Wind and solar power capacity surge, report says

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Global wind power expanded by almost 20% in 2012 to reach a new peak of 282 gigawatts (GW) of total installed capacity, while solar power reached more than 100GW, having more than doubled in two years.

More than 45GW of new wind turbines arrived in 2012, with China and the US leading the way with 13GW each, while Germany, India and the UK were next with about 2GW each.

"While China paused for breath, both the US and European markets had exceptionally strong years," said Steve Sawyer, secretary-general of the Global Wind Energy Council (GWEC), which produced the statistics. "Asia still led global markets, but with North America a close second, and Europe not far behind."

The UK now ranks sixth in the world for installed wind power, with 8.5GW. In Europe, only Germany (31GW) and Spain (23GW) have more. China leads the world with 77GW installed and the US is second with 60GW.

Britain is by far the world leader in offshore wind deployment, installing 0.85MW in 2012 to bring the total so far to 3GW. Denmark has a total of 0.9GW installed; Belgium is ranked third with 0.4GW.

"We are pleased to be part of this success story," said a spokeswoman for the UK Department of Energy and Climate change. "Wind is an important part of our low-carbon energy future. We're also driving the technology forward with innovative 6MW offshore turbines currently being installed in the North Sea."

The GWEC said market consolidation led to the relative slowdown in China, while "a lapse in policy" caused a similar slowdown in India, but expected Asian dominance of global wind markets to continue.

The record year for installation in the US was driven by a rush to beat an anticipated end to tax credits: 8GW of the total 13GW were installed in the last quarter of 2012. However, the tax credit has since been extended, meaning a dramatic slowdown in the US in 2013 is less likely.

GWEC said the outlook for 2013 in Europe was uncertain due to the eurozone debt crisis, but that the EU's legal commitments and 2020 targets for renewable energy ensured "a degree of stability".

There is very little wind power installed in Africa, but sub-Saharan Africa's first large commercial wind farm came on line in 2012, a 52MW project in Ethiopia. "This is just the beginning of the African market," said Sawyer. "With construction started on over 0.5GW in South Africa, we expect Africa to be a substantial new market, where clean, competitive energy generated with indigenous sources is a priority for economic development."

Solar power reached 100GW installed capacity in 2012 for the first time, according to data from the European Photovoltaic Industry Association (EPIA), up from 71GW in 2011 and just 40GW in 2010. The largest market by far is Europe, with Germany (32GW total) and Italy (16GW) the leaders. But while solar panel connections in Europe fell by 5GW in 2012 compared to the previous year, installations rose by 5GW in the rest of the world, notable China, the US, Japan and India.

"Even in tough economic times and despite growing regulatory uncertainty, we have nearly managed to repeat the record year of 2011," said EPIA President Winfried Hoffmann. But the EPIA noted that a continued oversupply of solar panels would most likely make 2013 a "difficult year" for photovoltaic companies.

In January, Bloomberg New Energy Finance reported that global investment in all renewable energy had fallen by 11% in 2012, due largely to drops in government support in the US, Spain and Italy. Investment continued to rise in Asia.

In November, the International Energy Agency noted that low-carbon energy was growing quickly, driven largely by state subsidies. But the IEA highlighted that fossil fuels received six times more subsidy – $523bn in 2011, up 30% from 2010 – than low-carbon energy.

The EU has set itself a legally binding goal for 2020 of reducing its CO2 emissions by 20% and increasing the share of renewables in the energy mix by the same amount, both measured against 1990 levels.

A target of a 20% increase in energy efficiency has also been set but it is not legally enforceable. A low carbon roadmap in March 2011 outlined a plan for moving to adecarbonised economy by 2050.

This built on a long-term target first-endorsed by EU leaders in October 2009 for a long-term target of reducing CO2 emissions by 80-95% by 2050 compared to 1990 levels. This is in line with the recommendations of the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change for preventing catastrophic changes to the Earth's climate.

  • Spring 2013: EU to publish Green Paper on 2030 targets
  • By end of 2013: EU to publish communication on 2030 targets
  • 2020: Deadline for renewable energy to make up 20% of the EU’s energy mix

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