Renewable Energy Accounts for 23% of World Electricity in 2012 – And Growing

  • November 28, 2019

The National Renewable Energy Lab (NREL) has released a report – 2012 Renewable Energy Data Book – regarding the status of renewable energy globally and in the US.

For the full Data book please go to the NREL press release site at and download the full report.

Wind and Solar are the fastest growing forms of energy production worldwide and are increasing by several orders of magnitude every few years.  Hydropower remains the largest single source of renewable energy production but new production opportunities are limited by availability and higher relative costs.

As Busbar costs for Wind and Solar continue to decrease (Solar costs down 80% over the last 10 years) it is not hard to see why renewables continue to increase their share of electricity generation and continue their contribution to achieving lowered emission targets.

Two things are required for renewables to move to move to total domination of electricity generation:

  1. Busbar costs lower than Coal or Nuclear alternatives; and
  2. Better Grid scale battery storage options (see recent advances from ABB on this front) in order to ensure reliability of supply and ability to cope with massive peak demand surges.  At the moment only hydro power complies with this requirement, as it can supply the grid 24/7.

It should be noted that the NREL reports the compound annual growth rate of renewable energy electricity production has been 5.8% per annum between 2000 and 2012. If you apply the simple arithmetic of the late Professor Al Bartlett you will see that at this rate then renewable energy electricity production will double every 12 years. Thus in 12 years from now it would be 46% of all electricity production if there was no growth in demand – and in another 12 years it would be 92%.

Obviously there will be growth in demand, but you can see why conventional utility companies are worried. The compound growth rate of renewable energy production is actually increasing rapidly as costs fall and consumers vote with their wallets. There are also government initiatives in many countries around the world to hasten the move away from fossil fuel generated electricity so, aside from the US, that move to renewable energy electricity production will only accelerate – not slow down.

It is also therefore no surprise that green and renewable energy stocks have vastly outpaced all other stock indices over the past five years, so if you have not done so already then its perhaps time to consider your investment strategy now.


The key findings, graphs and statistics from the NREL report are:

•       Cumulative global renewable electricity installed capacity has grown by 97% from 2000 to 2012 (from 748 GW to 1,470 GW).
•       Renewable energy accounts for 23% of all electricity generation worldwide (4,892 TWh).
•       Wind and solar energy are the fastest growing renewable electricity technologies worldwide. Wind generation grew by a factor of nearly 16 and solar generation grew by a factor of 49 between 2000 and 2012.
•       In 2012, Germany led the world in cumulative solar photovoltaic installed capacity.  The United States leads the world in geothermal and biomass installed capacity.  China leads in wind, and Spain leads in solar thermal electric generation (STEG).



Image courtesy of NREL | 2012 Renewable Energy Data Book

Image courtesy of NREL | 2012 Renewable Energy Data Book

Image courtesy of NREL | 2012 Renewable Energy Data Book


•       In the United States, installed wind electricity capacity increased more than 23 fold between 2000 and 2012.
•       In the United States, wind experienced strong growth in 2012, and more than 13 GW of new capacity was added. Texas led the United States in wind installations in 2012, installing 1,826 MW of wind capacity.
•       In 2010, China surpassed the United States as the world leader in cumulative installed wind capacity, with more than 75 GW installed as of the end of 2012.
•       Although global cumulative installed offshore wind capacity surpassed 5 GW in 2012, no commercial offshore wind turbines have been commissioned in the United States thus far.


Image courtesy of NREL | 2012 Renewable Energy Data Book


•       Solar electricity generating capacity grew by a factor of over 21 between 2000 and 2012 and currently accounts for 0.3% of annual U.S. electricity generation.
•       Countries with extensive solar policies—such as Germany, Spain, and Italy— lead the world in solar photovoltaic (PV) deployment. Similarly, U.S. states with extensive solar incentives lead the United States in both cumulative and annual installations in 2012 (California, Arizona, New Jersey, Nevada, and Colorado).
•       U.S. manufacturers currently have a small share of the worldwide PV market.  Asian—particularly Chinese—manufacturers lead the market with nearly 85% of the global photovoltaic module production.
•       30 MW of new concentrating solar power (CSP) capacity came online in the United States in 2012. Approximately 1.6 GW of CSP projects are currently under construction in the United States and are projected to come online in 2013 and 2014; 900 MW are estimated to come online in 2013 alone.


Image courtesy of NREL | 2012 Renewable Energy Data Book

Image courtesy of NREL | 2012 Renewable Energy Data Book

Nannette Dejesus

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