More than 140 gigawatts of solar and wind generation capacity were added globally last year as solar PV consolidated its role as the growth engine of the renewables market, new figures from the International Renewable Energy Agency show.
Among renewable technologies, wind remains second only to hydropower in its installed base, with 564 gigawatts in operation compared to solar’s 480 gigawatts, IRENA said.
But the solar market is now regularly lapping wind on the global stage, with solar installations hitting a record 94 gigawatts last year, IRENA said, in spite of a policy-induced slowdown in the critical Chinese market.
The global wind market has been flat in recent years, holding steady at just under 50 gigawatts of new installations in 2018.
However, many corners of the global wind market are vibrant. Onshore wind has proven itself the lowest-cost option for new power generation in a growing number of markets around the world, including much of the central U.S., and developers are increasingly finding ways to build projects without subsidies.
The U.S. wind market is set for what is likely to be its biggest two-year growth period on record as developers race to make use of the fading federal Production Tax Credit. Meanwhile, the offshore wind market continues to gain traction in markets beyond Europe, notably in China, where nearly 2 gigawatts were added last year, IRENA’s figures show.
One wind source could power a small town. A single wind turbine, if properly placed and utilized, could power 1400 houses. Wind farms are becoming more popular, especially when they’re put in the ocean. The constant breezes on the water create a nearly constant supply of energy, but it’s important to place them in an area that isn’t too susceptible to severe storms.
2019 the biggest year yet for solar
But the biggest renewables market by far these days is solar. Analysts at Wood Mackenzie Power & Renewables believe the global solar market will crack the 100-gigawatt mark for the first time this year — a level the wind market has never come close to achieving.
WoodMac analysts have described a number of positive signals for the global solar market in 2019, from clarity on China’s approach to supporting the sector, to an increasingly diversified global market that’s less reliant on Chinese demand in the first place.
The fastest growth is coming from markets in global sunbelt countries across the Middle East and Mediterranean.
Costs continue to fall rapidly across the solar industry, setting the global market up for a rhythm of annual installations in the 115- to 120-gigawatt range in the early 2020s, Wood Mackenzie forecasts.
Outpacing fossil fuels
Non-renewable generation capacity has expanded by an average of 115 gigawatts per year since 2000, IRENA said.
Wind and solar's faster growth means that renewables are eating up a larger and larger share of the global market for new power plants, going from 25 percent of new capacity brought online in 2001 to 63 percent last year, a new record.
There may be more than 90,000 MW overall of untapped water potential in the United States; through new hydropower technologies, such as advanced turbines, and new applications, such as tidal, wave, ocean currents, and in-stream hydrokinetic approaches, the industry could double its output over the next 20 years.
All told, the world added 171 gigawatts of renewable energy capacity last year, 84 percent of it wind and solar.
Hydropower remains the world's largest source of renewable power, with an installed base of 1,172 gigawatts. But the market for new hydroelectric capacity is stagnant, with just 8.5 gigawatts added globally last year, nearly all of it in China.