Renewable Energy Growth in Perspective

Renewable Energy Growth in Perspective

Guest post: Roger Andrews

Renewable energy, particularly wind and solar, continues to set records for electicity generation and installed capacity in many parts of the world, and as shown in Figure 1 wind and solar growth in recent years has indeed been quite spectacular (the data used to construct this and following Figures are from the 2014 BP Statistical Review of World Energy):

Figure 1: Electricity Generated from Solar and Wind, 1965-2013

But Figure 1 doesn’t tell the whole story because solar and wind are only two of the four main sources of renewable energy. Adding the other two – biomass and hydro – puts the solar and wind contributions in better perspective (Figure 2). Electricity generated by renewables has increased by a factor of over five since 1965 but 70% of the increase has come from hydro. Wind contributed half of the remaining 30%, biomass, which in the BP data set includes geothermal and “other”, contributed 12% and solar brought up the rear with 3%.

Figure 2: Electricity Generated from All Renewables, 1965-2013

But while renewables generation has grown, so has electricity consumption, and when this is taken into account we find that increased contributions from solar, wind and biomass have been offset by the declining overall contribution from hydro to the point where the percentage of the world’s electricity supplied by renewables is only marginally higher now than it was in 1985 (BP doesn’t provide global electricity consumption data before 1985).

Figure 3: Percentage of Global Electricity Generated by Renewables, 1965-2013

And because electricity supplies only about 40% of world energy consumption the percentage of world energy consumption supplied by renewables is correspondingly lower. Electricity consumption, on the other hand, has grown faster than energy consumption, so renewables do supply a higher percentage of world energy consumption than they used to – up from 5.6% in 1965 to 8.9% in 2013, with increased “market penetration” by wind, biomass and solar responsible for most of the increase:

Figure 4: Percentage of Global Energy Generated by Renewables, 1965-2013

Figure 4 in fact provides a reasonably good perspective on the actual contribution of renewables to global energy supply since 1965. Expanding the Y-scale to 100%, however, gives a better perspective on the size of the contribution:

Figure 5: Percentage of Global Energy Generated by Renewables, 1965-2013

There’s also the question of where hydro fits in. Unlike solar, wind and biomass its market share hasn’t increased much since 1965 and isn’t thought likely to increase at all in the future (the IEA projects that hydro’s share of global electricity generation will in fact decrease from ~17% to ~14% by 2050). So while we can expect that hydro will continue to provide most of the energy generated by renewables for some time to come it isn’t likely to contribute to decarbonizing global energy generation any more than it already has. If decarbonization is to be achieved by expanding renewables the expansion will have to come in wind, solar and biomass. So let’s take hydro out and see how far growth in wind, solar and biomass has carried us along the decarbonization path so far:

Figure 6: Percentage of Global Energy Generated by Wind, Solar & Biomass, 1965-2013

Clearly they still have a long way to go.

Hernieuwbare energie op terugweg- Renewables in decline

By Steve Goreham

Originally published in Communities Digital News.

The global energy outlook has changed radically in just six years. President Obama was elected in 2008 by voters who believed we were running out of oil and gas, that climate change needed to be halted, and that renewables were the energy source of the near future. But an unexpected transformation of energy markets and politics may instead make 2014 the year of peak renewables.


In December of 2007, former Vice President Al Gore shared the Nobel Peace Prize for work on man-made climate change, leading an international crusade to halt global warming. In June, 2008 after securing a majority of primary delegates, candidate Barack Obama stated, “…this was the moment when the rise of the oceans began to slow and our planet began to heal…” Climate activists looked to the 2009 Copenhagen Climate Conference as the next major step to control greenhouse gas emissions.

The price of crude oil hit $145 per barrel in June, 2008. The International Energy Agency and other organizations declared that we were at peak oil, forecasting a decline in global production. Many claimed that the world was running out of hydrocarbon energy.

Driven by the twin demons of global warming and peak oil, world governments clamored to support renewables. Twenty years of subsidies, tax-breaks, feed-in tariffs, and mandates resulted in an explosion of renewable energy installations. The Renewable Energy Index (RENIXX) of the world’s 30 top renewable energy companies soared to over 1,800.

Tens of thousands of wind turbine towers were installed, totaling more than 200,000 windmills worldwide by the end of 2012. Germany led the world with more than one million rooftop solar installations. Forty percent of the US corn crop was converted to ethanol vehicle fuel.

But at the same time, an unexpected energy revolution was underway. Using good old Yankee ingenuity, the US oil and gas industry discovered how to produce oil and natural gas from shale. With hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling, vast quantities of hydrocarbon resources became available from shale fields in Texas, North Dakota, and Pennsylvania.

From 2008 to 2013, US petroleum production soared 50 percent. US natural gas production rose 34 percent from a 2005 low. Russia, China, Ukraine, Turkey, and more than ten nations in Europe began issuing permits for hydraulic fracturing. The dragon of peak oil and gas was slain.

US Oil and Gas 2000-2013 Article

In 2009, the ideology of Climatism, the belief that humans were causing dangerous global warming, came under serious attack. In November, emails were released from top climate scientists at the University of East Anglia in the United Kingdom, an incident christened Climategate. The communications showed bias, manipulation of data, avoidance of freedom of information requests, and efforts to subvert the peer-review process, all to further the cause of man-made climate change.

One month later, the Copenhagen Climate Conference failed to agree on a successor climate treaty to the Kyoto Protocol. Failures at United Nations conferences at Cancun (2010), Durban (2011), Doha (2012), and Warsaw (2013) followed. Canada, Japan, Russia, and the United States announced that they would not participate in an extension of the Kyoto Protocol.

Major climate legislation faltered across the world. Cap and trade failed in Congress in 2009, with growing opposition from the Republican Party. The price of carbon permits in the European Emissions Trading System crashed in April 2013 when the European Unionvoted not to support the permit price. Australia elected Prime Minister Tony Abbott in the fall of 2013 on a platform of scrapping the nation’s carbon tax.

Europeans discovered that subsidy support for renewables was unsustainable. Subsidy obligations soared in Germany to over $140 billion and in Spain to over $34 billion by 2013. Renewable subsidies produced the world’s highest electricity rates in Denmark and Germany. Electricity and natural gas prices in Europe rose to double those of the United States.

Worried about bloated budgets, declining industrial competitiveness, and citizen backlash, European nations have been retreating from green energy for the last four years. Spain slashed solar subsidies in 2009 and photovoltaic sales fell 80 percent in a single year. Germany cut subsidies in 2011 and 2012 and the number of jobs in the German solar industry dropped by 50 percent. Renewable subsidy cuts in the Czech Republic, Greece, Italy, Netherlands, and the United Kingdom added to the cascade. The RENIXX Renewable Energy Index fell below 200 in 2012, down 90 percent from the 2008 peak.

Once a climate change leader, Germany turned to coal after the 2012 decision to close nuclear power plants. Coal now provides more than 50 percent of Germany’s electricity and 23 new coal-fired power plants are planned. Global energy from coal has grown by 4.4 percent per year over the last ten years.

Renewable Spending 2004-2013 Article

Spending on renewables is in decline. From a record $318 billion in 2011, world renewable energy spending fell to $280 billion in 2012 and then fell again to $254 billion in 2013, according to Bloomberg. The biggest drop occurred in Europe, where investment plummeted 41 percent last year. The 2013 expiration of the US Production Tax Credit for wind energy will continue the downward momentum.

Today, wind and solar provide less than one percent of global energy. While these sources will continue to grow, it’s likely they will deliver only a tiny amount of the world’s energy for decades to come. Renewable energy output may have peaked, at least as a percentage of global energy production.

Steve Goreham is Executive Director of the Climate Science Coalition of America and author of the book The Mad, Mad, Mad World of Climatism:  Mankind and Climate Change Mania.