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Watts Up With Renewables? According to IEA, About a Thousand Billion More in Capacity by 2022

The big word around the block is that solar is presently changing the global energy game — and rapidly.

The major driver of this global sea change is presently China. But it appears that India is also about to play a substantial role. The U.S., depending on the policy choices of the Trump Administration, can remain a renewable energy leader or turn into a laggard. It all just depends on the whims of a man who has shown a quixotic propensity for pushing terrible policies and then, somehow, self-sabotaging at least half of them.

(Many locations around the world are rapidly transitioning to renewable energy. The destructive impacts of human caused climate change may well serve to speed that process as we see here with Tesla providing solar power generation to Puerto Rico hospitals following the terrible impacts of Hurricane Maria.)

Back to China, the country now holds about 110 billion watts (gigawatts) of annual practical solar panel manufacturing capacity. This is about 66 percent of the world total. From this capacity, it appears that China will itself add around 50 gigawatts of installed solar this year alone — pushing the cumulative to around 125 to 130 gigawatts by year end. China had already, as of September, added 34 gigawatts during 2017 with an overall installed generation capacity at 111 Gigawatts as of about a month ago.

Such a massive add by China will likely drive global new solar capacity in 2017 to around 80 to 100 gigawatts. Add in wind and hydro and that high number probably hits close to 150 billion watts in just one year.

The massive new solar additions are now helping renewables to swamp dirty energy sources like coal and somewhat less dirty though still very carbon intensive sources like gas. This remarkable achievement is primarily due to the fact that solar is now presently cost competitive with these older, more traditional energy sources. And the price of solar energy worldwide is expected to continue to fall over the coming years. According to a recent report — by a further 60 percent within the next decade.

Major energy think tanks are starting to take notice. And it is on the basis of solar, wind, and hydro’s relative economic strengths due to growing price advantages (particularly for solar), that the International Energy Agency (IEA) has predicted a 1,000 gigawatt addition of new renewable energy sources through 2022. Such an addition, in just five years, according to IEA’s Dr Fatih Birol, would amount to “half of the current global capacity in coal power, which took 80 years to build.” The agency also notes that renewable capacity additions will effectively double additions from sources like gas and coal.

(New study shows the cost of solar will fall by another 60 percent over the next ten years.)

IEA recognizes that China, the U.S. and India will be primary drivers of this large renewable energy gain. Though the agency points out that detrimental U.S. policy choices could put a damper on renewable energy additions in that key market. However, IEA also notes that more positive policy choices by China, India, the U.S. and others could result in a more than doubling of the new capacity add for renewables to 2,155 GW. Such policies not only result in major renewable energy growth. They would also produce wholesale replacement of fossil fuel and carbon emissions based power sources. A considerable boon to the global climate.

Even IEA’s base five year scenario shows renewable electrical power generation growing to compose 30 percent of the global market. This up from 26 percent during 2016. Though still not as high a percentage as coal, IEA predicts that renewables will make up half the difference with that dirtiest of power sources by 2022.

(With atmospheric CO2 levels likely to hit between 411 and 412 parts per million by May of 2018, global carbon emissions cuts due to fossil fuel energy replacement by renewables couldn’t come sooner. Image source: The Keeling Curve.)

IEA also predicts that power consumption from electrical vehicles will double from now to 2022. A somewhat conservative estimate considering the fact that the number of EVs on the road will likely double by 2019 to 2020 and that battery sizes for EVs are rapidly growing. IEA’s more conservative base scenario projection continues in that it sees renewables’ contribution to transportation energy sources only growing from 4 to 5 percent by 2022.

Taking this analysis a step further and applying it to the potential for global carbon emissions reductions we should point out that renewables taking up a larger portion of both power generation and transportation through 2022 will present an opportunity to start bending the carbon curve downward. The adoption range in which renewables begin to replace fossil fuels at a rapid enough pace to strongly impact global carbon emissions is 150 to 250 GW added per year + a net replacement of the fossil fuel based transportation fleets with EVs and other alternative fuel vehicles. Given IEA’s forecast, it appears that there’s a decent likelihood that this will happen over then next five years — barring any major numb-skullery by the present U.S. President and his sometimes-enabling fellow republicans in the U.S. Congress.

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44 Comments

  1. Allan Barr

     /  October 24, 2017

    Really good news and it will grow much faster than the IEA predicts, that institution has a long history of being wrong about renewable adoption rates now for more than a decade, someone needs to explain to them how the exponential function works. In the next couple of years renewables will be cheaper than the cost of transmission, game over fossil fuel power generation and a whole lot of stranded assets. Meanwhile ever more production is currently being built.

    Reply
    • I think the fossil fuel guys realize it. Most are just doing everything they can at the policy level to keep delaying renewables for as long as possible. But they’re starting to get resistance even from republicans on some of the more draconian captive-consumer based policies. That solar trade case has the potential to do real damage to the U.S. solar industry if not handled well. Although there are some indicators that Chinese solar manufacturers could take as little as 6-9 months to pack up a plant, ship it to the U.S., and rebuild it here. Not sure how accurate this is.

      Reply
      • bill h

         /  October 24, 2017

        To be fair, some of the fossil fuel guys are embracing renewables: witness Shell’s very welcome involvement in offshore wind in the North Sea.

        In case it hasn’t been mentioned the latest breakthrough for offshore wind is the first operational floating turbine wind farm (as opposed to single turbines) in the World off the East coast of Scotland, funded by…… an oil company, Statoil. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-41652707 Five 6 MW turbines. The funny thing is that it was oil and gas companies that developed the technology for their floating deep water oil rigs.

        Reply
        • Skeptical about Shell. That company has a history of buying and then shelving competitors. Not sure about Statoil. Total seems pretty genuine. But in the larger scheme, money spent on renewables = less money spent on oil and gas extraction. So all of this probably comes out as a win.

          I guess there appears to be a division emerging among the oil companies between those who are branching out into renewables or appear to be and those who are just doubling down on fossil fuels. Like major automakers invested heavily in ICEs, however, we should be wary of various likely conflicts of interest. But the case is more hopeful the greater the share of FF company dollars that are honestly invested in advancing renewables.

        • wpNSAlito

           /  October 25, 2017

          Somebody in Shell’s trying to hold onto money in the transition: They’re floating the idea of having a program for Shell Station franchisees to add charging stations.

      • Andy_in_SD

         /  October 25, 2017

        They will sacrifice their nation for next quarterly earnings report.

        Reply
  2. Long live solar and other non-fossil fuels compatible with our planet.

    Reply
  3. Marcel Guldemond

     /  October 24, 2017

    Thanks again RS. I’m particularly excited about this chain of events (causations?)
    a) cell phones and laptop battery development
    leads to b) early EV & batteries (tesla, nissan)
    leads to c) mainstream EV and batteries (everyone else)
    leads to c1) viable e-trucking and c2) viable grid storage
    c2 leads to even more renewables (yay!), which leads to d) coal reduction
    c1 leads to e) oil demand reduction
    leads to f) oil company profit reduction
    leads to f1) oil company political influence reduction, and f2) higher oil company financing costs, which leads to g) reduced ability for oil companies to extract hard to get oil.

    The main spanner in these works is if Trump starts a war in Korea. Not only would that severely dampen the global economy, reducing our ability to make the shift, but there are a lot of battery and solar factories in or near Korea.

    Reply
    • Yep. In the zero sum game sense, if the capex and speculative investment money is being sucked up by renewable energy then there’s less to go around for that harder to reach oil, gas, and coal extraction. 🙂

      Reply
  4. bill h

     /  October 24, 2017

    Robert, the dig at Anthony Watts in your title is noted. I noticed he had a post up the other day with a title along the lines of “CO2 emissions have been flat for 3 years, so what’s all the fuss about global warming”. Apart from the gross ignorance he displays of CO2 concentrations being related to accumulated emissions rather than the rate of emission he actually, I assume unwittingly, pays tribute to the significant effect of renewables on carbon emissions – something he and his acolytes have been dismissing since the inception of his “award winning” blog.

    Reply
    • Every now and again, I like to return the favor and troll those guys. Especially when it comes to renewables. That’s basically the reason for all their denial. To keep business as usual on track for as long as possible. I wonder how many islands or coastlines will sink because of that guy… Just eats me up.

      Reply
      • Abel Adamski

         /  October 25, 2017

        And the amount of suffering, loss of life and financially ruined lives. All on their shoulders

        Reply
  5. Joe Clarkson

     /  October 25, 2017

    I have not purchased the IEA report. When they, and you, talk about solar capacity, are they referring to name-plate peak output or to annual KWh production (when comparing with other sources of electricity)?

    Reply
    • Nameplate capacity. No electrical plant operates at nameplate capacity. Of course the fossil fuel cheer and climate destruction supporters have long over-emphasized intermittency. However, if the average coal and gas plant operates at 60 percent and the average hydro, wind, solar plant operates at 40 percent then the net in the forecast is 300 FF vs 400 renewable. Add in the renewable efficiency gain of approx 20 percent and you end up with 480 vs 300. Add in efficiency gain from EVs at 4 percent (vs 1.2 percent today) and you’re very close if not over the line on reducing carbon emissions on net even when accounting for growth and accounting for the ongoing fuel switching away from coal that’s happening in India and especially China.

      Reply
  6. Greg

     /  October 25, 2017

    Here is a light hearted video from Grist about Kauai’s move to renewables.

    Reply
    • Fantastic. Thanks for sharing.

      Worth noting that with regards to energy costs, the world will be where Kauai is in about five years as both solar and battery prices continue to fall and as coal, gas and oil prices continue to cycle through boom and busts, but generally maintain or inch upwards.

      Reply
  7. Abel Adamski

     /  October 25, 2017

    http://www.independent.co.uk/news/natural-disasters-us-350bn-climate-change-gao-government-accountability-office-a8018226.html

    US government agency issues climate change warning as report finds natural disasters cost America $350bn

    ‘We simply cannot afford the billions of dollars in additional funding…if we do not take into account the consequences of climate change’

    Reply
  8. Spike

     /  October 25, 2017

    Saudi arabia planning 3GW solar next year too which “if realized next year would meet one-third of Saudi Arabia’s National Renewable Energy Program’s (NREP) 2023 target of 9.5 GW of renewable energy generating capacity”. https://www.pv-magazine.com/2017/10/24/softbank-vision-fund-to-build-3-gw-of-solar-and-storage-in-saudi-arabia/

    Reply
    • Amazing to see this. Amounts to 1/4 to 1/8 of the annual U.S. addition for a country that’s about 1/10th our population. If this kind of thing can happen in Saudi, it can happen anywhere.

      Reply
  9. Vic

     /  October 25, 2017

    A pleasant side effect of the EV revolution – less terrorism.
    It’s a sad day for the military industrial complex.

    “Saudi Arabia’s crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, has vowed to return the country to “moderate Islam” and asked for global support to transform the hardline kingdom into an open society that empowers citizens and lures investors.”

    https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/oct/24/i-will-return-saudi-arabia-moderate-islam-crown-prince

    From Wikipedia’s entry on Wahhabism,

    “Today Ibn Abd Al-Wahhab’s teachings are the official, state-sponsored form of Sunni Islam in Saudi Arabia. With the help of funding from Saudi petroleum exports (and other factors), the movement underwent “explosive growth” beginning in the 1970s and now has worldwide influence.

    “Wahhabism has been accused of being “a source of global terrorism”, inspiring the ideology of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), and for causing disunity in Muslim communities by labelling Muslims who disagreed with the Wahhabi definition of monotheism as apostates (takfir) and justifying their killing. It has also been criticized for the destruction of historic shrines of saints, mausoleums, and other Muslim and non-Muslim buildings and artifacts.”

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wahhabism

    Reply
    • There’s a general, underlying democratizing effect that comes from more shared, more distributed resources. If we move to renewables, we definitely remove many of the sources of concentrated wealth and power that have led to both inequality and extremism around the world. This does remove some of the impetus for extremism. However, we need to also address the issue of base exploitation of desperation that often coincides with the rise of agencies like ISIS.

      Reply
  10. Greg

     /  October 25, 2017

    This 108 (42.2) temperature is measured near the beach. Old record not official and was in the desert. Also, World Series opened at 103 (39.4) degrees.

    Reply
  11. I think Vultures are moving into Puerto Rico:http://newsok.com/article/5568861?slideout=1 OKC firm secures $200 million contract to restore power in Puerto Rico ….Getting in the utility business

    Mammoth primarily is an oil-field services company that provides hydraulic fracturing and the sand and other products needed for the well completion process.

    Mammoth executives in 2016 also identified the utility infrastructure as a related business that could provide the company with steady cash flow, Straehla said Friday.

    Mammoth bought Cobra for about $8 million through a pair of purchases earlier this year and has since expanded the utility business to include 58 fleets and about 275 employees.

    Reply
    • wharf rat

       /  October 25, 2017

      Rat smells a rat…

      Tiny Montana Firm Gets $300 Million Contract To Help Restore Power In Puerto Rico

      Last week, a small Montana company called Whitefish Energy Holdings announced that it had been given a $300 million contract by Puerto Rico’s electricity authority to help restore the power grid on the island, where some 75 percent of customers remain without power….

      The firm’s website offers little detail on the company or its track record. It’s based in Whitefish, Mont., the hometown of Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke. Its financing comes from two Dallas-based investment groups and a Brazilian company that produces distribution and power transformers.

      A profile of the company on a site that tracks federal contracts lists Whitefish as having just two employees and $1 million in annual revenue.

      http://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2017/10/24/559864118/tiny-montana-firm-gets-300-million-contract-to-help-restore-power-in-puerto-rico

      Reply
    • Democracy Now covering this story re vultures..Tiny Firm Linked to Trump & Zinke Wins $300M Contract to Restore Puerto Rico’s Electricity

      Reply
  12. bostonblorp

     /  October 25, 2017

    Truly heartening to see solar to take off. I’ve been watching the LiFePO4 battery space closely and once those prices are halved and an adequate range of suppliers along with attendant components (charge controllers, inverters) come about it should really propel the off-grid movement. Safe, energy-dense batteries with 30 year life cycles? Yes, please.

    I have had one nagging concern in the back of my mind. I’ve read we have been in a fairly dormant period as far as volcanic activity goes. If humanity starts sourcing > 50% of its electricity from the sun, what are the consequences of a major volcanic eruption? To be clear, I would greatly take that risk any day over the certain peril that would come from continued burning of fossil fuels.

    Reply
    • If you had an eruption that could shut down solar globally to an extent greater than say 20 percent, then you’re going to be more worried about its other impacts. As with any generation structure, you need a certain level of overbuild, redundancy and mixing of power sources to retain reliability. Solar + wind + hydro + battery storage is a very resilient mix overall.

      Reply
  13. Suzanne

     /  October 25, 2017

    I know most of us are aware of this, but like it when I see these stories showing up on mainstream media…
    NPR this morning..”Antartica’s Ice Sheets are Melting Faster..and from beneath”
    http://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2016/10/25/499206005/antarcticas-ice-sheets-are-melting-faster-and-from-beneath

    Reply
    • It’s good news that we’re seeing this kind of thing more regularly. The mainstream press does appear to me to have stepped up its coverage of climate change related events. And a few major pundits like Chris Hayes appear to be very interested in the subject. I’m generally heartened by this turn of events.

      Reply
  14. Suzanne

     /  October 25, 2017

    And at the Guardian this morning:
    “Electric cars emit 50% less greenhouse gas than diesel, study finds”
    https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2017/oct/25/electric-cars-emit-50-less-greenhouse-gas-than-diesel-study-finds

    Electric cars emit significantly less greenhouse gases over their lifetimes than diesel engines even when they are powered by the most carbon intensive energy, a new report has found.

    In Poland, which uses high volumes of coal, electric vehicles produced a quarter less emissions than diesels when put through a full lifecycle modelling study by Belgium’s VUB University.

    CO2 reductions on Europe’s cleanest grid in Sweden were a remarkable 85%, falling to around one half for countries such as the UK.

    “On average, electric vehicles will emit half the CO2 emissions of a diesel car by 2030, including the manufacturing emissions,” said Yoann Le Petit, a spokesman for the T&E think tank, which commissioned the study

    Reply
  15. Suzanne

     /  October 25, 2017

    And Robert..did you happen to see my post about the EVP (Environmental Voter Project) from several posts ago? I am deeply involved in a local grassroots GOTV group and been investigating all the best methods/tools to reach out and then engage already registered voters who have missed a cycle or two…and came across this group in my search. I even went to a webinar hosted by EVP. They are nonpartisan..and use “meta data” to identify “Inconsistent Environmental Voters” then work to get them to the polls…but…without educating them on the issues. Their whole focus is getting them to pledge to vote.
    Anyway…I find their efforts laudable..but it raises concerns for me, especially in my district where we have a “smooth” Tea Party Republican Congressman who touts how local environmental issues are a priority..but it is largely B.S. If you aren’t informed…well read…on the issues..there might be the danger of pulling the lever for him. It is a problem..and I would love to find a way to work with EVP in our district…by having our grassroots group by letting them identify the voter…then let us do the “educating” and talking to those voters.
    Would love to hear your thoughts.

    Reply
    • Suzanne

       /  October 25, 2017

      Sorry..I did that way too fast..and muddled it. Hope it makes sense.

      Reply
    • Yes! I am working on this now! Thank you so much, Suzanne! Am not too sure how to frame it all. There are a lot of moving parts and I’m not sure how to make this into a story that is compelling and has reach. Am looking at other voter aimed efforts for context.

      More to your question:

      So I think that these efforts absolutely need to work on education and information. If you get people out to vote on ‘environmental’ issues without arming them with the information needed to make effective choices, then the effort itself is dulled. With climate change, I would argue that you need voters who have access to the correct information. As we have seen in the various discussions here, misinformation and malinformation abound. And often times even the most basic truths are contested by those promoting bad information. Given these facts, educating voters on environmental issues and arming them with accurate information is essential to any successful GOTV effort aimed at actually helping the environment.

      Reply
      • Suzanne

         /  October 25, 2017

        Thank you for your reply and insight on this issue. And for affirming the concern I have about the EVP approach, of not educating voters they are targeting. I plan on reaching out to the person who is in charge of their meta data with my questions and concerns.
        Would it be possible for us to email, so I could pick your brain a little before I make this phone call? I started to write a long, drawn out comment here, and decided it might not be appropriate to discuss in this forum.

        Reply

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