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Renewables Continue to Post Big Numbers, Outperform Expectations. Again.

J. Mijin Cha

Despite continual claims that renewable energy will never be able to replace fossil fuels, its development and expansion continues at an impressive pace. A new report shows that not only is global renewable energy production increasing, investment in renewables is also increasing. In 2010, renewable energy sources supplied nearly 17 percent of all global final energy consumption. Investment in renewables rose 17 percent to $257 billion, despite the debt crisis in Europe. Globally, renewable energy consumption is nearly three times the level of nuclear energy.

Global solar capacity grew by 74 percent between the end of 2006 and 2011. In 2011 alone, the global solar capacity grew by 16 percent. In fact, renewables accounted for 37 percent of the roughly 208 gigawatts of new electric capacity installed in 2011, up from only 10 percent in 2004. In this area, the U.S. is actually doing better than the global average. Thirty-nine percent of our new electric capacity additions were from renewable sources, mostly from wind power.

In 2011, renewables account for nearly 12 percent of U.S. primary energy production, up nearly a percentage point from 2010 and surpassing nuclear’s share of 10.6 percent. Nine states now generate more than 10 percent of their electricity from non-hydro renewable energy, up from two just a decade ago. Just earlier this month, California’s power grid hit a record peak of 849 megawatts of solar being generated. Meaning that there was a point during the day when the electricity being generated from solar sources was 849 megawatts, enough to power a little less than 640,000 homes (1 gigawatt powers around 750,000 homes). Solar production also peaks when the sunshine is intense, which happens to correspond with peak air conditioning demand.

Solar continues to outperform expert’s predictions.  In fact renewable energy production, in general, continues to outperform expert’s predictions. In 2002, a top industry analyst predicted that solar market would be around 1 gigawatt by 2010. In 2010, the annual market for solar was 17 gigawatts. Wind energy actually produced 200 gigagwatts in 2010, nearly seven times as much as predicted. In 1999, DOE estimated total wind power capacity could reach 10 gigawatts by 2010. That amount was actually reached in 2006 and wind power generation quadrupled between 2006 and 2010.

Given the promising numbers posted by the renewable energy sector, it is a real shame that Congress will likely strip away the incentives that caused the market to grow. We’ve written before about how renewables are succeeding, even while receiving only a fraction of support the fossil fuel industry receives. It’s one thing to say renewables can’t replace fossil fuels because of their production capacity, but the numbers the renewable sector continues to post show that it’s really politics that is stopping us from transitioning to a clean energy economy.