London, UK [Renewable Energy World magazine] There’s always something particularly pleasing about putting together this annual review issue of Renewable Energy World magazine. Part of the satisfaction is in working with some of the industry’s leading commentators, and being able to bring together their observations on the ups and downs of the industry. And partly it’s the sense of moving forward, for almost without exception, it is indeed ‘ups’ that we report on, year after year.
This year the BTM report tells us that over 28,000 MW of wind power were installed worldwide during 2008, increasing global cumulative installed capacity by 30% and bringing it to 122,158 MW. And Eric Martinot and Janet Sawin write that in 2008 alone, the capacity of utility-scale solar PV plants tripled to 3 GW. Grid-connected solar PV as a whole grew by 70%, while solar hot water grew by 15%. Not only have markets grown, but installation size and equipment capacity too. Eize de Vries reports on Enercon’s E-126 wind turbine, currently rated at 6 MW.
Yes, the ball-and-chain effect of the economic downturn is hampering progress, and the growth curve has changed shape. (Overall investments in the sector were 23% lower in the second half of 2008 than in the equivalent period in 2007.) And yes, an over-reliance on a small number of markets (notably the Spanish PV market, this time) can leave the industry vulnerable and exposed.
All the same, there’s little doubt that renewables’ upward trend will once again continue upwards. That’s partly because some specific — and important — problems may be eased. For example, though the PV industry finds itself in a transformed, oversupplied market, some silicon suppliers with long-term, high-price supply contracts with PV manufacturers appear set to renegotiate and bring prices closer to the much lower spot market prices, as recently observed by New Energy Finance.
Along with fixes of that kind from within the industry, there’s something else. The electric power industry is taking renewable energy very seriously. For instance in May, at the POWER-GEN Europe conference (our Renewable Energy World conference took place alongside it) the three opening keynote speakers — from a leading utility and two power sector equipment suppliers — gave the largely mainstream power sector audience their views on ‘meeting the energy challenge’. All three of them spoke extensively about renewable energy as an essential part of the mix, and about a transformed grid system to accommodate large amounts of it. There was talk of ‘prosumers’, feeding their self-generated power into the (smart) grid. There was nothing that would have surprised me if I had been at a renewables event. But this was largely a gathering of ‘the mainstream’; I could scarcely believe my ears.
For renewable electricity (putting heat and transport to one side for a moment) to move up to the next level, with high levels of renewable electricity on the grid, requires the recognition and co-operation of the mainstream system and players. That’s not just for utility-scale renewables, but for decentralized (democratized, if you like), grid-connected renewables as well. And in part, at least, ‘the system’ does seem ready to shake hands.
— Jackie Jones, Editorial Director
P.S. The Renewable Energy World team looks forward to seeing you at the many events we’ll be attending later this year and in 2010 — and especially at our own Renewable Energy World events. Please visit click the Expo tab to find out more.