Renewable Power Generation - 2011 figures

edited by Gail Rajgor

Our Renewable Energy Focus power generation focus previewed the latest REMIPEG update, carried out in the first four months of 2011...

This article is taken from the July/August 2012 issue of Renewable Energy Focus (REFocus) magazine. For a free subscription, click here.

Part one - introduction (click here).

Part two - hydropower falls behind wind and biomass as growth dips

Part three - Wind market still on the up and dominated by China

Part four - 2011 strong year for solar PV despite support subsidies being slashed

Part five - Cost drivers fuel technology switch for concentrated solar

Part six - Biomass bolsters energy lead with increased electricity use

Part seven - The global geothermal power market took a major dive in 2011...

Part eight - Surge in big name activity for the ocean and tidal sector


While it was a year of new records regarding new capacity coming online for some, 2011 was a tricky year for the renewable energy industry in many ways. With countless countries reviewing energy policy and subsidy support programmes, or applying already planned feed-in tariff (FIT) cuts, investor confidence took something of a hit. To a certain extent that continues to this day.

Political impacts

2011 saw a noticeable fall in new installations in line with FIT reductions throughout the year in fact. This was especially so in Europe where finance issues caused by subsidy reductions were further compounded by the Eurozone financial crisis, creating adverse conditions for project and technology development.

Add to this the impact of instability in the Middle East and resulting increases in global energy prices – something which usually works in the favour of renewables but not on this occasion – the result was many projects being delayed, put on hold, or cancelled altogether.

On the face of it the sector looked relatively buoyant. With 117GW of new capacity installed worldwide in 2011, up from just under 100GW the previous year, cumulative installed renewable energy capacity in 2011 increased around 8% from 1348GW at end 2010 to 1460GW by end 2011.

However, the 2011 new capacity figures largely reflected installations constructed in 2010 but not connected to the grid until 2011, a phenomenon directly caused by planned changes to FITs announced in 2010.

The sector's electricity output for the year 2011 is estimated to be 4272-4476TWh. This means renewable energy accounted for around 19.5% of the global electricity market in 2011 (calculated assuming a 5% increase in 2011 on 2010's total electricity output from all sources of 21,325TWh. Source: BP Statistical Review of World Energy, July 2011). This was slightly down on 2010 when renewables contributed 21-22% to the overall power generation mix.

Germany remained the leading market in terms of renewable energy use generally in 2011 (and tops the table in Europe still for installed wind and photovoltaics, PV, capacity). Wind energy accounted for 8% of the electricity mix in 2011, biomass 5%, hydro 3%, PV 3%, and waste 1%, meaning the share of renewable technologies in the country's electricity supply mix reached 20% in 2011.

Globally, while hydro continued to top the table in terms of cumulative capacity in 2011 – accounting for 73% of the total installed renewables capacity and 76% of the electricity generated from the sector – it was one of the least performing technologies during 2011 in terms of growth rates (see table below). Rather, wind, solar PV and the ocean/tidal sectors were the headliners for 2011.

Star performers during 2011

Adding nearly 42GW to its overall total, the wind power sector topped the table for new installations in 2011, increasing its cumulative total by 22% to 241GW. However, while better than hydro's performance, with new installations up just 6% on the previous 2010, it was another year of moderate growth for wind.

For solar it was a mixed story during 2011. The PV sector stole the renewable energy show by a mile, adding some 27.5GW in 2011 to its world total and registering an impressive 66-67% growth rate for both new installations and cumulative capacity. On the flipside, after an annual growth rate of 210% in 2010, new capacity additions for concentrated solar power during 2011 fell 21.6% with just 0.4GW installed for the year.

The largest rate of growth in 2011 came for the ocean and tidal energy sector, as the table indicates. However, this was largely due to the commissioning of one tidal barrage project. Still, while remaining a small market when compared to other renewables, the sector did make some major headway last year with a number of projects now under construction or planned for development and some big name utilities forming joint ventures or acquiring technology firms.

Meantime, 2011 showed that the use of biomass technology continued to spread, with the sector's total power capacity standing at 68GW by end 2011. Electricity production from biomass in 2011 was significant, estimated to be between 273TWh and 477TWh – it is difficult to exactly calculate because not all biomass that can be used for electricity generation is eventually used for that purpose, although its mix in global electricity supply increased significantly in the last two years and continues to rise.

Finally, 2011 was a dire year for geothermal in terms of new plant coming online. With less than 300MW installed for the year, new additions were down 43% on last year, while cumulative capacity was up less than 3%.

However, the non-intermittent nature of this source means it has a greater capacity factor than other technologies, generating larger amounts of electricity in relation to its installed nameplate capacity than other sources. In 2011, geothermal electricity output was 67.2TWh.

Installed global power capacity of renewable energy technologies for grid-connected power generation, and estimated annual energy generation in 2011
Renewable energy source Cumulative installed capacity - end 2011 (GW) New installed capacity 2011 (GW) Growth rate of cumulated installed capacity 2011 (%) Growth rate of newly-installed capacity; % (2011 v 2010) Estimated electricity generation in 2011(TWh/y)
Hydropower 1,072.1 33.4  4 -13.7 3,353.1
Wind power 241.0 41.7  22.3 6 498
Solar PV 65.6 27.5  66.1 67 76.6
Solar CSP 1.7 0.4  38.9 -21.6 3.2
Biomass power(a) 68.0 14  26 10 273-477
Geothermal power 11.3 0.2  2.7 -43 67.2
Ocean & Tidal energy <0.6 <0.3  100 937.7 1.2
World total 1,460.3 117.5  8.3   4,272.3 - 4,476.3

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