12 September 2011
In Europe, installation of electrical generation capacity doubled from 2008 to 2010. A large part of this is due to electrical generation fuelled by natural gas, but for the first time ever, more photovoltaic generating power was installed in Europe than any other renewable energy source. In this first of a three-part series based on the European Photonics Industry Consortium (EPIC) “PV Market Overview 2010,” we focus on the European energy mix, how it has changed, and the future role of photovoltaics (PV) and other forms of renewable energy.
To put this into perspective, total worldwide energy consumption in 2010 is estimated to be 145,000 TWh. Of this, about 12% is used to generate electricity, and that electricity is generated, for the most part from coal, gas, hydro-electric and nuclear. A bit of encouraging news is that “new renewables,” such as solar and wind, account for 4% of electrical generation; just 2% less than is generated by oil.
Dirty fuels, such as coal, gas, and oil, account for 61% of electricity generation
The reality, however, is that “dirty” fuels, such as coal, gas, and oil, account for 61% of electricity generation. These are the resources that generate greenhouse gases that drive global climate change, and as noted in the EPIC report, “together they account for two-thirds of the world’s energy generation for electricity.” The greatest rise in sources for electrical generation in Europe is from gas-fired thermal plants. According to EPIC’s General Secretary, Thomas Pearsall, the reason for the rise is that “these plants are the least costly to build and to operate and benefit from increased volumes of natural gas being supplied by Russia.” Increased use of gas results in the majority of power installed in 2010 coming from non-renewable energy sources, which is a change from 2008, when renewables dominated the mix of installed energy.
Pearsall indicated that by looking at roadmaps from the EPIA and the World Energy Association, he expects that the generation of electrical power from PV and wind sources may be equal in 2030. Furthermore, EPIC expects generation by PV and wind to be similar to that of nuclear power plants in the same time period. Pearsall noted that, “Due to the accelerated growth rates that we are seeing in the industry today, we think that this cross-over point may come as early as 2025.” Part of this expectation is that both PV and wind energy will contribute 30% to total world energy needs by 2050. By 2011, more than 40 GW of wind power capacity was installed world-wide.
New renewables account for 4% of electrical generation
China more than doubled its wind-power capacity, becoming the leader in cumulative installed wind –power generating capacity—a trend that is expected to continue for several years. Wind power installations actually declined in both Germany and the United States in 2010 compared to 2009.
The current installed wind-power generation peak capacity is now about half that of the world-wide nuclear capacity, although it is important to note that electrical generation from the wind is intermittent).
The manufacture of wind turbines continues to grow due to improvement in the performance and capacity. At about US$1 per Watt installed, the installation of wind turbines is nearly competitive with fossil-fuel electrical generation plants.
The worldwide nuclear power generation capacity is 380 GW, which accounts for about 15% of the world’s electrical power. The growth rate of nuclear is about 1.1% a year, according to the Nuclear Energy Agency. Projections about nuclear energy generation shows it holding steady into the foreseeable future, and this takes into account the fact that plans are already known for nuclear power plants that will come on line by 2040.
Hydroelectric is not expected to increase production, because this resource is restricted to suitable natural sites—most of which are already being utilized. Hydro provides about 16% of electrical needs now, but its percentage contribution is expected to decline as the world’s energy need continue to grow.
Although wind is the dominant renewable energy source worldwide, PV installations in Europe were about 58% higher than wind. And considering the renewable energy mix, PV installations in Europe grew from 19% in 2008 to 25% in 2010, during which time the market share for wind power installations dropped from 35% to 16%.
While PV installations continue to increase market share among renewable sources, installation of energy plants has taken a step back in the past two years as far as embracing clean fuels. In 2008, wind generation was the leading power resource installed, and gas and PV and 2nd and third places. Over 60% of new energy generation plants were based on renewable energy resources at that time. Energy plants based on oil and coal continue to be installed at the same rate each year; although the good news is that they represent a smaller percentage of the mix in 2010. Thomas Pearsall said, “It’s clear that there is not yet a strategic commitment on the European level to renewable electrical energy generation.” He added that “CAPEX and OPEX costs appear to be the deciding parameters.”
Contributions of selected energy sources. Figures for 2000 to 2007 are based on measured data. Those from 2010-2040 are projected. (Sources: OECD Energy Outlook 2005, Global Wind Energy Council, European Nuclear Society, and the EPIA Roadmap)
In subsequent articles in this series, we will look at the market for photovoltaics by country and significant market shifts fuelled by changes in feed-in tariffs.
Written by Anne Fischer, Managing Editor, Solar Novus Today.
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