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Renewable Energy Back on Track?

Brian Hicks

Written By Brian Hicks

Posted June 27, 2013

Renewable energy is riding the wave of the future and, according to the International Energy Agency (IEA), will supply more electricity in 2016 than nuclear reactors or natural gas.

The wave is spurred on by falling costs and a growing demand in global markets.

The IEA report released Wednesday came just one day after U.S. President Barack Obama made a speech unveiling his plans to combat climate change. In that speech, an outline was presented to limit greenhouse gas emissions from fossil-fueled power plants and turn towards a federal reliance on renewable energy sources.

wind turbinesThe timing is impeccable, as renewable energy continues to prove its luster as costs go down.

Wind, solar, biofuels, and geothermal power will grow as much as 40 percent in the next five years, doubling the amount of 2011. If you include hydropower, according to the IEA, renewable energy will make up roughly a quarter of the global power mix by 2018, up from 20 percent in 2011.

The IEA data indicates renewables are giving fossil fuels a real run for their money when it comes to pricing, even as many subsidies are coming to an end. This is so much the case that many sources of renewable energy no longer require high economic incentives to create demand; costs are low enough now that it’s no longer necessary.

One key note in the IEA report reveals growth will slow in industrial nations as subsidies are reduced and an overall uncertainty for government support is shown as a result. On the other hand, the estimated investment in renewable energy for emerging nations will be at an all-time high of about $112 billion, according to BusinessWeek, compared to $132 for developed countries – the smallest gap ever seen between the two.

Renewable Energy Future

Knowing that emerging markets are implementing renewable energy into their energy mix and making it a focal point is the driving force behind the growth and strength of renewable energy moving into the future.

This growth will really take off in the next five years. China will account for the largest amount of growth, with about 40 percent of new capacity or roughly 310 gigawatts. But it’s nations that are outside the Organization for Economic Cooperation & Development that will begin to truly make their mark, accounting for 58 percent of the total renewable generation by 2018, up from 54 percent in 2012, the IEA states.

It’s no surprise that China is expected to be the world leader in many renewable energy sources including hydropower, wind, solar, and biofuels.

Markets like China and India that are booming in energy demand will help offset the slower growth in nations like the U.S. and Europe.

And as for smaller markets like Brazil, Turkey, and New Zealand, the considerable drop in the cost of wind power makes it a very attractive alternative to fossil fuel.


Renewable Usage

Of all the renewable power-generating sources, it will be hydropower that leads the way in years to come. The generation created by falling or flowing water, usually in dams, will produce more than two-thirds of the total global output by renewable energy sources by 2018, according to the IEA.

Wind power, both onshore and offshore, will be strong as well, and new technologies are expected to emerge, employing wind in as much as 75 countries by 2018.

Biofuels will also likely see growth. According to the National Geographic Daily News, municipal waste should prove to be a leading biological source to generate energy. The IEA believes more than 50 countries will employ biofuels to generate 100 megawatts of electricity by 2018, up from just 40 megawatts in 2012.

Solar is the one source of renewable energy the IEA is less optimistic about. It will still see growth – about 25 percent by 2018 – but this will be way down from the growth it saw between 1998 and 2012, when it experienced 45 percent growth annually.

It is developing countries that require the capacity for energy the most, and now it is proven that the resources can be provided at a reasonable cost.

What’s even more eye opening is that some experts like Daniel Kammen, Director of the Renewable and Appropriate Energy laboratory at the University of California, Berkley, say the IEA’s projections are conservative at best.

Kammen would argue that the acceleration for renewable energy, with new policies and technologies and ever decreasing costs, will cause its use to grow much faster. This is especially true as climate change and health impacts become more important on a global scale.

But problems do remain – fossil fuel subsidies are still six times higher than that of renewables worldwide.


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