Worldwatch is happy to announce the launch of the much anticipated 2012 REN21 Renewables Global Status Report (GSR). GSR 2012 details worldwide developments in the renewable energy sector through 2011. The report highlights a number of key developments, including market and industry trends, investment flows, the shifting policy landscape, advancements in rural renewable energy deployment, and the evolving synergy between renewable energy and energy efficiency.

REN21 Renewable 2012 Global Status Report (source: REN21)

The new GSR data highlights many remarkable worldwide trends, demonstrating that the renewable energy sector has emerged from the global finical crisis stronger than ever. In 2011, new investment and added power generation capacity for renewables broke their all-time records yet again. Global investments in renewables were estimated at US $257 billion in 2011, an increase of 17 percent over 2010. Investment in renewable energy power generation was $40 billion greater than investment in fossil fuels in 2011.

Total renewable power capacity grew by 8 percent in 2011, reaching over 1,360 gigawatts (GW) of installed capacity by year-end. Renewable energy technologies now account for 16.7 percent of total final energy consumption and over 25 percent of the world’s installed power-generating capacity. China, the United States, Germany, Spain, Italy, India, and Japan are leading in new renewable investments and now account for almost 70 percent of the world’s non-hydro renewable power generation capacity.

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electricity, energy efficiency, feed-in tariffs, green economy, renewable energy, renewable energy finance, transportation, wind power

With the continued advancements in the development of renewable energy technologies and their ever-increasing cost competitiveness, there is more and more money at stake for countries and companies alike. A number of countries have recently found themselves at odds with one another over the international impact of certain domestic financial support policies for promoting renewables. The United States, China, Japan, Canada, and the European Union, discussed here, along with many others, currently find themselves on varying sides of major international trade disputes on this topic. High-end manufacturing of renewable energy technology components, and the money and jobs this brings with it, is becoming an increasingly important component for policymakers and an increasingly contentious issue at the international level.

A worker assembling solar PV panels in a Suntech Power Holdings Co. factory in Jiangsu Province, China. (Source: Bloomberg)

The dispute between the United States and China over solar photovoltaic (PV) manufacturing is probably today’s most high-profile renewable energy trade dispute. The Chinese share of global solar PV manufacturing has grown at an incredibly fast pace since the country entered the market, as Chinese manufacturers have rapidly expanded from a 15 percent market share in 2006 to provide nearly half of the world’s total solar PV manufacturing output today. As of 2008 China produced 2,500 megawatts (MW) of solar cells, up from just 4 MW a decade earlier, as reported in the Worldwatch-REEEP report Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency in China. With an existing installed capacity of 900 MW at the end of 2010, much of this production is being slated for export.

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China, energy policy, European Union, feed-in tariffs, green jobs, renewable energy, subsidies, United States

Mr. Gerald Lindo is a Senior Energy Engineer with the Ministry of Energy & Mining in Jamaica

From left to right: Fitzroy Vidal, Senior Director, Energy, Ministry of Energy & Mining; Honorable Laurence Broderick, MP; Mark Konold, Caribbean Energy Roadmap Project Manager, Worldwatch; Gerald Lindo, Senior Energy Engineer, Ministry of Energy & Mining

On September 19th, a group of engineers met in Kingston, Jamaica during the Annual Conference of the Jamaica Institute of Engineers (JIE) to discuss the future of Jamaica’s energy sector. This year, the first two days of the week-long event were devoted entirely to discussing the country’s energy challenges and the way forward. The Principal Director of the Energy Division in Jamaica’s Ministry of Energy and Mining (MEM), Mr. Fitzroy Vidal, gave one of the keynote speeches detailing Jamaica’s National Energy Policy (NEP) and the progress towards its implementation.

It was a brisk and upbeat meeting, and Mr. Vidal’s speech was well received. Questions abounded on the direction of Jamaica’s energy sector and on the proposed considerations of innovative green technology solutions aimed at ensuring the country’s energy security and long term sustainability. However, underneath the cordiality and spirit of the conference was a smouldering worry, an elephant in the room: the tremendous price that Jamaicans pay for electricity.

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Caribbean, energy efficiency, feed-in tariffs, hydropower, Jamaica, renewable energy, solar power, wind power

The International Energy Agency (IEA) projects that between 2011 and 2035, an average of US$316 billion will be needed annually to limit atmospheric greenhouse gas concentrations to 450 parts per million, consistent with the internationally agreed target of limiting global warming to 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. The IEA also estimates that some 80 percent of new electrical capacity within the coming decades will be installed in developing countries. Although these countries are already investing massively in renewable energy technologies, international support is needed to make this transition happen at the speed required to stabilize the global climate.

Spending Wisely

The Report of the Secretary-General’s High-level Advisory Group on Climate Change Financing states that "Spending resources wisely is critical to building the mutual confidence needed to mobilize climate finance"

Development assistance for renewable energy in developing countries increased to more than $13 billion in 2010, and multilateral development banks (MDBs) are increasing their financing for renewables. A joint MDB report to the G8 identified $4.2 billion in investment in renewable energy in 2009, and another $4.9 billion for climate-related development policy loans.  According to the MDBs’ strategic objectives and current pipeline, renewables financing is projected to increase to $5.9 billion by 2012, with an additional $4.6 billion for climate-related development policy loans.

Yet these financial flows constitute only a small portion of the finance needed. This shortfall has sparked a debate over the “smartest” use of these funds.

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Climate Change, climate finance, feed-in tariffs, leverage finance, low-carbon, renewable energy, wind power

A skyrocketing PV market in Italy. Will it soon find its right flying altitude?

Feed-in tariffs (FiTs) have spurred impressive growth in renewable power installations over the last decade. In Europe, 77 percent of all new electricity generation capacity from renewable sources installed between 1997 and 2008 occurred in countries using FiTs, making the continent the world’s largest renewables market. FiTs have also proven to be relatively popular: since 2005, 38 countries worldwide have adopted the measures (which reward renewable electricity producers with a determined tariff for the electricity they feed into the grid), whereas only 12 have introduced renewable portfolio standards (regulations requiring that a specified share of electricity come from renewable energy sources).

Yet while FiTs can create incentives for renewable energy deployment, proper design is critical. As some governments have already discovered, inflexible and overly high feed-in tariffs can cause renewable energy markets to overheat.

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Czech, feed-in tariffs, FiT, Germany, Italy, market, photovoltaics, renewable energy, solar power, Spain

The Empire State Building is undergoing a 20 mio. USD retrofit to reduce its energy usage by 40%. - Wikipedia Commons

It’s the beginning of November and the Worldwatch office building’s central A/C is still blowing full blast. I’m writing this blog in a wool sweater. Can there be any better inspiration for discussing the issue of energy efficiency? Let’s explore this time some of the strategies available for greening the building stock, taking examples from both sides of the Atlantic.

In the United States and Europe alike, many existing buildings are old, energy inefficient, and often poorly managed. Yet half of all the buildings around today will still be standing 30 years from now. Enhancing the energy efficiency of these structures and adapting them to a changing climate is therefore essential. So is educating citizens to increase their energy savings.

On October 27, at the invitation of Ulrich Braess, Director of the Goethe Institute in Washington D.C., guest speakers Monika Griefahn (former Green Party Member of the Federal German Parliament), Kurt Shickman (Director of Research for the Energy Future Coalition), and Brooks Rainwater (Director of Local Relations at the American Institute of Architects) discussed the challenges of retrofitting buildings in the United States and Germany.

When it comes to greenhouse gas emissions, three main sectors—energy utilities, manufacturing, and transportation—are the usual suspects. Yet residential and commercial buildings together account for 40 percent of U.S. emissions, more than either the transportation (34 percent) or industry (26 percent) sectors. The share is slightly lower in Europe, averaging 36 percent, but still represents more than one-third of regional emissions. In both the U.S. and Europe, buildings also account for some 40 percent of total primary energy use. Hence, they represent a key challenge for future energy and climate policies.

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buildings, energy efficiency, energy policy, Europe, feed-in tariffs, Germany, GHG emissions, Green Buildings, green jobs, USA

Prof. Christoph Stefes - Source: Ecologic Institute

Germany often sets the example in the renewable energy policy field. Last week, the tradition continued as Professor Christoph Stefes from the University of Colorado at Denver and the Ecologic Institute in Berlin, and Professor Frank Laird from the University of Denver, praised German policies during a presentation at Ecologic’s Washington office. Their message was clear: Germany’s renewable power generation is skyrocketing while the U.S.’s stagnates.

This hasn’t always been the case. Prior to 1990, renewables followed similar paths in Germany and the United States. Yet Germany was able to make good use of a window of opportunity that opened up in 1990–92, while the U.S. stumbled. During this period, not only did renewable energy sources gain more credit and public support following the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear accident, but Germany’s political system also faced an upheaval due to the nation’s reunification.

The result of this divergence in paths is now obvious. In absolute terms, U.S. total renewable power capacity in 2009 was greater than Germany’s (52 and 42 gigawatts, respectively, excluding large hydropower). However, renewables represented only 8 percent of the total U.S. energy supply, and only  2.5 percent if hydropower is excluded. By contrast, Germany had a 10.3 percent share of renewable energy in its final gross energy consumption (including hydropower). And while the United States has few long-term federal renewables goals (the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) of 2009 contains several short-term targets), Germany aims to further boost its renewables share in its final gross energy consumption to 30 percent by 2030, and be 50 percent of its electricity generation within the same time period.

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energy, energy policy, energy security, feed-in tariffs, Germany, green jobs, lobbying, renewable energy, USA

Last month, we reported on France’s new climate legislation, the Grenelle de l’Environnement. Today, the focus is on solar power. The French Ministry of Environment has just announced, for the second time this year, that the nation’s feed-in tariffs for solar photovoltaic (PV) will be modified, much to the displeasure of the solar industry.

Sarkozy's government cuts solar FIT by 12% - Flickr Creative Commons / Mike Baker

Feed-in tariffs (FITs) are a financial tool that guarantees producers of renewable energy a specified price for every megawatt-hour of power fed into the grid. They were introduced in France in 2000, and prices during the most recent phase were set by a 2006 resolution.

This year, Sarkozy’s government already has decided to reform the solar FIT twice. First, a resolution was introduced on January 12 establishing new categories and tariffs for three PV applications: built-in rooftop solar panels (58 EUR cents/kilowatt-hour in mainland France except Corsica), rooftop solar panels (42 EUR cents/kWh), and ground-based solar panels (31.4 EUR cents/kWh for those generating less than 250 kilowatt-peak). This new resolution led to a general decrease in tariffs, especially for solar industry professionals, since many of them could no longer benefit from the highest tariff. The government introduced the resolution following a dramatic increase in the number of PV projects and to keep up with decreasing production costs. The FITs were supposed to be enforced until 2012 and then phased out gradually starting in 2013 as the industry gained in competitiveness.

But the government did not settle for these new tariffs and announced on August 23 that a general cut of the tariffs by 12 percent would take effect on September 1. Only individual installations generating less than 3 kWp will still be granted the 58 EUR cents/kWh tariff, in order to “preserve employment growth in this sector,” the Ministry of Environment and the Department of the Treasury said.

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climate, Climate Policy, energy, feed-in tariffs, France, Germany, Grenelle, renewable energy, Sarkozy, solar power, Spain

By Camille Serre and Alexander Ochs

After having shed some light on French climate and energy legislation, let’s proceed with our review of European progress toward clean energy economies. Typically, the Scandinavian countries and Germany have set the example in the European renewables field. Yet lately, a Southern country—Portugal—has attracted media attention after delivering its National Renewable Energy Action Plan to the European Commission this June.

Portugal has made dramatic changes in its energy policy over the last five years under the government of Prime Minister Jose Socrates. The country’s installed renewable energy capacity more than tripled between 2004 and 2009, from 1,220 megawatts (MW) to 4,307 MW, and renewables now represent roughly 36 percent of electricity consumed. Thanks to this performance, Portugal currently ranks 4th in Europe in energy production from renewables. Socrates seems to know what he is doing, and it looks like his previous experience has paid off. Like Germany’s chancellor Angela Merkel, Socrates was Minister of the Environment before becoming head of his country’s government. The environment seems to be a springboard for European politicians’ careers.

In 2009, Portugal ranked 3rd in Europe in wind power capacity per capita - Flickr Creative Commons / Mafalda Moreira Santos

Of course, Portugal benefits from favorable conditions for renewables as well: a strong wind resource, great hydropower, good tidal waves potential, and a high sunshine rate. After the country removed several dams in recent years, Socrates’ government has focused instead on wind power development, under most conditions the cheapest renewable energy source after hydropower. With spectacular growth in wind energy production of over 600 percent between 2004 and 2009, Portugal now ranks 6th in Europe in total installed capacity and 3rd in capacity per capita, behind only Denmark and Spain. Some even expect Portugal to overtake its neighbor Spain in per capita wind energy production as early as this year.

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clean energy, climate, Climate Change, climate legislation, energy, Europe, feed-in tariffs, low-carbon, Portugal, renewable energy, solar power, wave power, wind turbines

Camille Serre and Alexander Ochs

In Part 1 of this blog, we described the climate and energy measures that France plans to pursue as part of its new environmental law, Grenelle 2. This set of policies suggests that France may in fact be paving the way toward a low-carbon economy. Unfortunately, the picture is tarnished by an ongoing controversy about renewable energy development in the country.

Windmills in French Brittany - Flickr Creative Commons / Nicolas Grout

Grenelle 2 certainly contains some positive measures in the renewables sector. For instance, it sets a goal that 23 percent of France’s energy use must come from a mix of renewable energy sources by 2020—most likely from hydropower (the nation’s largest renewables source so far), wind power, and biomass. The law calls for regional climate and energy mapping to assess climate-related risks within the country as well as to determine domestic energy needs, air pollution, and greenhouse gas emissions. Consequently, adaptation strategies and monitoring instruments will be developed. In addition, local and regional authorities that are responsible for 50,000 inhabitants or more, as well as companies with over 500 employees, will be required to conduct emissions assessments.

The law also promotes electricity produced by renewable sources through the enhancement of various supporting tools. France’s largest utility company, EdF, is already required to purchase electricity produced by certain renewable energy generators. Under Grenelle 2, local governments can also benefit from this purchase guarantee if they produce electricity from renewable sources. Moreover, any individual can now install photovoltaic panels at home and benefit from a “feed-in tariff” that guarantees producers of renewable energy a specified price for every megawatt-hour of power fed into the grid. To improve conditions for renewables, the electricity grid will be strengthened and enhanced in the coming years.

While all of these measures are helpful, particularly for solar technologies, Grenelle 2 imposes several barriers for the expansion of wind power, despite the creation of regional wind energy development schemes.

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climate, Climate Change, climate legislation, energy, environmental law, feed-in tariffs, France, low-carbon, renewable energy, Sarkozy, sustainable development, wind turbines