Renewables 2011 Global Status Report

By Bhavani Prakash


Global Renewable Energy now accounts for 16% of final energy consumption in 2009 and for about a quarter of global power capacity from all sources. Despite the recession, there is momentum in the sector with total global investment in renewable power and fuels increasing by 32% over the previous year to $211 billion from $160 billion.

These are the figures stated in the Renewable 2011 Global Status Report (REN21). Produced annually since 2005, the report is targeted at policy makers, industry and other stakeholders.


Some of the main findings of REN21

  • In 2009, renewable energy supplied an estimated 16% of global final energy consumption. Fossil fuels made up the lion’s share at 81% with nuclear at 2.8%.
  • However, of the 16%, 10% is still accounted for by traditional biomass, primarily used for cooking and heating in rural areas of developing countries. Hydropower accounts for 3.4% with other renewables (wind, solar, modern biomass, geothermal and biofuels) at 2.8% in 2009.
  • Total investment in renewable energy reached a record $211 billion in 2010, up from $160 billion in 2009, including asset finance, venture capital, private equity investment, public markets and both corporate and government R&D. China attracted nearly $50 billion, making it the leader, followed by Germany, the United States, Italy and Brazil. India ranked 8th in the world for renewable energy investment which rose to US$3.8 billion mainly for wind power projects ($2.3bn) and $400 million each for solar and biomass power (including waste-to-energy).
  • The top five countries for non-hydro renewable power capacity were the US, China, Germany, Spain and India.
  • China led the world in the installation of wind turbines and solar thermal systems and was the top hydropower producer in 2010.
  • New wind power capacity added during 2010 reached 39 GW, with global capacity reaching 198GW. The growth was primarily driven by China, which accounted for half the global capacity additions in 2010.
  • Solar photovoltaic (PV) capacity was added in more than 100 countries in 2010, with PV remaining the fastest growing power-generation technology in the world, with an estimated 17GW of PV capacity added in 2010 globally bringing the total to 40GW, which is more than 7 times the capacity five years earlier. EU accounted for 80% of the new PV capacity with about 13.2 GW newly installed to meet electricity consumption of 100 million European households.

Christine Lins, Executive Secretary of REN21, hosted by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) discussed the report with us at the Clean Energy Expo Asia in Singapore held between 1 – 3 November 2011. The event is part of the Singapore International Energy Week, organised by the Sustainable Energy Association of Singapore and Koelmesse.

It was observed that sustainability issues surrounding various renewables have not been highlighted sufficiently in the document. For example, not all biofuels are equal. Corn based ethanol competes with food while palm oil threatens rainforests. There are better sources of biofuels such as jatropha grown on marginal lands, cellulosic ethanol from corn waste, or ethanol from sugarcane where the industry in Brazil efficiently recycles waste after extraction. But even these have environmental impacts as a result of large scale agriculture.

Lins agreed that this is an area the REN21 Secretariat could consider incorporating in future reports.

In talking about the various life cycle impact of renewables, such as the environmental and supply chain risks of rare earth metals used in the manufacture of solar PVs and wind turbine components, Lins noted, “Just because we use renewables, it doesn’t mean we can waste them.”

According to REN21, the US Department of Energy estimates that clean energy technology (which includes PV cells, wind turbines, electric vehicles and fluorescent lighting) now account for 20% of the global consumption of critical materials including rare-earth elements and other key elements such as indium, gallium, tellurium, cobalt and lithium. China which now possesses roughly 36% of the world’s rare-earth deposits, currently manufactures about 97% of the world’s supply.

As China restricts its export quotas, the sourcing of critical materials is a potential risk, both economically and geopolitically in the development of clean technologies.

The report mentions that the European association, PV cycle, a voluntary network of recycling depots and collectors for end-of-life solar PV panels has been established, to record the collection of around 150 tonnes of end-of-life PV modules. The “Solar Scorecard” brought out by non-profit group, “Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition” ranks the overall environmental impact of solar manufacturers.

Energy efficiency targets and achievements are also not reflected in the report, the statistics to which Lins admitted was difficult to compile.

REN21 provides a useful snapshot picture of renewable energy support policies in over 70 countries cutting across high-income, upper middle income, lower middle income and low income nations. These include regulatory policies, fiscal incentives and public financing.

Other areas of interest in the report are a breakdown of existing share of renewables in final energy consumpton in individual countries as well as their targets, and selected examples of city and local renewable energy policies.

REN21 also highlights community and local level impact, especially with respect to rural renewable energy, with examples of how the transition to renewable energy in rural (off grid) areas have been enabled. These have been achieved by technologies such as household PV systems, micro-hydro powered mini-grids, biomass based systems and solar pumps which provide basic necessities such as quality lighting, communications, heating and cooling and motive power.

Lins mentioned that 2012 has been declared the UN Year of Sustainable Energy. It has three objectives by 2030: to achieve universal access to energy, to decrease energy intensity by 40% and to double the share of renewable energy in final energy consumption from 16% to 32%.

It’s not clear how this will get translated into national goals, or whether this will be adequate to achieve the kind of targets needed to keep the world within the critical 2 degree temperature rise. Nevertheless, a concerted effort is needed to deaddict global economies towards fossil fuels, and as the adage goes, you can only manage what you can measure. REN21 is a good step in that direction.

The full report can be downloaded here.

Image: Renewable 2011 Global Status Report cover


The article first appeared in Green Business Times


Further links you may be interested in:

Grist: Renewables in the US: Growing fast but not fast enough





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