I have been writing an article for a new publication soon to be launched by the editorial group that publishes Sun & Wind Energy magazine, and as part of the research I read a report that the IEA launched a few days ago – the Medium Term Renewable Energy Market Report 2012. I am definitely very familiar with renewable energy issues, and used to hearing about its massive growth. Yet, I found some of the illustrations in the report genuinely staggering. Here is one, illustrating the incredibly rapid growth of solar photovoltaics globally. In 2011, they reached almost 70 Gigawatts (GW), starting from around 5 GW in 2005. So, on average, over those 6 years, the equivalent capacity of 10 nuclear power stations was installed per year in solar PV. Sure, the comparison is a bit stretched, as solar and nuclear operate differently – and of course the sun is not always shining (as we know well here in the UK this “summer”!). But the comparison does give some sense of proportion. We are not talking small numbers and marginal technologies any more.
Overall, renewable energy is projected to growth by around 40% in the next 5 years. Some types of generation will grow at an even faster rate. Offshore wind power, for example, is set to grow from 4 GW to 26 GW in 2017 – and that is a relatively conservative estimate as it is assumed some countries will not manage to achieve the renewable energy targets they have set for themselves.
I think this should have been the top story on all business pages of all newspapers globally. Yet, a quick google search shows the story was mainly picked up by the specialist media, while the mainstream media did not cover it in detail. Then you wonder why so many people have wrong perceptions about renewable energy and its merits vs fossil fuels or nuclear power. As a business journalist myself, I really wonder a lot about what is behind this problem. I do have some ideas, but I’ll leave that for another post – as it’s a long and complicated discussion.