RealClimate, my favourite way of keeping up with climate science, runs a monthly ‘open thread’ to which anyone is welcome to contribute a question or interesting bit of news. Two submissions which attracted my attention this month were about the development of renewable energy.
The first referred readers to BP’s annual Statistical Review of World Energy – still respected in spite of the company’s Gulf of Mexico disaster. Its section on renewables notes that:
- Renewable power consumption grew by 15.5% in 2010, the fastest rate of expansion since 1990. While the share of renewable power in global energy consumption is still only 1.3% (up from 0.6% in 2000), renewable power now contributes a significant share of primary energy consumption in some individual countries. Eight nations have a renewables share of more than 5%, led by Denmark with 13.1%.
- Solar power generating capacity grew by 73% in 2010, picking up the pace again after a brief slowdown in 2009. Total capacity grew by 16.7 GW to reach 40 GW, more than double the 2008 level. That is still only around 0.1% of total electricity generation but the rate of growth, which has averaged 39% pa over the past 10 years, suggests rapid changes in that figure.
- Wind power generating capacity grew by 24.6% in 2010, with capacity increasing by a record 39.4 GW. The trend rate of capacity growth over the past 10 years is 27% pa, which implies a doubling of capacity every three years, and the fastest growth is occurring in China and India.
The second drew attention to a post on the highly-regarded ClimateProgress blog, ‘Ferocious Cost Reductions’ Make Solar PV Competitive. Exerpts:
There’s a joke in the solar industry about when “grid parity” – the time when solar becomes as cheap as fossil sources – will happen.
…The truth is, it will happen in phases – one market and one technology at a time. But according to two top solar executives – Tom Dinwoodie, CTO of SunPower and Dan Shugar, formerly of SunPower and current CEO of Solaria – “ferocious cost reductions,” are accelerating that crossover in a variety of markets today.
…Manufacturing costs have come down steadily, from $60 a watt in the mid-1970’s to $1.50 today. People often point to a “Moore’s Law” in solar – meaning that for every cumulative doubling of manufacturing capacity, costs fall 20%. In solar PV manufacturing, costs have fallen about 18% for every doubling of production. “It holds up very closely,” says Solaria’s Shugar.
…As SunPower’s Dinwoodie puts it: The 17 GW installed in 2010 is the equivalent of 17 nuclear power plants – manufactured, shipped and installed in one year. It can take decades just to install a nuclear plant. Think about that. I heard Bill Gates recently call solar “cute.” Well, that’s 17 GW of “cute” adding up at an astonishing pace.
…Here’s another important statistic: When SunPower built the 14-MW Nellis Air Force Base system in 2007, it cost $7 per watt. Today, commercial and utility systems are getting installed at around $3 per watt. In 2010 alone, the average installed cost of installing solar PV dropped 20%.
…So what does all this mean? It means that the notion that “solar is too expensive” doesn’t hold up anymore. When financing providers can offer a home or business owner solar electricity for less than the cost of their current services; when utilities start investing in solar themselves to reduce operating costs; and when the technology starts moving into the range of new nuclear and new coal, it’s impossible to ignore.
According to SunPower’s Tom Dinwoodie: “The cross-over has occurred.”
That is all talking about the USA, of course, but much of it applies here as well. And it is all good news.