The increase in the supply of renewable energy sources is unstoppable given that many governments have adopted supporting policies and targets.
The Renewable Energy Policy Network for the 21st Century (Ren21), an organisation based in Paris, is “the global renewable energy policy multi-stakeholder network that connects a wide range of key actors including governments, international organisations, industry associations, science and academia, and civil society, with the aim of facilitating knowledge exchange, policy development, and joint action towards a rapid global transition to renewable energy.”
Of course the aim of “rapid global transition” may be too ambitious or even unrealistic, but it does not belittle the contribution of renewables. Ren21 issued the 2013 Renewables Global Status Report, which “covers recent developments, current status, and key trends” in the evolution of renewable energy.
The investment in all forms of renewables in 2012 was $244 billion (Dh896 billion), which is less than in 2011’s $279 billion but much higher than the last five years average, according to the report. Countries with policy targets have grown from 109 in 2010 to 138 in 2012. Their commitment is to a share of power generation, biofuels, district heating and cooling or a combination of these depending on the conditions and aspirations of each country.
Power generation from renewables (excluding hydro-power) is now 480 gigawatt (GW) or 52 per cent above the 2010 level. The fastest growing is wind and solar power generation as well as solar energy. Hydro-power capacity on its own steadily increased to 990GW in 2012. Biofuels (ethanol and diesel) however are increasing by little, from 1.78 million barrels a day (mbd) in 2010 to 1.82mbd in 2012.
The increase in the supply of renewables is across the board, but developing countries in Asia, Latin America, the Middle East and Africa, are picking up fast. Investment outlays in developing countries reached $112 billion in 2012, representing 46 per cent of the worldwide total. In comparison, investment by developed economies fell 29 per cent to $132 billion, the lowest since 2009 and principally due to a reduction in subsidies.
The multi-country and regional approaches towards renewables are revealing. In 2012, China’s wind power generation increased more than that from coal and passed the nuclear power output for the first time. In the EU, renewables accounted for almost 70 per cent of additions to power capacity.
Wind and solar energy already supply 16.5 per cent of Germany’s power needs and the country has one of the fastest growing renewable energy markets in the world with a target of 30 per cent renewable electricity by 2020. This is expected to be surpassed easily. Spain added about 500MW of electricity in 2012 from concentrated solar power (CSP).
The report said that 19 per cent of total primary energy in the world in 2012 was from renewables. Unfortunately, the report only mentions a ratio and not the absolute number. Therefore, when compared to other sources the ratio appears to be on the high side. The International Energy Agency (IEA) quoted 13.2 per cent in 2010 from an absolute consumption of 12,730 million tonnes of oil equivalent (mtoe).
The report has so many details that are difficult to capture in total here and specialists are advised to look it up on the internet. In our region, renewables are of major interest in more than one country. It is heartening that the UAE commissioned its 100MW Shams 1 CSP — the first plant of its kind in the region — last March.
Learning from the experience, Masdar has an agreement to promote and co-operate in renewables with Morocco where the government aims to have 42 per cent of its total power capacity from renewable sources by 2020. Saudi Arabia is planning an investment of at least $100 billion into clean energy resources over the next decade, including a target of achieving 5GW from CSP.
Forecasts may differ, but renewables growth is undoubted. The IEA in its 2012 World Energy Outlook forecasts renewables to increase from 1,684-mtoe in 2010 to 2702-mtoe dependent on existing state policies. But they could be much higher if more determined environmental policies are adopted.
However, BP says, “The fastest growing fuels are renewables which are expected to grow at 8.2 per cent per annum” and “renewables on their own contribute more to world energy growth than oil”. No wonder BP is allocating around 10 per cent of its capital investments to alternative fuel technologies and developing renewable energy sources,
Our countries with their huge need for water must invest in knowhow to successfully apply solar energy in desalination. The fact that we are major producers of oil and gas should not stop us from conserving these resources by augmenting domestic consumption with renewables wherever economically possible.