Solar, wind and biofuels saw global revenue expand by 31% in 2011. With all the negative hype put out by Big Oil and its acolytes, you’d have thought the green energy market had crashed rather than growing by a third.
But investment in green energy rose only 5% over the year, which tells me that somebody is making a lot of money and others are losing out. Green Tech Media reports,
“…costs of solar panels fell by more than 40 percent last year, while installations grew by 69 percent, yielding a 29-percent increase in solar market revenues last year, Clean Edge reported.”
In the US, solar installations more than doubled, with 1.8 gigawatts in capacity added. That is roughly like two small nuclear plants.
There are indications that solar photovoltaic cells will fall rapidly in price because of technological breakthroughs. Even with relatively low natural gas prices, the likelihood is that over the next decade the renewables will be decisively less expensive than hydrocarbons and the main obstacles will be an old 20th century energy infrastructure built for coal, gas and oil.
Wind power turbines were also put in at record rates throughout the world in 2011, with China leading the way. By 2020, China will have large numbers of mega-wind installations, generating 148 gigawatts of power.
The US is falling behind on wind installations. It only installed 6,800 megawatts worth in 2011. Altogether, wind now generates enough power to meet electricity demand in 10 million US homes. If there are roughly 60 million US households, that would mean we only have 50 million to go!
There are lots of growing pains in this industry. Many start-ups will fail or be absorbed. An old electricity grid is often an obstacle. Battery power and life is still too limited. But we should be suspicious of the negative tone of a lot of press and political comment on renewable energy, since any business that expands revenue by a third in one year is anything but a basket case.
By. Professor Juan Cole
Juan runs the popular geopolitics blog Informed Comment where he provides an independent and informed perspective on Middle Eastern and American politics.