From the Editor: Renewables Growth Continues But at What Pace?

In its latest Clean Energy Progress report the International Energy Agency (IEA) has again highlighted the pernicious influence of fossil-fuel subsidies on the continued growth of the renewable energy sector.

According to the report, fossil fuels currently receive some US$312 billion in consumption subsidies, versus $57 billion for renewable energy. And this is just one of the issues which sees the competitiveness of renewable energy largely lag that of their fossil-based rivals.

Certainly, renewable energy technologies are making visible progress – wind and solar PV have achieved considerable success for instance – but achieving clean energy goals will require a doubling of renewable energy use by 2020 and thus renewable energy growth rates must be sustained in the long term. Furthermore, with signs that austerity plans are weakening policy support, comes the observation that fossil fuel-based energy development continues to outpace that of renewables.

Global renewable electricity generation since 1990 has grown at an average of 2.7% per year, the IEA says, less than the 3% growth seen for total electricity generation. Consequently, while in 1990 19.5% of global electricity was produced from renewables, this had fallen to 18.5% by 2008.

But, as ever, global events continue to overtake policymakers and impacts on the world’s energy complex – such as the surging oil price and renewed questions over nuclear following the Japanese earthquake and tsunami – may yet accelerate a shift in balance in favour of renewables.

Indeed, IEA Executive Director, Nobuo Tanaka, recently noted: ‘The age of cheap energy is over. The only question now is, will the extra rent… go to an ever-smaller circle of producers, or will it be directed back into the domestic economies of the consumers, with the added benefits of increased environmental sustainability?’

We explore some issues that inform this debate in this edition. For example in “The Dangers of Energy Generation,”  we take a look at the potential implications arising from disasters such as that in Japan as we attempt to assess the potential cost benefits of a distributed renewable energy generation system.

To coincide with our own Renewable Energy World Europe conference and exhibition, which takes place in Milan, Italy, on 7-9 June this year, in our May-June issue we present an overview of the country’s renewable energy scene, and a report on a new PV testing facility comparing 24 different technologies.

We also consider a possibly unlikely source of renewable energy technology development in our feature on renewables in the military and take a look at a number of emerging technologies with a feature on the latest CSP developments in Spain.

Please also look out for the two special supplements which are being published together with this edition. In our latest Wind Technology we present all the latest in the world of wind and this is joined by Large-scale Solar, a new publication that provides detailed articles on this dramatically changing industry.

Renewables will no doubt continue to face fearsome challenges on their long road to grid parity, and while there aren’t necessarily any short cuts, the path may have got just that little bit easier.

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