renewable energy sources such as wind, solar, geothermal, and small-scale hydropower offer countries the means to improve their energy security and spur economic development.

Citing the report, Martinot says the renewable energy sector now accounts for 2.4 million jobs globally, and has doubled electric generating capacity since 2004, to 240 gigawatts. More than 65 countries now have national goals for accelerating the use of renewable energy and are enacting far-reaching policies to meet those goals. Multilateral agencies and private investors alike are integrating renewable energy into their mainstream portfolios, capturing the interest of the largest global companies.

Worldwatch President Chris Flavin says the report shows that renewable energy is poised to make a significant contribution to meeting energy needs and reducing the growth in carbon dioxide emissions in the years immediately ahead. "The science is telling us we need to substantially reduce emissions now, but this will only happen with even stronger policies to accelerate the growth of clean energy," he says.

El-Ashry emphasizes that many of the trends described in the Report are the result of leadership and actions launched since the major renewable energy conference held in Bonn, Germany, in 2004. "This leadership has never been more important, as renewable energy has now reached the top of the international policy agenda under the United Nations and the G8," said El-Ashry.

Horns Rev offshore wind farm, Denmark
Horns Rev offshore wind farm, Denmark
Vestas' offshore wind farm at Horns Rev at Jutland's west coast supplies two per cent of Denmark's energy consumption. Credit: Danish Ministry of Foreign Affairs

Commenting on the dramatic rise of renewables, Achim Steiner, UN Under-Secretary General and Executive Director of the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), said: "The findings come in the wake of UNEP's annual gathering of environment ministers in Monaco last week. It is clear from ministers in Monaco and from reports like REN21 that we are beginning to see elements of an emerging Green Economy, fuelled by the existing climate change agreements and the prospect of even deeper and more decisive emissions reductions post 2012."

Highlights of the report:

  • Renewable electricity generation capacity reached an estimated 240 gigawatts (GW) worldwide in 2007, an increase of 50 per cent over 2004. Renewable energy represents 5 percent of global power capacity and 3.4 per cent of global power generation.
  • The largest component of the renewable power capacity increase was wind power, which grew again by over 25 per cent worldwide in 2007, to reach an estimated 95 GW.
  • The fastest growing energy technology in the world is grid-connected solar photovoltaics (PV), with 50 per cent annual increases in cumulative installed capacity in both 2006 and 2007, to an estimated 7.7 GW. This translates into 1.5 million homes with rooftop solar PV feeding into the grid worldwide. Another estimated 2.7 GW of stand-alone systems brings global PV capacity to over 10 GW.
  • Rooftop solar heat collectors provide hot water to nearly 50 million households worldwide, and space heating to a growing number of homes. Existing solar hot water/heating capacity increased by 19 per cent in 2006 to reach 105 gigawatts-thermal globally.
  • Biomass and geothermal energy are commonly used for both power and heating, with recent increases in a number of countries, including uses for district heating. More than 2 million ground-source heat pumps are used in 30 countries for heating and cooling of buildings.
  • Production of biofuels (ethanol and biodiesel) exceeded an estimated 53 billion litres in 2007, up 43 per cent from 2005. Ethanol production in 2007 represented about four per cent of the 1,300 billion litres of gasoline consumed globally. Annual biodiesel production increased by more than 50 per cent in 2006.