We looked in the last post at the virtually limitless potential of renewables to supply all of our energy needs: electricity, heating and cooling, and transportation.
Indications are that we are well advanced on this path. I tell people that if you’d told me a dozen years ago we were going to see the penetration of renewables that we’re seeing in 2010, I’d have sighed and said, alas, you were dreaming. (If you’d asked me 40 years ago, I’d have told you, sure, no problem. But I was callow then and not sufficiently aware yet of the stubborn corrupting and stultifying influence of the fossil fuel interests and their acolytes in government and finance all over the world.)
In spite of the pernicious, persistent well-funded lies of climate change denialists, and the massive lobbying and reactionary politics that have for so long guided energy policies hither and yon, incredible progress is being made in decarbonizing our economies. The G20 has agreed to phase out the $560 billion spent annually for fossil fuel subsidies, a major step forward.
And in 2009, in the throes of a global recession, in the US and Europe, “…new power capacity from renewable energy” beat out new fossil fuel power generation for the second year running. This article from CNN reports that nearly 80 gigawatts of renewable energy came on line during the year. This press release from the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) notes that “… countries with policies encouraging renewable energy have roughly doubled from 55 in 2005 to more than 100 today – half of them in the developing world – and have played a critically important role in the sector’s rapid growth.”
The Renewable Energy Policy Network for the 21st Century (REN21), a multi-stakeholder initiative “to enable a rapid global transition to renewable energy,” issued its annual global status report with the highlights noted above, among others. Of the 80 GW of new renewable capacity, 37 GW of that was in China. Solar, wind, biomass and micro-hydro all made important advances.
And UNEP’s annual Global Trends in Sustainable Energy Investment also showed strong progress on finance. “…total new investment in sustainable energy worldwide reached $162 billion in 2009, down from a revised $173 billion for 2008 but still the second highest annual figure ever and nearly four times 2004′s total. This resilient performance showed that clean energy was not a bubble created by the late stages of the credit boom, but is an investment theme that will remain important for the years ahead.” I think “important” is an understatement. Daniel Yergin, perhaps the leading energy economist in the world, is predicting trillions for renewables.
In Europe, Renewable Energy Snapshots 2010, out from the European Commission’s Joint Research Centre (JRC) at the end of June, reflects the same findings as the global reports. Renewables are on fire. “Renewables account for 62% of the new electricity generation capacity installed in the EU in 2009″ is the headline from this EU release.
What’s even more interesting is that not only did new PV and wind installations vastly outstrip new coal and nuclear in 2009, but those two sectors actually decommissioned more capacity than they added! O brave new world indeed!