March 25, 2013
2012 has seen new records in newly installed solar and wind power capacity.
Globally installed capacity has now reached almost 400 GW, of which 300 GW wind and 100 GW solar PV.
In the last 10 years solar PV has expanded more rapidly than wind power, essentially due to a steep decline of module prices resulting from incredible productivity increases and cut-throat competition that has led to the bankruptcy of the world’s biggest manufacturer, SUNTECH, a week ago.
Add to this the economies of scale resulting from ever bigger PV power plants exceeding 300 MW in California and, of course, the strong government support through generous feed-in tariffs in Germany and Spain, loan guarantee programmes from the US Federal Government and renewable mandates in 37 US States, under which utilities have to generate a certain share of their electricity from renewables by 2015-25.
Judging from the past 10 years, solar PV might overtake wind power capacity by 2030. But due its very low capacity utilisation its share in global electricity generation will remain much lower than that of installed capacity. Wind will therefore continue to more electricity than PV.
For both wind and solar power the global rate of expansion is likely to slow down to 10 per cent or even less annually. The productivity increase will slow down and prices fall at a much slower rate. Both industries will consolidate, an overdue process.
New regions will enter the turf, notably Latin America that to have installed 46 GW of wind turbines by 2025, almost the equivalent of EU capacity two years ago. The EU share is bound to shrink.
China, USA and Japan are the rising stars of PV electricity generation. Combined they have almost quadrupled their installed capacity to 22 GW from 2010 to 2012, more than one third of that of EU last year. This shows the big potential and the extraordinary flexibility of modern utility companies.
Whatever the big jump forward by PV and wind in the last few years the sector will continue to need – gradually declining – government support, especially for research and grids, which are the linchpin of sustainable power systems.
It would be most helpful if many more countries were to demand utilities to generate specific shares of the their electricity from wind or solar.
Beyond some 50 per cent higher energy efficiency wind and solar PV will have to be the mainstays of a sustainable global energy system by the middle of the century.
Eberhard Rhein, Brussels.Author : Eberhard Rhein