REN21 Global Status Report finds solid growth in renewables

The REN21 Global Status Report finds that economic turbulence has failed to prevent renewable energy sources from continuing an expansion that led to them meeting 20 per cent of final energy consumption in 2010.

Janet L. Sawin and Eric Martinot

Over the last year the world has seen many significant developments that have had an impact on renewable energy. The global recession entered a new phase in 2010 that led several governments to cut solar incentives. Natural gas prices remained low due to shale gas, temporarily reducing the competitiveness of renewable energy. At the same time, worldwide developments have highlighted the security, economic and human costs of relying so heavily on fossil and nuclear energy.

Global energy consumption rebounded strongly in 2010 after a downturn in 2009, with annual growth of 5.4 per cent. However, renewable energy, which had no downturn in 2009, also continued its strong growth. Indeed, renewable energy met about half of the estimated 194 GW of new electric capacity added globally during 2010 while existing renewable power capacity hit an estimated 1320 GW in 2010, up almost 8 per cent from 2009. Renewable capacity now provides about a quarter of total global power capacity (estimated at 4950 GW in 2010) and supplies close to 20 per cent of global electricity, mostly from hydropower. Excluding hydro, renewables totalled 312 GW, up 25 per cent from 2009 figure of 250 GW. Wind accounted for nearly 36 per cent of renewable generation, followed by biomass, hydropower, and solar photovoltaics (PV).


Among all renewables, wind power increased the most in 2010, by 39 GW. Existing capacity expanded more than 24 per cent from 2009, with total global capacity nearing 198 GW by year’s end. Hydropower capacity increased by about 30 GW, and solar PV by almost 17 GW.

At least 52 countries increased their wind capacity during 2010, and 83 countries now use wind power on a commercial basis. Over the five years to end-2010, annual growth rates of cumulative wind power capacity averaged 27 per cent. The annual global wind power market held steady in 2010, just slightly above 2009 capacity additions, due to slower growth in the US and Europe brought on by policy uncertainty, continuing economic crisis, and depressed electricity demand. For the first time, most new turbine capacity was added in developing countries and emerging markets. This growth was driven primarily by China, which accounted for 50 per cent of global capacity additions in 2010, up from 4.4 per cent in 2005. China added 18.9 GW of new wind capacity, bringing the country into the global lead with 44.7 GW. About 13 GW of this capacity had not been commercially certified by year-end, although all but 2 GW was already feeding electricity into the grid.

Stirling Energy Systems solar power dishes used in CSP, which has seen about 740 MW added between 2007 and 2010 Photo: Randy J. Montoya at Sandia National Laboratories
Stirling Energy Systems solar power dishes used in CSP, which has seen about 740 MW added between 2007 and 2010 Photo: Randy J. Montoya at Sandia National Laboratories

The US added just over 5 GW in 2010, down from more than 10 GW the previous year, bringing its total wind power capacity to 40.2 GW. By year-end, wind accounted for 2.3 per cent of electricity generation (up from 1.8 per cent in 2009).

The European Union installed nearly 9.5 GW in 2010, down slightly from 2009, but bringing the total to about 84 GW. For the first year since 2007, wind power did not account for the largest share of new electric capacity additions and came in third behind natural gas and solar PV. Germany maintained the lead in Europe with 27.2 GW operating at the end of 2010 but its annual addition of 1.6 GW was 19 per cent down from 2009 and the smallest annual German wind market rise since 1999.

Spain again led Europe in new installations, adding nearly 1.8 GW for a total of more than 20.7 GW. Although above the government target for the 2005″10 period, Spain saw its slowest growth since 2003 in absolute terms. Despite having less capacity in operation than Germany, Spain produced more electricity with wind (43 TWh) in 2010, due largely to high winds in Spain and to more advanced turbines. India was the third largest market in 2010, adding nearly 2.3 GW to reach an estimated 13.2 GW in capacity to maintain its fifth-place ranking for total capacity. Other markets are also starting to take off. In Latin America and the Caribbean, total installed capacity rose 54 per cent during 2010, with Brazil and Mexico each adding about 0.3 GW. However, Latin America still accounts for a very small share of global wind capacity. The same is true of Africa and the Middle East.

Although its share of total wind capacity remains small, the offshore wind industry picked up speed, increasing by 1.2 GW to 3.1 GW at the end of 2010, with most of this capacity in Europe and the rest in China (0.1 GW) and Japan (0.02 GW). The European offshore market grew more than 50 per cent during 2010, bringing total capacity to 3 GW.


More than 100 countries added PV capacity during 2010, ensuring that it remained the world’s fastest-growing power-generation technology with an estimated 17 GW of new PV capacity. This brought the global total to about 40 GW.

Total PV capacity was up 72 per cent on 2009. For the first time since 2005, thin-film’s share of the market declined, from 17 per cent in 2009 to 13 per cent in 2010, although sales continued to increase. The PV market was driven by falling costs, new applications, strong investor interest, and continued strong policy support, but also by accelerated tariff digressions in some countries.

The EU dominated the global PV market, accounting for 80 per cent of the world total with about 13.2 GW newly installed. And, for the first time ever, Europe added more PV than wind capacity during 2010, led by Germany and Italy. Germany added more PV (7.4 GW) in 2010 than the entire world did the previous year, ending 2010 with 17.3 GW of existing capacity. Italy added some 2.3 GW, bringing the official PV total to nearly 3.5 GW, though actual installations may have been higher. In the Czech Republic, high FiT rates and lower PV equipment costs led to a second strong year (1.5 GW).

Beyond Europe, the largest PV markets were Japan (nearly 1 GW), the US (0.9 GW), and China (0.6 GW). More than a quarter of new US capacity was in utility-scale projects. Utility-scale PV plants increased globally to more than 5000 totalling 9.7 GW in capacity, almost 25 per cent of total global PV capacity. Interest in concentrating PV (CPV) is also rising, with as much as 0.02 GW connected to the grid worldwide during 2010 and early 2011, including projects or demonstrations in California and in Australia, Egypt, France, Italy, Jordan, Mexico, Spain and South Africa.

After years of inactivity, the concentrating solar thermal power (CSP) market has seen about 740 MW added between 2007 and end-2010. More than half of this capacity (about 478 MW) was installed during 2010, bringing the global total to 1095 MW. The global market was dominated by parabolic trough plants, which account for 90 per cent of CSP plants and for nearly all of the existing capacity in operation. CSP is expected to continue to grow at a rapid pace. As of April 2011, another 946 MW were under construction in Spain with total new capacity of 1789 MW expected to operate by the end of 2013. In the US, a further 1.5 GW of parabolic trough and power-tower plants were under construction in early 2011, and contracts had been signed for at least another 6.2 GW, stimulated in great part by federal loan guarantees, permits for use of federal lands, and state renewable energy mandates.


Significant increases in biomass use for power production were seen during 2010 in several European countries, the US, and in China, India, and several other developing countries. Globally, an estimated 62 GW of biomass power capacity was in place by the end of 2010, with the US continuing to lead the world, although it added only 0.3 GW over 2010 to reach 10.4 GW, excluding municipal organic waste. Other significant producers included the EU ” led by Germany, Sweden, and the UK ” and Brazil, China and Japan.

The EU’s gross electricity production from biomass increased nearly 10.2 per cent between 2008 and 2009, from 79.3 TWh to 87.4 TWh. Solid biomass accounted for 62.2 TWh ” about 71 per cent ” and biogas accounted for the remainder. About half of Europe’s biomass power production came from combined heat and power (CHP) plants. Although biogas experienced the most significant increase in the EU (up almost 18 per cent), generation from all biomass sources has increased rapidly in the region.

Brazil’s biomass power capacity, nearly all cogeneration, has also climbed steadily. Capacity hit 7.8 GW by the end of 2010, generating 28 TWh. Biomass power has also grown significantly in several other Latin American countries, including Costa Rica, Mexico and Uruguay. Japan generated an estimated 10 TWh with biomass in 2010, excluding co-firing with coal. Elsewhere in Asia, China’s capacity rose about 25 per cent in 2010 to 4 GW of capacity using a combination of sugarcane bagasse, solid biomass, organic waste and biogas (including from livestock wastes). India added about 0.3 GW of biomass power capacity in 2010 to hit 3 GW at year-end.


Since 2005, significant additions of geothermal electric capacity have occurred in Iceland, Indonesia, New Zealand, the US and Turkey, and global electricity production from geothermal has increased more than 20 per cent. By the end of 2010, total global installations came to just over 11 GW, up by an estimated 240 MW from 2009.

Although geothermal developments slowed in 2010 from 2009, the lull was expected to be temporary. The lack of drilling rigs (due to competition with the oil and gas industry) has hindered geothermal developers worldwide, while the lack of a qualified workforce has presented challenges in Kenya and elsewhere; it has been projected that by 2013, the need for drilling rigs in the US alone will rise almost 150 per cent.

Turkey and Mexico also added capacity during the year. By the beginning of 2011, geothermal power plants were operating in at least 24 countries, but the vast majority of global capacity was located in eight countries: the US (3.1 GW), the Philippines (1.9 GW), Indonesia (1.2 GW), Mexico (just under 1 GW), Italy (0.9 GW), New Zealand (nearly 0.8 GW), Iceland (0.6 GW), and Japan (0.5 GW).

Iceland, the leader on a per capita basis, generated about 26 per cent of its electricity with geothermal power in 2010, and the Philippines generated about 18 per cent. As the geothermal power market continues to broaden, a significant acceleration in the rate of deployment is expected, with advanced technologies allowing for development of geothermal power projects in new countries.

As of early 2011, nearly 0.8 GW of new capacity was in the drilling or construction phase in the United States and was expected to be generating by 2015; a total of 123 confirmed projects (accounting for up to 1.4 GW of resources) in 15 US states were at some stage of development. Iceland expects to add nearly 0.1 GW to an existing plant in 2011, and much more capacity is in project pipelines around the globe, with 46 countries forecast to have new geothermal capacity installed within the next five years. By late 2010, Germany had an estimated 150 projects in the pipeline, and projects were under development in Chile (0.2 GW), Costa Rica (0.4 GW), India (nearly 0.3 GW), and the UK (0.01 GW), among others.


Currently in use in some 150 countries, global hydropower production rose more than 5 per cent in 2010 ” largely due to new capacity and wet weather in China ” and provided about 16 per cent of global electricity production. An estimated 30 GW of capacity was added during 2010, with existing global capacity reaching an estimated 1010 GW.

The top countries for hydro capacity are China, Brazil, the United States, Canada and Russia, which account for 52 per cent of total installed capacity. Ranked by generation, the order is China, Canada, Brazil, the United States and Russia.

By region, Asia leads for its share of installed global capacity, followed by Europe then North and South America, with Africa at a distant fifth. China added 16 GW during 2010 to reach an estimated 213 GW of total hydro capacity, a significant increase over the 117 GW in operation at the end of 2005.

Brazil brought about 5 GW into operation, bringing its existing capacity to 80.7 GW, with a further 8.9 GW under construction. Canada generated about 348 TWh from hydropower in 2010, and added 500 MW of capacity to end the year with 75.6 GW. More than 11 GW of new projects were under construction across Canada by early 2011, with an estimated 1.3 GW due to become operational before the end of 2012. Development in the United States has slowed recently due to the economic recession, but just over 0.02 GW of new hydro began operating in 2010 for a total of 78 GW (plus 20.5 GW of pumped storage), producing 257 TWh during the year (up from 233.6 TWh in 2009).

Russia has an estimated 55 GW, which represents about one fifth of the country’s total electric capacity. Brazil and Canada generate roughly 80 per cent and 61 per cent, respectively, of their electricity with hydropower. Many countries in Africa produce close to 100 per cent of their grid based electricity with hydro, as does Norway.

India, which ranks sixth worldwide for total hydro capacity, with an existing capacity of more than 40 GW (including 37.4 GW of large-scale), added about 0.3 GW of small-scale hydro in 2010 for a cumulative small-scale hydro capacity of 2.9 GW at year-end; another 0.9 GW of small-scale hydro were under construction as of early 2011. Brazil had 53 small-scale hydro projects (0.7 GW) under construction by early 2011, and 149 additional plants (2.1 GW) had been authorized. Canada, Iran, Kazakhstan and Switzerland also had significant amounts of small-scale hydropower under construction or in the planning stages. Rwanda aimed to have 0.04 GW of small-scale hydro capacity by 2015.

Asia (led by China) and Latin America (led by Brazil) are the most active regions for new hydro development. An additional 140 GW are planned for construction in China over the next five years. Brazil plans two major projects in the Amazon region, including a 3.2 GW reservoir project due for completion in late 2011. North America and Europe, also constructing new plants, are the main centres for modernization of existing plants and for the application of pumped storage.

Interest in pumped storage is increasing, particularly in regions and countries where variable renewable resources are achieving relatively high penetration. The vast majority of pumped storage capacity is in Europe, Japan and the United States. About 4 GW of capacity was added globally in 2010 ” including facilities in China, Germany, Slovenia, and the Ukraine ” with approximately 136 GW operating worldwide by year’s end, up from 98 GW in 2005. By early 2011, a further 5 GW of capacity was under contract, and the market was expected to rise 60 per cent over the next five years.

Ocean energy is the least mature of the technologies considered. By the end of 2010 only tidal barrage systems had achieved commercial scale, accounting for most of the world’s installed ocean energy capacity. However, in 2010 there were a handful of pre-commercial projects generating power with a range of technologies.

Although existing capacity remained low relative to other renewable technologies, numerous projects were in development or under contract, and at least 25 countries were involved in ocean energy development activities. At year’s end, an estimated total of 6 MW of wave (2 MW) and tidal stream (4 MW) capacity had been installed by the 18 member countries of the International Energy Agency (IEA) Implementing Agreement on Ocean Energy Systems. Most of these projects were in Europe, with the majority operating off the coasts of Portugal and the UK for short-term testing and demonstration, and a few prototypes were initiating first steps toward commercialisation.

Global electricity production from geothermal has increased by more than 20 per cent since 2005 Source: MyHydros
Global electricity production from geothermal has increased by more than 20 per cent since 2005
Source: MyHydros


By early 2011, at least 118 countries had some type of policy target or renewable support policy at the national level, up from 55 countries in early 2005. Developing countries, which now represent more than half of all countries with policy targets and half of all countries with renewable support policies, are playing an increasingly important role in advancing renewable energy. This increasing geographic diversity in markets and manufacturing is boosting confidence that renewables are less vulnerable to policy or market dislocations in any specific country.

The top five countries for non-hydro renewable power capacity were the United States, China, Germany, Spain and India. In the US, renewable energy accounted for an estimated 25 per cent of capacity additions in 2010 and 11.6 per cent of existing capacity at year’s end.

China added an estimated 29 GW of grid-connected renewable capacity, for a total of 263 GW, an increase of 12 per cent compared with 2009. Renewables accounted for about 26 per cent of China’s total installed electric capacity in 2010, and 18 per cent of generation. In the European Union, renewables accounted for an estimated 41 per cent of newly installed electric capacity in 2010, with PV accounting for more than half of the total.

Although the share was significantly lower than the more than 60 per cent of total capacity added in 2009, more renewable power capacity was added in Europe than ever before (22.6 GW), with total installations up 31 per cent over the previous year (17.5 GW). Renewable energy’s share of total electricity generation in the EU was nearly 20 per cent in 2009.

India added an estimated 2.7 GW of grid-connected renewable power capacity during 2010 ” mainly from wind but also from biomass, small hydropower and solar capacity ” for a total of nearly 19 GW by January 2011.

Continued strong growth is expected in all renewable energy sectors in the coming years, with projects at various stages of development around the world. China alone plans to install more than 30 GW of wind power capacity during 2011 and 2012, and significant additional capacity is under construction in India, the US, the UK and other countries. At least 5.4 GW of solar PV capacity was under contract in the US by the end of 2010. Globally, nearly 2.6 GW of additional CSP capacity was under construction by year’s end, with all plants expected to be operational by 2014. Significant geothermal power capacity (and CHP) was in project pipelines around the globe by year-end, with 46 countries forecast to have new geothermal capacity installed within the next five years. Major developments are underway for hydropower, ocean energy and other renewable technologies as well.

Technology cost reductions in solar PV in particular meant high growth rates in manufacturing. Cost reductions in wind turbines and biofuel processing technologies also contributed to growth. At the same time, there was further industry consolidation, notably in the biomass and biofuels industries, as traditional energy companies moved more strongly into the renewable energy space, and as manufacturing firms continued to move into project development.

Janet L. Sawin is the lead author/research director of the REN21 Renewables 2011 Global Status Report together with author and expert adviser Eric Martinot and project manager Rana Adib.

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