Renewables Bounced Back in 2010, Finds REN21 Global Report

In the last year, the world has seen many significant developments that have had an impact – both direct and indirect – on renewable energy. The global economic recession entered a new phase in 2010, marked by massive public finance crises – felt most acutely in Europe – that led several governments to announce incentive cuts for solar energy. Natural gas prices remained low, temporarily reducing the competitiveness of renewable energy. At the same time, worldwide developments highlighted the security, economic and human costs of relying so heavily on fossil and nuclear energy.

Global energy consumption rebounded strongly in 2010 after an overall downturn in 2009, with annual growth of 5.4 percent, well above the historical average. Renewable energy, which had no downturn in 2009, also continued its strong growth.

Indeed, renewable energy accounted for approximately half of the estimated 194 GW of new electric capacity added globally during 2010 while existing renewable power capacity worldwide reached an estimated 1320 GW in 2010, up almost eight percent from 2009. Renewables now comprise about a quarter of total global power generating capacity (estimated at 4950 GW in 2010) and supplies close to 20 percent of global electricity, with most of this provided by hydropower. When hydropower is not included, renewables reached a total of 312 GW in 2010, a 25 percent increase over the 2009 figure of 250 GW. Among all renewables, global wind power capacity increased the most in 2010, followed by hydropower and solar photovoltaics (PV).

While this article focuses on the electricity sector, renewables also play increasingly significant roles in the heating/cooling and transportation sectors, as detailed in the REN21 report.

Wind Power

Among all renewables, wind capacity increased the most in 2010, by 39 GW – over three times the 11.5 GW added worldwide just five years earlier. As a result, capacity increased more than 24 percent relative to 2009, with total global capacity nearing 198 GW by year’s end.

At least 52 countries increased wind capacity during 2010, and 83 countries now use it on a commercial basis. Over the five years to end-2010, annual growth rates of cumulative wind power capacity averaged 27 percent. The annual global wind power market held steady in 2010, just slightly above 2009, due to slower growth in the US and Europe brought on by policy uncertainty, by the continuing economic crisis, and by depressed electricity demand in many developed countries.

As a result, for the first time, the majority of new turbine capacity was added in developing countries and emerging markets rather than in wind’s traditional markets. This growth was driven primarily by China, which accounted for 50 percent of global capacity additions in 2010, up from 4.4 percent in 2005. China added 18.9 GW of new wind, a 37 percent increase over 2009, bringing the country into the global lead with a total of 44.7 GW. However, about 13 GW of this capacity had not yet been commercially certified by year-end, although all but 2 GW was in fact already feeding electricity to the grid.

The U.S. added just over 5 GW in 2010, compared with more than 10 GW the previous year, bringing its total to 40.2 GW, a 15 percent increase over 2009. By year-end, wind accounted for 2.3 percent of generation (up from 1.8 percent in 2009). Texas, with 10.1 GW, had more than one quarter of existing US capacity at the end of the year.

The European Union installed nearly 9.5 GW in 2010, down slightly compared with 2009 but bringing the total to about 84 GW. For the first year since 2007, wind did not account for the largest share of new capacity and in fact came in third behind natural gas and PV.

Germany maintained its lead in Europe with 27.2 GW operating at the end of 2010, generating 36.5 TWh during the year. Nevertheless, the annual addition of 1.6 GW represented a 19 percent reduction in new capacity relative to 2009 and the smallest annual German wind market since 1999; if dismantled systems are accounted for, net capacity additions totaled 1.5 GW.

Spain again led Europe in terms of new installations, adding nearly 1.8 GW for a total of over 20.7 GW. This made it the world’s fourth largest market for new wind, although Spain saw its slowest growth since 2003 in absolute terms. Despite having less capacity in operation than Germany, Spain produced more electricity (43 TWh) in 2010, due largely to higher winds and more advanced turbines.

France, Italy, and the U.K. (adding 1.1 GW, 0.9 GW and just under 0.9 GW respectively) were the other top markets in Europe. Meanwhile, emerging-market EU countries helped to offset the decline in mature E.U. markets, with significant growth in Bulgaria, Lithuania, Poland, and Romania.

India was the third largest market in 2010, adding nearly 2.3 GW to reach an estimated 13.2 GW and maintain its fifth-place ranking for total wind capacity.

Other markets around the world are also starting to take off. In Latin America and the Caribbean, total installed capacity rose 54 percent during 2010, with Brazil and Mexico each adding about 0.3 GW. However, Latin America still accounts for a very small share. The same is true in Africa and the Middle East, although at least 11 countries in the region had commercial wind installations in 2010.

Although its share of total wind capacity remains small, offshore wind continued to pick up speed, increasing by 1.2 GW to 3.1 GW at the end of 2010, with most of this in Europe and the rest in China (0.1 GW) and Japan (0.02 GW). The European offshore market grew more than 50 percent during 2010, bringing total capacity to 3 GW.

Solar Power

More than 100 countries added new solar photovoltaic (PV) during 2010, ensuring that PV remained the world’s fastest growing technology with an estimated 17 GW of new capacity (compared with just under 7.3 GW in 2009). This brought the global total to about 40 GW – more than seven times that of five years earlier.

Total existing capacity of all PV grew 72 percent relative to 2009, with the average annual growth rate over the 2005-2010 period exceeding 49 percent. For the first time since 2005, thin-film’s share of the market declined, from 17 percent in 2009 to 13 percent in 2010, although sales increased. The PV market was driven by falling costs, new applications, strong investor interest, and continued strong policy support, but also by accelerated tariff digressions in some countries.

The EU dominated the global market, accounting for 80 percent of the total with about 13.2 GW newly installed. And, led by Germany and Italy, Europe added more PV than wind for the first time ever.

Germany added more PV (7.4 GW) in 2010 than the entire world did the previous year, ending 2010 with 17.3 GW of capacity. During the first quarter of 2011, Germany also generated 2.75 TWh from PV, an increase of 87% over the same period in 2010. Italy added some 2.3 GW, bringing the official PV total to nearly 3.5 GW, though actual installations were likely higher. And, in the Czech Republic, the combination of high feed-in tariff rates and the reduction in equipment costs led to a second strong year (1.5 GW), lifting the country from virtually zero in 2008 to nearly 2 GW in 2010.

Other major European installers in 2010 included France (adding 0.7 GW), which more than tripled its additions relative to 2009, followed by Belgium (0.4 GW) and Greece (almost 0.2 GW), which more than quadrupled its 2009 additions. Spain saw a second consecutive year with installations well below the 2008 peak as a result of a cap on ground-mounted systems and uncertainties associated with the new regulatory framework; less than 0.4 GW were added in 2010, bringing total PV capacity to 3.8 GW.

Beyond Europe, the largest PV markets were Japan (nearly 1 GW), the United States (0.9 GW), and China (0.6 GW). The Japanese and U.S. PV markets almost doubled relative to 2009, with Japan’s total existing capacity reaching 3.6 GW and the U.S. passing the 2.5-GW mark. More than a quarter of additional US capacity was in utility-scale projects, and electric utilities are becoming a key driver of future growth in the country.

The trend toward utility-scale (>200 kW) PV plants continued, with the number of such systems exceeding 5,000 in 2010, up from just over 3200 in 2009. These facilities totaled some 9.7 GW of capacity by the end of 2010, an increase of more than 3 GW during the year, and accounted for almost 25 percent of total global PV capacity.

Interest in concentrating PV (CPV) is also on the rise, with as much as 0.02 GW connected to the grid worldwide during 2010 and early 2011.

After years of inactivity, the concentrating solar thermal power (CSP) market has seen about 740 MW added between 2007 and end-2010. More than half of this capacity (approximately 478 MW) was installed during 2010, bringing the global total to 1095 MW. The global market was dominated by parabolic trough plants, which account for 90 percent of CSP plants and for nearly all existing capacity.

Spain added 400 MW in 2010, taking the global lead with a total of 632 MW, while the US ended the year with 509 MW after adding 78 MW, including two fossil-CSP hybrid plants.

CSP growth is expected to continue at a rapid pace. As of April 2011, another 946 MW were under construction in Spain with total new capacity of 1,789 MW expected to be in operation by the end of 2013. In the US, a further 1.5 GW of parabolic trough and power-tower plants were under construction as of early 2011, and contracts signed for at least another 6.2 GW. Interest is also notable in North Africa and the Middle East, as well as India and China.

Biomass Power

Significant increases in biomass for power production were seen during 2010 in a number of European countries, the US, and in China, India, and several other developing nations. Globally, an estimated 62 GW of biomass power capacity was in place by the end of 2010, with the US continuing to lead. Other significant producers included the EU — led by Germany, Sweden, and the U.K. — and Brazil, China, and Japan. Less than 0.3 GW of capacity was added in the US during 2010, bringing the total to 10.4 GW (excluding municipal organic waste), and biomass generated about 48 TWh during 2010.

The European Union’s gross electricity production from biomass increased nearly 10.2 percent between 2008 and 2009 (the most recent year for which complete data are available), from 79.3 TWh to 87.4 TWh. Solid biomass accounted for 62.2 TWh — about 71 percent — and biogas accounted for the remainder. About half of Europe’s biomass power production came from electric-only facilities and half came from combined heat and power (CHP) plants.

Although biogas experienced the most significant increase in the EU (up almost 18 percent), generation from all biomass sources has increased rapidly. For example, EU electricity production from solid biomass tripled between 2001 and 2009, and by early 2010 some 800 solid biomass plants (an estimated 7.1 GW) were operating.

The top three countries in Europe — Germany, Sweden, and the U.K. — accounted for nearly 50 percent of the region’s electricity production from biomass in 2009; Germany alone accounted for about 50 percent of the EU’s biogas generation and almost 30% of total EU electricity generation from biomass. Other significant biomass power producers included Finland, Poland, Italy, and the Netherlands.

Future high growth, particularly in biogas use, is expected in Italy, France, Spain, and the U.K., and new markets are emerging in the Czech Republic, Hungary, and Slovakia.

Brazil’s biomass power capacity, nearly all cogeneration, has also been increasing steadily. Capacity reached 7.8 GW in 2010, generating 28 TWh. It has also grown in several other Latin American countries, including Costa Rica, Mexico, and Uruguay.

Japan generated an estimated 10 TWh with biomass in 2010, excluding co-firing. Elsewhere in Asia, China’s capacity rose about 25 percent in 2010 to 4 GW using a combination of bagasse, solid biomass, organic waste, and biogas (including from livestock wastes).

India added about 0.3 GW of biomass power capacity in 2010 for a total of 3 GW at year-end. Thailand added only 0.003 GW of solid biomass capacity in 2010, ending the year with 1.3 GW, but it nearly doubled its biogas capacity in 2009 to 0.05 GW and increased it a further 37 percent in 2010 to 0.07 GW. Malaysia is seeing significant biogas expansion as well.

There is also increasing interest in Africa and the Middle East, where several countries – including Cameroon, Kenya, Tanzania, and Uganda – have existing biomass capacity or development plans.

Geothermal Power

Since 2005, significant additions of geothermal electric capacity have occurred in Iceland, Indonesia, New Zealand, the US, and Turkey, and global power production has increased more than 20 percent.

Countries with lower capacity levels but high growth rates during this period include El Salvador (35 percent), Guatemala (58 percent), Papua New Guinea (more than 800 percent), and Portugal (81 percent). By the end of 2010, global installations came to over 11 GW, up an estimated 240 MW from 2009, generating about 67.2 TWh.

Although geothermal developments slowed in 2010 relative to 2009, the lull was expected to be temporary. The lack of available drilling rigs (due to competition with the oil and gas industry) has hindered developers, while the lack of a qualified workforce has presented problems in Kenya and elsewhere.

The three largest plants commissioned in 2010 were in New Zealand, Italy and Kenya. The addition in Kenya increased the plant’s capacity to 0.1 GW, making it the largest in Africa.

By the beginning of 2011, geothermal plants were operating in at least 24 countries, but the vast majority of capacity was located in eight: the US (3.1 GW), the Philippines (1.9 GW), Indonesia (1.2 GW), Mexico (just under 1 GW), Italy (0.9 GW), New Zealand (nearly 0.8 GW), Iceland (0.6 GW), and Japan (0.5 GW).

Iceland, the leader on a per capita basis, generated about 26% of its electricity with geothermal power in 2010, and the Philippines generated approximately 18 percent.

As the market continues to broaden, a significant acceleration in the rate of deployment is expected, with advanced technologies allowing for development in new countries. As of early 2011, nearly 0.8 GW of new capacity was in the drilling or construction phase in the US and was expected to be generating by 2015; and a total of 123 confirmed projects (accounting for up to 1.4 GW of resources) in 15 U.S. states were in development.

Iceland expects to add nearly 0.1 GW in 2011, and much more capacity is in pipelines around the globe, with 46 countries forecast to have new geothermal installed within the next five years. By late 2010, Germany had an estimated 150 pipeline projects, and projects were underway in Chile (0.2 GW), Costa Rica (0.4 GW), India (nearly 0.3 GW), and the U.K. (0.01 GW), among others.


Currently in use in some 150 countries, global hydropower production increased more than five percent in 2010 – due greatly to new capacity and wet weather in China – and represented about 16 percent of global electricity production. An estimated 30 GW was added during 2010, with existing capacity reaching an estimated 1010 GW.

The top countries for hydro are China, Brazil, the US, Canada, and Russia, accounting for 52 percent of the total. Ranked by generation, the order is China, Canada, Brazil, the US, and Russia.

By region, Asia leads for share of installed hydro capacity, followed by Europe, then North and South America, with Africa at a distant fifth. China added 16 GW during 2010 to reach some 213 GW, a significant increase over the 117 GW at end-2005.

Brazil brought about 5 GW into operation, bringing its existing capacity to 80.7 GW, with a further 8.9 GW under construction. Canada generated about 348 TWh and added 500 MW to end 2010 with 75.6 GW. More than 11 GW of new projects were under construction across Canada by early 2011, with an estimated 1.3 GW due to be operational before the end of 2012. US development has slowed recently due to the economic recession, but just over 0.02 GW of new hydro began operating in 2010 for a total of 78 GW (plus 20.5 GW of pumped storage), producing 257 TWh during the year (up from 233.6 TWh in 2009).

Russia has an estimated 55 GW, which represents about one fifth of the country’s total capacity. Brazil and Canada generate roughly 80 percent and 61 percent, respectively, of their electricity with hydropower. Many countries in Africa produce close to 100 percent of their grid-based electricity with hydro, as does Norway.

India, which ranks sixth worldwide for total hydro, with an existing capacity of more than 40 GW (including 37.4 GW of large-scale), added about 0.3 GW of small hydro in 2010 for a cumulative small-scale hydro capacity of 2.9 GW at year-end; another 0.9 GW of small hydro were under construction as of early 2011. Brazil had 53 small hydro projects (0.7 GW) under construction by early 2011, and 149 additional plants (2.1 GW) had been authorised. Canada, Iran, Kazakhstan, and Switzerland also had significant amounts of small hydro under construction or in planning. Rwanda aimed to have 0.04 GW of small hydro capacity by 2015.

Asia (led by China) and Latin America (led by Brazil) are the most active regions for new hydro. An additional 140 GW are planned in China over the next five years. Brazil plans two major projects in the Amazon region, including a 3.2 GW reservoir project due for completion in late 2011.

North America and Europe, also constructing new plants, are the main centres for modernisation of existing plants and for the application of pumped storage.

Interest in pumped storage is increasing, particularly in regions and countries where variable renewable resources are achieving relatively high penetration. The vast majority is in Europe, Japan, and the US. About 4 GW was added globally in 2010, bringing the world total to approximately 136 GW, up from 98 GW in 2005.

Ocean energy is the least mature of the technologies considered and by the end of 2010, only tidal barrage systems had achieved commercial scale, accounting for most of the world’s installed capacity.

However, in 2010 there were a handful of pre-commercial projects. Although existing capacity remained low relative to other renewable technologies, numerous projects were in development or under contract, and at least 25 countries were involved in ocean energy development activities. At year’s end, an estimated total of 6 MW of wave (2 MW) and tidal stream (4 MW) capacity had been installed worldwide. Most of these projects were in Europe, with the majority operating off the coasts of Portugal and the U.K. A few prototypes were initiating first steps toward commercialisation.

Regional Development

By early 2011, at least 118 countries had some type of policy target or renewable support policy at the national level, up from 55 countries in early 2005. Developing countries, which now represent more than half of all countries with policy targets and half of all countries with renewable support policies, are playing an increasingly important role in advancing renewable energy. This increasing geographic diversity in markets and manufacturing is boosting confidence that renewables are less vulnerable to policy or market dislocations in any specific country.

The top five countries for non-hydro renewable power capacity were the US, China, Germany, Spain, and India. In the US, renewable energy accounted for an estimated 25 percent of electric capacity additions in 2010 and 11.6 percent of existing capacity at year’s end.

China added an estimated 29 GW of grid-connected renewables, for a total of 263 GW, an increase of 12 percent compared with 2009. Renewables accounted for about 26 percent of China’s total installed capacity in 2010, and 18 percent of generation. In the European Union, renewables accounted for an estimated 41 percent of newly installed electric capacity in 2010, with PV accounting for more than half of the total. Although the share was significantly lower than the more than 60 percent of total capacity added in 2009, more renewable power capacity was added in Europe than ever before (22.6 GW), with total installations up 31 percent over the previous year (17.5 GW). Renewable energy’s share of total electricity generation in the EU was nearly 20 percent in 2009.

India added an estimated 2.7 GW of grid-connected renewables during 2010 — mainly from wind but also from biomass, small hydropower, and solar capacity — for a total of nearly 19 GW.

Continued strong growth is expected in all renewable energy sectors in the coming years, with projects at various stages of development around the world. China alone plans to install more than 30 GW of wind power capacity during 2011 and 2012, and significant additional capacity is under construction in India, the US, U.K., and other countries. At least 5.4 GW of solar PV capacity was under contract in the US by the end of 2010. Globally, nearly 2.6 GW of additional CSP capacity was under construction by year’s end, with all plants expected to be operational by 2014. Significant geothermal power capacity (and CHP) was in project pipelines around the globe by year-end, with 46 countries forecast to have new geothermal capacity installed within the next five years. Major developments are under way for hydro, ocean energy, and other renewable technologies as well.

Technology cost reductions in solar PV in particular meant high growth rates in manufacturing. Cost reductions in wind turbines and biofuel processing technologies also contributed to growth. At the same time, there was further industry consolidation, notably in the biomass and biofuels industries, as traditional energy companies moved more strongly into the renewable energy space, and as manufacturing firms continued to move into project development.

Janet L. Sawin is the lead author/research director of the REN21 Renewables 2011 Global Status Report. Eric Martinot, who researched and wrote the early editions of the report, was expert advisor and an author of this year’s edition, a collaborative effort which was produced under the direction of project manager Rana Adib with the REN21 Secretariat. The full report is available here.

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