Here’s the good news: Paris-based Renewable Energy Policy Network for the 21st Century (REN21) has released its influential annual Renewables Global Status Report (PDF), and it’s mostly positive for the solar sector. The bad news? The overall globe that REN21 happens to be analyzing just can’t seem to get its renewables house in order.
In 2013, policy uncertainty in the United States and parts of Europe helped bring down global investment in solar photovoltaics 22 percent in dollar terms, the report explains. China beat the United States and Brazil beat Canada in total installed renewable power capacity. In fact, China’s renewable power capacity surpassed new fossil fuel and nuclear capacity for the first time, while Denmark, Germany, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, and Austria respectively led the world in per capita renewable power capacity. Suddenly, America’s solar war with China doesn’t look so cut and dried.
Judging its underwhelming 2013 performance from a global perspective, North America looks like it still has quite a long way to go, despite its solar successes and its ongoing solar boom.
Which are impressive, if you look at the microeconomics. According to the Solar Energy Industries Association’s 2013 report, the United States installed 4,751 megawatts for a book value of $13.7 billion, a 40 percent increase over 2012. REN21’s report is similarly sunny: Renewable power capacity increased worldwide 8 percent over 2012, including 40 gigawatts of PV and 35 gigawatts of wind.
“New [solar] capacity installations reached a record high, up more than 32 percent over 2012, an effect of dramatic cost reductions over the past few years,” Worldwatch Institute Senior Fellow Janet Sawin explained in a press release. That said, wind energy decreased from 2012, “primarily due to a slowdown in the American market,” the release added.
Perhaps billionaire Warren Buffet’s promise to double Berkshire Hathaway’s wind and solar investment to $30 billion can help that slowdown speed up … although when asked Buffet did have to be reminded by a deputy just how much he already had on the renewable energy table. One step forward, two steps back.
That seems to be the dominant theme of REN21’s analysis of the global solar dance, as climate change superstores and natural gas fantasies become too expensive for business as usual. While developing nations have increased their support for renewable energy sixfold since 2005, increasingly leading the sector’s global growth, declining support at the national level for sluggish superpowers is forcing their municipalities to take up the green reins and make lasting change.
“Thousands of cities and towns worldwide have policies, plans, and targets to advance renewable energy, often far outpacing the ambitions of national legislation,” REN21’s report explained.
That’s good news, to be sure. But declining support and decreasing investment are nevertheless troubling developments for nations of all sizes that want to be taken seriously when they claim to be doing all they can to change their dirty energy habits.