From the late 1990s onwards, it seems wind and solar installations grew faster than any other power plant technology across the world. To put that into perspective, that’s about 430,000 MW total installed capacity between 2000 and 2010. That’s the good news according to a new report from Greenpeace, The Silent Energy Revolution: 20 Years in the Making. But the organisation is at the same time cautious about the news, saying it in no way signals the end of fossil fuel-based power generation.
The report casts its eye on the global annual power plant market over the past 40 years and at the same time assesses potential growth opportunities for renewable energy over the next 20 years.
According to the report:
Between 1970 and 1990, OECD1 countries that electrified their economies mainly with coal, gas and hydro power plants dominated the global power plant market. The power sector, at this time, was in the hands of state-owned utilities with regional or nationwide supply monopolies. The nuclear industry had a relatively short period of steady growth between 1970 and the mid 1980s - with a peak in 1985, one year before the Chernobyl accident - while the following years were in decline, with no sign of a ‘nuclear renaissance’, despite the rhetoric.
Between 1990 and 2000, the global power plant industry went through a series of changes. While OECD countries began to liberalise their electricity markets, electricity demand did not match previous growth, so fewer new power plants were built. Capital-intensive projects with long payback times, such as coal and nuclear power plants, were unable to get sufficient financial support. The decade of gas power plants started.
Since the year 2000, the wind power market gained a growing market share within the global power plant market. At this time only a handful of countries, namely Germany, Denmark and Spain, dominated the wind market, but the wind industry now has projects in over 70 countries around the world. Following the example of the wind industry, the solar photovoltaic industry experienced an equal growth since 2005. Between 2000 and 2010, 26% of all new power plants worldwide were renewables – mainly wind – and 42% gas power plants. So, two-thirds of all new power plants installed globally are gas power plants and renewables, with close to one-third as coal. Nuclear remains irrelevant on a global scale with just 2% of the global market share. About 430,000 MW of new renewable energy capacity has been installed over the last decade, while 475,000 MW of new coal, with embedded cumulative emissions of more than 55 bn tonnes CO2 over their technical lifetime, came online – 78% or 375,000 MW in China.
Interestingly, while China’s power generation from coal starts to significantly increase from 2004 through to 2010, so to do more renewable forms of energy, like wind and hydro.
So, what to do with all this information? Greenpeace NZ Climate Change Campaigner Nathan Argent.has some suggestions for the New Zealand Government:
“As a renewable energy powerhouse, with a wealth of renewable energy know-how, the Government can choose to place our home grown talent at the heart of this global, clean energy revolution, or it can shackle our economy to the dirty fossil fuels of yesterday.
“If it chooses the clean energy route, our world class ingenuity could not only be the building blocks of a cleaner, more prosperous economy here at home, it could be part of the global solution to climate change.
“The starting gun of the clean energy race has been fired, and the Government must act now to ensure New Zealand’s clean energy pioneers get out of the blocks or risk being left behind as spectators,” says Agent.
Download the report in full HERE.