Despite the political insufficiency to address the climate challenges of our time – debating endlessly about whether climate change is engraved by human activity or not – solutions are here today and they’re working. The IPCC has calculated the global “carbon budget” we can spend until 2050. If we want to stay under the 2°C temperature rise, which is generally accepted as the tipping point to unleash feedback loops in our climate system, we can only burn fossil fuels for another 17 years at the current rate (see blue scenario on graph below). It’s obvious we need to shift to renewable solutions, now. Luckily there are more and more investors who seem to have noticed this. Get ready for some nice facts and figures about the solar photovoltaic power industry. Unless otherwise stated, all graphs are produced by the Renewable Energy Policy Network for the 21st century (REN21) and published in their global status report 2014.
Let’s start with some general figures on the renewable energy market in 2013. As you can see on the graphs below nearly 78% of energy production in 2013 was running on dirty fossil fuels. Hydropower is still the most important and reliable source of renewable energy for many countries. Yet, with the extreme droughts we’re seeing the last decade this becomes questionable. In Brasil the ongoing drought caused rationing of water and electricity for more than six months in a row after dams fell dry (see also this post). Wind energy is reaching nearly 3% of global energy production, good for 18% of the renewables. Solar is still below 1% of total production but this is changing rapidly as we will see. Commercial geothermal and ocean energy production is mostly in developing phase still. Yet, there is a lot of promising work in the UK and France thanks to government incentives.
When we take a look at the top renewable countries it’s clear that China has surpassed the United States and became the leader in renewables in 2013. Due to enormous problems with public health it seems that they’re finally turning in the good direction, they more than doubled their solar capacity in 2013! But it will take a long time before they will actually close coal mines instead of building new ones to foresee their still growing hunger for energy. In fact Germany (3th place in renewable ranking) is the all-round winner in solar energy if we look at production, both in absolute capacity as capacity per capita. In 2013 it was the only country with more than 400watts per capita produced by solar power.
Overall 2013 was an absolute record year for solar power, although the market in Europe was still recovering from a dip after the financial crisis. More than 139GW was installed worldwide by the end of 2013 – that’s 139 times a typical PWR nuclear reactor. Coming from 100GW in 2012 this was an increase of nearly 40% in one year. Yet we see that investments decreased by 22% from 2012 to 2013. This is mainly due to the drop in price per installed capacity. Both small scale and large scale installations contribute to the positive trends.
What about 2014? It’s too early to get a global overview, but odds are good. It’s estimated that another 45.4GW have been installed – a new record year. Especially in China, the US and the UK invested heavily in solar power. In Germany there was a decrease which is not surprising because they’ve already an installed capacity of 38.2GW, that’s more than half the capacity needed on a winter day in Germany!
The solar industry is not only good for the environment, but also for job creation. In 2013 an estimated 2,273 million people worked in the sector worldwide. Now prices are dropping solar power also becomes more and more available in developing nations. This is crucial if we want to keep them from making the same mistakes as the developed world during their industrial revolution, namely ruining the planet in name of wealth growth. We’re up to a sunnier future!