Global Trends in Renewable Energy

March 11, 2014

Recent developments and key trends in global renewable energy – with a focus on solar and wind power – based on the latest available data.

Summary of Global Investment in Renewable Energy

Worldwide, 2012 figures show that there was $244 billion USD in new investment in renewable energy. By far, Europe and China are investing the most, accounting for nearly 60 percent of the global total. However, the total investment was lower than in the year before.
Global Trends in Renewable Energy
In addition reductions in support, the decline in investment was due to uncertain policy environments and declining policy support. This affected the investment climate, slowing momentum in established markets such as Europe, China, and India.

Some of this decline  is attributable to a sharp drop in the cost of renewable technology. This is positive news, indeed. The major news here is that the cost of solar PV tech is dropping significantly. Improved cost-competitiveness of solar can be attributed to economies of scale, technology advances, and a surplus of modules and turbines.

Both solar and wind are reaching price points that are driving some manufacturers out of the market, but are making them more affordable to a broader range of consumers in both developed and developing nations.

New Renewable Energy Capacity Summary

Global demand for renewable energy continues to rise. In 2012, renewables comprised slightly more than half of the world’s new electric generating capacity. Total renewable power capacity worldwide exceeded 1,470 GW in 2012, up 8.5 percent from 2011 (the latest year for which data is available).

  • Wind power accounted for about 39% of added renewable power capacity.
  • Hydropower and solar PV each accounted for about 26% of capacity. 

Between 2008—2012, global installed capacity grew very rapidly, nearly doubling between 2000 and 2012.

Global Trends in Renewable Energy


  • Solar PV capacity grew an average of 60% annually
  • Concentrating solar thermal power (CSP) capacity grew more than 40% annually
  • Wind power grew 25% annually
  • Hydropower and geothermal power grew 3—4% per year
  • Biomass capacity grew at an average of 8% per year 

In the US, 14 percent of total installed capacity comes from renewable sources.

Top Countries for Renewable Energy Capacity in 2012

The top five countries for renewable power capacity were China, the US, Brazil, Canada, and Germany.

If you exclude hydroelectric capacity, the top countries were China, the US, and Germany, then Spain, Italy, and India. By region, the EU had the most non-hydro capacity—approximately 44% of the global total.

  • Germany led the world in cumulative solar PV (photovoltaic) installed capacity.
  • The United States leads the world in geothermal and biomass installed capacity.
  • China leads in wind. (Wind power generation surpassed nuclear for the first time.)
  • Spain leads in solar thermal electric generation (STEG).

Solar PV and Wind Power Reach Milestones

Global Trends in Renewable Energy

Credit: Scott Robinson

Solar PV and Wind have been the biggest additions to renewable power capacity worldwide.

In the EU, nearly 70% of additions to electric capacity were in renewables, and most of it was in solar PV and wind power. In 2011 (the latest year for which data are available), renewables met 20.6% of the region’s electricity consumption (and 13.4% of gross final energy consumption).

In Germany, renewables accounted for nearly 23% of electricity consumption. Denmark is a leader in renewables penetration, generating 30% of electricity with wind. Italy achieved 5.6% with solar PV.

These developments are serving as a sort of driving factor by weaving reliance on renewables into the fabric of national identity. A number of countries—including Denmark, Germany, and Spain—have begun to enact policies and measures to reshape their energy systems and rely further on renewables.

Solar PV

Led by Europe, global capacity of solar PV reached the 100 GW milestone. Asia added significant additions late in the year. Most of it was in small-scale additions, such as self-generation systems. However, larger PV projects continue to grow in number and scale. The falling price of solar is spurring all this growth, pushing PV into new markets like Africa, the Middle East, Asia, and Latin America.

With ongoing upgrades to our electrical gird, solar photovoltaic energy is only likely to increase its share of total generating capacity.

Wind Power

Wind power had a record year! It accounted for more additions to capacity than any other renewable technology. This additional 45 GW of capacity is a19% increase over the year before and brings the global total to 283 GW.

The US was the leading market: half of all electric capacity additions were from renewables, but none more than wind power. China remains the global leader in total installed wind capacity.

Challenges to the wind industry have been due to downward pressure on prices, along with the following:

  • Increased competition among turbine manufacturers
  • Competition with low-cost gas in some markets
  • Decreasing policy support due to austerity measures
Global Trends in Renewable Energy

Credit: David Joyce

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Featured Image Courtesy of Idaho National Laboratory (INL) Wind Energy Program