Although the worldwide economy continued to sputter in 2010, there was at least one bright spot on the global stage. According to a recent study, renewable power showed its perseverance last year, fighting off headwinds and gaining traction.
The Renewables 2011 Global Status Report shows continued growth for the industry despite an ongoing global recession, incentive cuts and low natural-gas prices. The latter presents one of the greatest challenges to renewables’ cost-competitiveness.
The report, released by the Renewable Energy Policy Network for the 21st Century (REN21), showed impressive gains for renewables in a number of categories. In 2010, for example, renewable energy supplied an estimated 16 percent of global final energy consumption and delivered close to 20 percent of global electricity production. According to the report, renewable capacity now makes up about a quarter of total global power-generating capacity. That number rises to nearly 50 percent if hydropower is included in the measurement.
The report attributes much of the good fortune of renewable power to supportive government policies around the world. It counts 119 countries with some type of policy target or renewable support policy at the national level, which is more than double the 55 countries in 2005. At least 95 countries have some type of policy to support renewable power generation. Feed-in tariffs are the most common.
Financial markets also showed their support for renewables in 2010, with $143 billion invested in renewable-energy companies and in utility-scale generation and biofuel projects.
According to the report, the top five countries for nonhydro renewable-power capacity in 2010 were the United States, China, Germany, Spain and India. In the United States, renewables accounted for about 10.9 percent of domestic primary energy production, up 5.6 percent from the year before. In the United States, 30 states have renewable portfolio standards.