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By Robert Rapier on Jul 13, 2013 with 22 responses

Renewable Energy Status Update 2013

Today I begin a series that looks at the recently released 2013 BP Statistical Review of World Energy. Because the past two posts have dealt with the Keystone XL pipeline project, I thought it would be a good change of pace to kick off this series by looking at the current global picture of renewable energy. Additional articles in the series will examine the world’s fossil fuel consumption and carbon emissions.

Overall, renewable energy once more displayed very strong growth in 2012. Renewable energy accounted for 2.4% of global energy consumption in 2012, and a record 4.7% of global power generation.

The only renewable energy sector that stagnated in 2012 was the production of biofuels. For the first time since 2000, global biofuels production declined. This decline was primarily a result of a 4.3% drop in the production of biofuels in the US (but I expect production will be higher for 2013).


Renewable power generation was up 15.2% in 2012, slightly lower than in previous years but still higher than the long-term historical average. Wind energy provided most of the growth, with China leading the pack with an increase of 34.6% over 2011. The strongest rate of growth was seen in solar power generation, which increased by 58% over 2011.

Renewable Electricity

Whenever I analyze data, I strive to look at it in a unique way. Ideally, I like to highlight items that didn’t make the press releases. I thought it would be interesting to look at the evolution of the capacity factors for some of the different renewable options as more capacity has been installed. The capacity factor is simply the amount of power produced divided by the power that would be produced if the power source was producing at full capacity at all times.

Capacity Factors

My working hypothesis was that as this rapid build-out of wind and solar was taking place, site selection would have moved on from the most optimal sites and therefore the capacity factors would be falling over time. But they have actually been fairly consistent over the past decade, with the capacity factor for solar PV rising for the past two years. Since 1996, the average annual capacity factor is 9.7% for solar PV and 19.4% for wind power. As I wrote previously in The Key to Running the World on Solar and Wind Power, these capacity factors are screaming for a power storage solution.


With the exception of biofuels, renewable energy made strong gains once more in 2012, continuing the strong growth rate from the previous decade. Biofuels took a step back, particularly in the US, as the expiration of the major corn ethanol tax credit at the end of 2011 negatively impacted ethanol producers. 2013 will be a challenging year as well as the industry grapples with saturating the gasoline pool with 10% ethanol (the blend wall). However, I expect biofuel production in 2013 to be somewhat higher than 2012′s production, and for strong growth in the production of power from wind and solar PV to continue.

Link to Original Article: Renewable Energy Status Update 2013

By Robert Rapier. You can find me on TwitterLinkedIn, or Facebook.

  1. By Colin Megson on July 13, 2013 at 4:10 am

    Can running the world on solar and wind get any more ironic than under present weather conditions? With 8 GW of onshore and offshore wind turbine capacity, wind power trickling into the National Grid right now is 0.12 GW – we couldn’t run the Isle of Wight on solar and wind at the moment. And, It’s hardly crept over 1 GW for a week now!

    It’s a good job we’ve got a steady 7.5 to 8 GW of 24/7, on demand nuclear power to make up the difference, with emissions-free electricity.

    Can’t rely on wind turbines to keep the lights on or save the planet, can we?

    • By Robert Rapier on July 13, 2013 at 4:47 am

      Yeah, I started to include a graph that had all sources of electricity plotted, but the renewable line can barely be seen; too close to zero still on the scale.

      • By Ed_Reid on July 13, 2013 at 10:25 am

        Take government, at all levels, out of the decision-making process and watch the renewables line re-approach zero asymptotically. Utilities are not adopting intermittent renewables in the interest of diversifying their supply portfolios. The instances of negative wholesale power pricing in ERCOT at night and the demands for new transmission capacity additions to permit surplus nighttime wind-generated electricity to be “schmeared” over a customer base large enough to consume it tell a story of wind energy the wind industry does not want the public to hear, no less understand.

    • By Jack Billingsley on July 13, 2013 at 9:27 am

      Excellent splash of cold water reality in the face, Colin. We needed that to get beyond the sentimental wishful thinking that dominates these discussions far too often.
      The liabilities of big wind power are too many to mention, not least of all the unpredictability, the low power density, the short lifespan, and all the exorbitant stated and unstated costs that inevitably accompany that technology. There is no affordable form of power storage that will ever make wind power competitive with safer generations of nuclear power or with shale gas. And the more the public knows about wind — either onshore or offshore — the less the public likes it.

  2. By Ed_Reid on July 13, 2013 at 8:31 am

    “As I wrote previously in The Key to Running the World on Solar and Wind Power, these capacity factors are screaming for a power storage solution.”

    I do not disagree that intermittent sources of generation require storage to enhance their reliability as sources of electricity and advance them toward sources of capacity. However, it is important to note that achieving a capacity factor of 90% with solar PV would require the availability of ~10 GW of nameplate generation per GW of 90% capacity factor generation, plus the ability to store and redeliver ~9 GW of the output. In the case of wind, the requirement would be ~5 GW of nameplate generation per GW, plus the ability to store and redeliver ~4 GW of the output.

    These requirements would be tempered by the capacity factor of the grid served by the generation; and, the reduction in nameplate generation and storage would be expected to be greater for solar PV, which tends to be available on-peak, than for wind, which tends to be more available off-peak.

    Your comparison of power costs in Hawaii is a comparison between the price of reliable power from the utility and the cost of “source of opportunity” power from intermittent generation sources. That is the functional equivalent of comparing apples and eggplants. :-)

    • By Joe Clarkson on July 14, 2013 at 3:54 pm

      The need for storage for intermittent renewables depends on their grid penetration. Five years ago, I tried to interest several of the bigger players in Concentrating Solar Power in my design for ultra-cheap and efficient thermal energy storage. None of them were interested. This was because their existing and planned production of high value on-peak generation was not being limited in any way by purchasing utilities. This is still the situation today. Storage will only be needed when penetration rates are far higher than current levels.

      Power costs in Hawaii and virtually everywhere are composed of three main components; capacity payments, energy payments, and O&M costs. None of the intermittent renewable generators receive capacity payments, so they receive less money from the purchasing utilities than load-following generation. However, on Hawaii island power costs are so high that even though wind farms may be curtailed at night due to excess production (when wind production exceeds about 50% of demand), they still generate enough income to be profitable.

      Here on Hawaii island, the naphtha fueled combined cycle plant I once helped manage is now generating only half the energy it did ten years ago due to recently added generation from massive increases in on-island PV (and a co-generating steam turbine the utility installed). When a new 20 MW bio-mass plant comes on line soon, all the petroleum fueled plants will see reduced capacity. Some may even be shut down for good. In Hawaii, it is easy for renewables to compete against oil for generating electricity.

      • By Robert Rapier on July 14, 2013 at 6:09 pm

        “When a new 20 MW bio-mass plant comes on line soon…”

        My company is involved with that project, by the way.

  3. By Benjamin Cole on July 14, 2013 at 2:35 am

    Like other commenters, I am dubious about wind or solar…yet costs keep coming down in those two sectors. BTW, I still wonder about simple steam-power plants, Grow biomass and burn it to turn steam turbines.

    In working with architects, the idea of a buildings that are “net zero” power consumers is getting closer to reality commercially and can easily be done technologically. I would like to see prisons become power exporters.

    In short I do not see peak anything.

    BTW, I just read The Oil Drum is going down. I can remember when that website was in hysterics about PO, and eliminating posters who did not agree.

    • By Joe Clarkson on July 14, 2013 at 3:20 pm

      The Oil Drum has never eliminated posters who do not agree with the fact that oil production will peak (or has already, depending on what one calls “oil”). In fact, virtually every Drumbeat contains links to articles “debunking” peak oil.

      • By Benjamin Cole on July 15, 2013 at 1:33 am

        I beg to differ. There was a period when the TOD (2008-9) seemed but a messenger from the dark…I was banned. I wondered what was their true source of financing. No one ever answered.

        The NYMEX was going nuts. $147 a barrel even when oil tankers with oil had nowhere to offload, and were laid over in Malta.

        TOD fanned hysteria. To what end? Hurricane Gonu..look it up. That hurricane was going to wreck Mideast oil production for years. we would be riding bicycles. The Ghawar etc etc etc. Saudi Arabia on its last legs, etc etc etc

        Name one TOD’er who said five years ago that USA oil production would start rocketing upwards. They were 100 percent wrong, Hubbert’s Curve blah, blah, blah.

        In the last few years, the Drumbeat has been more balanced.

        But I have yet to see anyone at TOD say “Well, we were so wrong it is laughable, and here is our source of funding for 2008-9. We admit that due to this funding, our objectivity may have been compromised.

        Making predictions is hard, especially about the future.

        BTW, RR always reveals his potential compromises, and has never banned my comments.

        • By Joe Clarkson on July 15, 2013 at 2:53 am

          Predicting that world oil production will have a peak is not difficult at all; it is a mathematical certainty. Consume a finite quantity of anything at any non-zero rate and it will eventually be gone. Somewhere during the consumption process the rate of consumption will have peaked. No matter what the shape of the consumption curve, it will have a maximum value.

          Predicting the exact moment of the peak of oil production is not so easy, but Hubbert’s logistic curve method has proven to be pretty good. I suspect he will be proven to have been within a decade or two of being right about the global peak (his prediction was 2006-2016 according to Wikipedia). We won’t know for sure when the peak was until well into the downslope of production.

          But when that time comes we will have far bigger problems than figuring out who was right or wrong about peak oil; all of us will be in the same sinking ship.

          • By Benjamin Cole on July 16, 2013 at 12:12 am

            Maybe so…but, liquid fuels production in the USA will be about 25 percent higher in 2013 than in 2007. And we are the most mature area on the planet in term of development.

            Not only that, we can conserve. The Chevy Volt provides an urban dweller with the possibility of not buying gasoline for weeks on end. And it was a first-generation model.

            A guy who commutes 20 miles to work in a 20 mpg car, but then moves to 10 miles from work and buys a 40 mpg car has just cut his commuting use of gasoline by 75 percent.

            Moreover, have you heard about LNG and CNG cars and trucks?

            Why the doomsterism? It does not seem justified.

            I see every possibility for cleaner and more prosperous cities in the future, as the use of gasoline ICEs declines…..

            • By Joe Clarkson on July 16, 2013 at 12:38 pm

              “Why the doomsterism?” Here’s why…

              Our oil patrimony is a one-shot deal. We have been using it as if it would last forever. We should have used it to produce the gigantic capital infrastructure needed to gather the rather low intensity solar resource and funnel it where needed.

              Now it is too late. The world economy will fail under the burden of declining (more expensive) energy supplies before a transition can be made. The feeble efforts that have been started in preparation for the end of cheap fossil fuels are “too little, too late”.

              Since our society as a whole has failed to prepare, it is up to individuals and small groups to prepare as well as they can. That’s what my family is doing. What about you?

  4. By TimC on July 16, 2013 at 3:24 pm

    Good analysis, RR. I had always heard that solar capacity factors were in the 25% range. As dismal as that 11% world CF is, it’s better than the US, where solar CF has been in the 5 to 7 % range since 2009. All of the news has been about the huge, exciting build-out of solar capacity. I haven’t seen any reporting on how only a tiny and shrinking fraction of that is actually being consumed. Fossil-fired utility power rates could double or triple, but solar installations will still not make financial sense if we consume < 10% of installed capacity.

    I wonder how accurate BP's historical numbers for solar are? Note that for 1996, BP says that the US consumed 0.53 TW-hrs of solar power, despite having only 77 MW installed – a CF of almost 80%. How was that physically possible?

    • By Robert Rapier on July 16, 2013 at 3:48 pm

      “I wonder how accurate BP’s historical numbers for solar are?”

      I would take those older numbers with a very large grain of salt. By the way, I checked Germany’s capacity factors last year, and they were quite low. I can’t recall; either 6% or 9%.

  5. By Russ Finley on July 16, 2013 at 11:13 pm

    I checked out the BP site. Very useful. I put together this following graphic in an attempt to convey the limits of renewable energy. Renewable energy is fine but it is being used as an excuse by anti-nuclear ideologues to shut down nuclear …instead of fossil fuels, which is one of the most bizarre and irrational arguments I have ever encountered.

    • By Tom G. on July 17, 2013 at 11:39 am

      Good posting Russ. Here is what the Western ISO grid looks like today at about 8:15 a.m..

      Current demand = 28,700 MW

      Renewables contribution = 3,760 MW

      Currently renewable seen to be ramping up; especially solar; contributing significant amounts of energy to the grid. Of course wind if falling so it might be interesting to see what the final numbers are at the end of the day after the sun goes down, LOL.

      We need to be careful when talking about renewables everywhere vs some grid segments where renewable contribute a larger share. Places like California, Arizona, Nevada and Hawaii might fall into this category. But I will certainly agree that the grid is the grid and it really doesn’t make much difference in the overall scheme of things. But progress is being made and if enough sections of the country realize some of the benefits of renewables we might achieve some higher numbers.

  6. By Adrienne Adams on July 17, 2013 at 2:44 pm

    I’d like to see a conversation about whether biofuels should even be considered renewable. Our current agricultural and silvicultural practices produce enormous amounts of “waste,” but this waste is the product of bad practices and should not be even considered for conversion to fuel; removal of this organic material from the nutrient cycle ensures rapid collapse of productive soils.

    Converting useful food and fiber crops to fuel is, to put it bluntly, an immoral practice.

    The planet has a finite source of plant nutrients. Agriculture is, without exception, mining these resources, as nutrient replenishment by natural processes are miniscule compared with our withdrawl. Agriculture converts carbon sinks (forests, shrublands, and grasslands) into carbon producers, through plowing and processing. The carbon “neutrality” of converting mature forests, shrublands, and grasslands to annual crops is a fantasy.

    In short, from a biological and ecological standpoint, growing plants and then burning them for fuel is no more “renewable” than burning fossil fuels.

    • By Robert Rapier on July 17, 2013 at 2:53 pm

      “I’d like to see a conversation about whether biofuels should even be considered renewable.”

      I have discussed this in the past. We call all sort of fuels renewable, and in many cases they are nothing of the sort. In fact, there are certain renewable fuels that you couldn’t practically produce without heavy inputs of fossil fuels. In this case they certainly are not renewable, but they qualify for renewable tax credits anyway.

      • By Adrienne Adams on July 17, 2013 at 10:00 pm

        I know that you have discussed this topic elsewhere in your blog, but a first-time or casual reader would have no idea that you consider that many biofuels are not renewable. I am a regular reader, and also a supporter of your work and writing: but these words have meaning, and this article does nothing to dispel the political fiction that has created current biofuel policies.

        I think that it is essential that the fallacy of the non-renewability of biofuels be continually and strongly exposed, otherwise there will be no alternative but to continue to subsidize an ecologically dangerous and, in the case of food crops, immoral situation.

  7. By Lee on July 31, 2013 at 8:01 am

    Ethanol producers cut back production in ’12 because of unfavorable economics. Limited expensive corn feedstock competing with cheaper oil. Nonetheless, the industry continues to thrive and saves consumers a ton of money. Just read a report that E0 is faded away from market as consumers enjoy E10 cost savings. Price differential $.50/gal as the octane from ethanol is much
    cheaper than octane from the aromatics group. What’s not to like? Also, ethanol a natural “food grade” detergent keeping engine and fuel system clean. BTW, E10 probably the least beneficial blend to show off ethanol. Meaning all the hoopla over phase change water damage (never witness any, but theoretically possible) would go away with higher blends. The fuel is more susceptible to this phenomena at lower blends. Also, vapor pressure issues might go away with E15 and up blends. Meaning petro companies need not make seasonal shutdowns and reformulations between summer winter. Some interesting info posters probably not aware of?

    . Ethanol plants just started to retrofit cellulose processing of the corn kernel skin. Two billion g/yr with no more feedstock. Results include better animal feed, 3x corn oil production, and by product utilized to power heat process greatly minimizing natural gas.

    . Farmers switching to low till farming practices which capture more CO2, minimize runoff, and improve nitrogen availability. Modern farm practices improve soil, i.e. radish hybrids discovered to be excellent cover crop per deep root system. Crop rotation with beans reduce nitrogen requirement and improve pest/weed prevention. Michigan State proving inter-planting cover crops with corn very beneficial. The cover crops grow quickly then die as corn matures. Also, MSU heavily into technology to move municipal waste to field. BTW urine is a sterile nitrogen rich source. Milwaukee “Milorganite” is highly prized for yards and gardens…Milwaukee waste. U.S. has enough waste, more than 2x the needs of entire corn crop. Also, MSU studying narrow rows in attempt to push farming yields to the attainable 300 bushel/acre yield. So, with modern auto (Ford focus owners reporting up to 30mpg with E85), 300 bushel/acre yield and the current 3g/bushel process you would need less than one acre to power your focus 30,000 miles. What’s not to like? Also, don’t forget the 1/3 bushel high quality feed stock comparable to corn gluten and the corn oil for diesel engines.

  8. By Lee on July 31, 2013 at 9:06 am

    Some more propaganda…I don’t have any interest in the business, just find it interesting per my Libertarian like beliefs (except for religious values). This ethanol business is wholly regional small business. Financially helps many citizens, much more so than the petrol industry per gallon of fuel produced. Also, the revenue from agriculture starts at the base of the economic pyramid, meaning revenue produce here turns many times (multiple effect) compared to corporations, especially international corporations. For this fact alone Americans should be very supportive/thankful. Same is true of foreign economies benefiting tremendously from local production of fuel supply needs. Since our government has stopped subsidizing the production of corn (farmers are making good profit) per tax revenue, foreign farmers are again producing the crop economically, a good thing for food production as well. BTW, dried corn kernel is not a good feed for ruminants animals designed to feed on grass. The large majority of corn crop goes to animal feed. We need to stop this as it’s unhealthy for us consumers and the steers/cows themselves. Current food studies expose the danger of eating corn feed meat and the benefits of grass range (fresh). One is unhealthy food, the other very healthy. Also, distillery grains totally different than plain corn. We know fermented foods very healthy and unlike original. Miro-organisms converting corn to ethanol, greatly increase valuable protein in feed. There is more food value in 1/3 bushel of dried distillery grains DDG than the original bushel of corn. Starch is not good/healthy for cattle. Japanese are very motivated to best quality meat and fully aware of value of fermented food. They purchase much DDG from U.S.

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