While renewable capacity rises at a rapid rate from year to year, renewable energy’s share of total generation is increasing more slowly because many countries continue to add significant fossil fuel capacity, and much of the renewable capacity being added (wind power and solar energy) operates at relatively low capacity factors.
Even so, wind energy and solar power are achieving high levels of penetration in countries like Denmark and Italy, which generated 30% of electricity with wind energy and 5.6% with solar PV, respectively, during 2012.
In an increasing number of regions—including parts of Australia, Germany, India, and the United States—the electricity generation share from variable resources has reached impressive record peaks, temporarily meeting high shares of power demand, while often driving down spot market prices.
In addition, the levelised costs of generation from onshore wind energy and solar PV have fallen while average global costs (excluding carbon) from coal and natural gas generation have increased due to higher capital costs.
As prices for many renewable energy technologies continue to fall, a growing number of renewables are achieving grid parity in more and more areas around the world.
China, the United States, Brazil, Canada, and Germany remained the top countries for total renewable electric capacity by the end of 2012.
The top countries for non-hydro renewable power capacity were China, the United States, and Germany, followed by Spain, Italy, and India.
France and Japan tied for a distant seventh, followed closely by the United Kingdom, Brazil, and then Canada and Sweden.
Of these 12 countries, the ranking on a per capita basis for non-hydro renewable energy capacity in use puts Germany first, followed by Sweden, Spain, Italy, Canada, the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Japan, China, Brazil, and India. In total, these 12 countries accounted for almost 84% of global non-hydro renewable capacity, and the top five countries accounted for 64%.
China is home to about one-fifth of the world’s renewable power capacity, with an estimated 229 GW of hydropower capacity plus about 90 GW of other renewables (mostly wind energy) at the end of 2012.
Of the 88 GW of electric capacity added in 2012, hydropower accounted for more than 17% and other renewables for about 19. Renewables met nearly 20% of China’s electricity demand in 2012, with hydropower accounting for 17.4%. Relative to 2011, electricity output in 2012 was up 35.5% from wind energy, and 400% from solar PV, with wind generation increasing more than generation from coal and passing nuclear power output for the first time.
In the United States, renewables accounted for 12.2% of net electricity generation in 2012, and for more than 15% of total capacity at year’s end. Hydropower output was down 13.4%, while net generation from other renewables rose from 4.7% in 2011 to 5.4% in 2012.
For the first time, wind energy represented the largest source of electric capacity added, accounting for as much as 45%, and all renewables made up about half of U.S. electric capacity additions during the year.
Renewables accounted for 22.9% of Germany’s electricity consumption (up from 20.5% in 2011), generating more electricity than the country’s nuclear, gas-fired, or hard coal power plants (but not lignite plants). Total renewable electricity generation (136 TWh) was more than 10% above 2011 output, with wind energy representing a 33.8% share, followed by biomass with 30% (more than half from biogas), solar PV 20.6%, and hydropower 15.6%. Renewables met 12.6% of Germany’s total final energy needs (up from 12.1% in 2011).
Spain has experienced a slowdown in renewable capacity additions resulting from the economic recession and recent policy changes. However, globally it still ranked fourth for non-hydro renewable power capacity, with an estimated 30.8 GW in operation, plus 17 GW of hydro. Renewable energy provided 32% of Spain’s electricity needs in 2012 (down from 33% in 2011), with wind energy contributing the largest share, followed by solar power.
Italy remained in fifth place with 29 GW of non-hydro renewables and 18 GW of hydropower by the end of 2012.41 Renewables met 27% of the country’s electricity demand, up from 24% in 2011, with non-hydro renewables accounting for 15%.
About 4.2 GW of renewable power capacity was added in India during 2012, including about 0.7 GW of hydropower and 3.5 GW of other renewables (mostly wind), for a year-end total exceeding 66 GW. Renewables accounted for more than 31% of total installed capacity at year’s end, with non-hydro renewables representing over 11% (24 GW).
The BRICSi nations accounted for 36% of total global renewable power capacity and almost 27% of non-hydro renewable capacity by the end of 2012. While Russia has a large capacity of hydropower, virtually all of the BRICS’ non-hydro capacity is in Brazil, India, and particularly China. South Africa is also starting to gain momentum, with significant wind and CSP capacity under construction by year’s end.
While the BRICS countries led for capacity of all renewables, the European Union (EU) had the most non-hydro capacity at the end of 2012, with approximately 44% of the global total. Renewables accounted for more than half of all electric capacity added in the EU during the 2000–2012 period, and for almost 70% of additions in 2012—mostly from solar PV (37% of all 2012 additions) and wind energy (26.5%).
At year’s end, renewables made up more than one-third of the region’s total generating capacity, with non-hydro renewables accounting for more than one-fifth. In 2011 (the latest data available), renewables met 20.6% of the region’s electricity consumption (up from 20% in 2010) and 13.4% of gross final energy consumption (compared to 12.5% in 2010).
In the EU and elsewhere, an increasing number of households and businesses are making voluntary purchases of renewable energy. Voluntary purchases of heat and transport biofuels are options in some countries, but “green energy” purchasing remains most common for renewable electricity. The largest corporate users are reportedly in Japan, Germany, and Finland.
Germany has become one of the world’s green power leaders. Its market grew from 0.8 million residential customers in 2006 to 4.3 million in 2011, or 10% of all private households in the country purchasing 13.1 TWh of renewable electricity; including commercial customers, purchases exceeded 21 TWh.51 Other major European green power markets include Austria, Belgium (Flanders), Finland, Italy, the Netherlands, Sweden, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom, although the market share in these countries remains below German levels.
In the United States, more than half of electricity customers have the option to purchase green power directly from a retail electricity provider. In 2011, the U.S. green power market grew an estimated 20%, and Green-e Energy, the country’s leading certifier of voluntary green power, certified 27.8 TWh.53 By early 2013, the 50 largest purchasers (including municipalities and corporations) in the Environmental Protection Agency’s Green Power Partnership were buying more than 17 TWh annually from a variety of renewable sources, with 17 partners covering all of their electricity demand.54 Green power markets also exist in Australia, Canada, Japan, and South Africa.
More than 50 major international corporations had adopted the WindMade label by the end of 2012.56 The label was launched globally in 2011 to help consumers identify companies and products using wind energy, and plans were announced in 2012 to develop a new label for all renewables.
In early 2013, a network of European environmental NGOs introduced “EKOenergy,” aiming to provide a green labelling standard for all of Europe.
Major industrial and commercial customers in Europe, India, the United States, and elsewhere continued to install and operate their own renewable power systems, while community-owned and cooperative projects also increased in number during 2012.
The year saw expanded installations of small-scale, distributed renewable systems for remote locations as well as grid-connected systems where consumers prefer to generate at least a portion of their electricity on-site. As consumers increasingly become producers of power, particularly in some European countries, some major utilities are losing market share, putting strains on current business models.