Record Renewables Growth in 2017 as New Global Solar + Wind Installations are Projected to Hit Near 175 GW 

Last year, global growth in new solar energy installations hit a new record of 56 gigawatts (GW) in a single year. This year, growth could nearly double to 108 GW installed according to recent reports from IHS. Meanwhile wind appears on track to add another 68 GW of clean power generation. In other words, the age of the renewable energy revolution is in the process of overtaking us. None too soon considering the fact that we are now facing serious ramping harms due to fossil fuel burning and related human-forced climate change.

Rocketing Global Growth For Solar Despite Trump/Republican Efforts to Throw a Wet Blanket on a Key Industry

Such amazing growth comes on the back of rapidly ramping solar markets in China, India and around the world. A ramp that’s happening despite anti-solar policy by the Trump Administration feeding a trade case that has injected uncertainty and distortion into the U.S. market. And even as the same Administration is waging an Orwellian-styled war on the employees of the Environmental Protection Agency who are still doing their best, despite rising odds, to protect the health of U.S. citizens from polluting industries.

The upshot is that the U.S. will lag behind these two emerging solar energy leaders as republicans in power put energy policy in retrograde following years of rapid advancement and clean energy leadership under Obama and the democrats.

(U.S. sees shrinking pie of new solar additions under Trump. Image source: PV Magazine/IHS.)

But despite harmful policy stances by republicans and related nonsensical litigation, the U.S. market is still expected to see 10-12 GW of new solar added in 2017 — or the second highest levels of solar installation on record.

Solar’s resilience in both the U.S. and around the world is primarily due to low photovoltaic panel prices combined with broad popular support by states, cities, businesses, and individuals. These low prices are evidenced by numerous solar tenders and purchase agreements that now range below the 5.5 cent per kilowatt hour level, that can often hit below the 4 cent threshold and sometimes dip as low as 3 cents or less. A recent solar purchase agreement in Arizona, for example, sold for less than 3 cents per kilowatt hour or lower than half the price of nuclear for that region. As mentioned above, trade case uncertainty has since driven solar prices in the U.S. marginally higher. Despite this counter to the global trend, U.S. solar sales are still beating out every prior year except 2016.

(Policies like the Sun Shot Initiative under President Obama and major investments by countries like China helped to rapidly reduce the cost of photovoltaic solar panels globally. Recently, major cost reductions have also been realized in concentrated solar power (CSP). Image source: PlanetSave.)

Concentrated solar power (CSP), which has the inherent advantage of offering both clean, renewable energy and storage in a single application, is also seeing falling prices. For ACWA Power is building a 700 MW CSP facility in Dubai that will provide clean solar energy for just 7.3 cents per kwh. This compares to natural gas prices which range as high as 24 cents per kwh for the Gulf region. If such low prices can be widely duplicated globally, CSP, which employs reflectors to gather solar heat into an oil based medium that is used to boil water to spin a turbine, then this additional form of solar is also likely to see broader use.

Wind Continues Steady Gains

Even as solar energy rockets to record gains, wind energy is also expected to see considerable increases. Forecast International now predicts that 68 GW of new wind capacity will be added globally in 2017. Wind installations at this point are quite widely distributed around the world. However, increased growth in Asia is a major factor in the continued steadily rising rate of adoption.

(Globally, wind energy is projected to continue its steady growth trend of recent years. Image source: Forecast International.)

Prices for wind energy range from 3.1 to around 5.5 cents per kwh, according to Lazard. Unlike solar, the price for wind has been on a slower decline curve during recent years. This means that at this time prices for both wind and solar are presently comparable for most regions. It also means that in places like Alberta, where a recent 600 MW wind project is expected to cost an average of 3.7 cents per kwh, prices for wind are less than half that of nuclear and less than most existing coal or even many new gas projects.

Major Growth in Renewable Energy as Coal Stagnates

If IHS and Forecast International projections for new solar and wind growth bear out, then we’ll see about 176 GW of these forms of renewable energy installed in 2017. That’s a tremendous rate of add that will considerably outpace new coal and gas installations even as it helps to reduce overall demand for power from these polluting sources and major contributors to climate change, related sea level rise, and similarly related worsening extreme weather. We are already seeing these effects as the world’s largest coal terminal is seeking to diversify on lowering demand forecast and as GE — a major provider of turbines for the gas industry — is cutting its fossil fuel based equipment sector.

One major aspect of the larger global shift can be seen in China. During past years, China rapidly added new coal and gas capacity. But non fossil fuel power generation additions were the major story for China in the first half of 2017. For by July China had added 24.4 GW of new solar capacity, 7.3 GW of new wind capacity, 6.69 GW of new hydro capacity, and 1.09 GW of new nuclear capacity. The total new add was 39.48 GW of non fossil fuel based electrical power generation vs 18.84 GW of new thermal capacity primarily coming from coal and gas. In other words, renewables outpaced fossil fuel generation in China by more than 2 to 1.

This comes as China is seeking to reduce coal use in an effort to clean up its air quality and fight climate change, as the price of coal burning rises to the point of producing losses in regions like Europe, and as predictions abound that the near term coal market is stagnating and long term future coal prospects, without the addition of costly carbon capture and storage, look bleak.


Hat tip to Greg

Hat tip to Vic

Hat tip to Suzanne

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