9 Facts about Renewable Energy

9 Facts about Renewable Energy

May 16th, 2013

“The future of renewable energy is fundamentally a choice, not a foregone conclusion given technology and economic trends”

REN21 (2013)


MEXICO CITY – Given its multiple benefits, renewables have grown rapidly in recent years. As sources of clean and reliable energy, they are considered key technologies to fight against climate change while securing energy supply and fostering economic growth and social wealth.

Renewable energy (as well as energy efficiency) has the power to locking us out from the current global carbon emitting energy system to a more sustainable one [1]. As WWF´s Energy Report has shown [2], up scaling renewable energy is both possible and necessary to avoid dangerous climate change. In fact, by 2050, we could get all the energy we need from renewable sources in a sustainable way [3], [4], [5].

Renewables are the needed lever to realize an energy transition to a better future. If we take a look at facts on renewable energy, it becomes evident that we are not that far from achieving it…


9 facts about renewable energy at glance:


1)      The world has abundant renewable energy resources: global potential endowments of renewable resources are quite vast. It is estimated that total technical renewable energy potential for 2020 (i.e. the one that can be sourced with current technologies) is around 7,113 EJ/yr. By source, 88% of this potential comes from solar technologies (viz. PV and CSP) and 6% from wind energy. Geographically, this potential is mostly available in Africa (47%), Asia & Pacific (23%) and Middle East (12%) [6].

2)     The world is increasing its energy demand: although at a slower annual rate compared to historical performance, the world is still achieving economic growth [7]. To a large extent, economic growth has driven the raise in global energy consumption, particularly due to growth in emerging economies. In 2011, global energy demand was 514 EJ, which represented a 2.5% consumption growth compared to 2010 (broadly in line with the historical average) [8]. Following this trend, it is expected that by 2020 global energy consumption will raise circa 22%, i.e. to  625 EJ [9].

3)      The world is under exploiting its renewable energy potential: in 2011, despite the great availability of global resources, only 8% of total energy demand was covered with renewables. Fossil fuel and nuclear energy contributed to 87% and 5% of the total energy consumption respectively [8].

4)      Renewable energy offers a possibility to reduce CO2 emissions: In 2011, fossil fuels combustion were responsible for emitting over 31 Gt of global carbon-dioxide (CO2); an increase of 3.2% on 2010. Annual emissions are projected to exceed 37 Gt CO2 per year by 2035. It is foreseen that quadrupling current renewable energy consumption by 2035 (from ~17 EJ to ~71 EJ) could avoid up to 3.5 Gt of CO2 emissions per year; that is, 23% of the CO2 emissions abatement needed in order to be on track with the 2°C target by 2035 [9].

5)      Renewable energy creates jobs: over 5 million people worldwide work directly or indirectly in the renewable energy industry. Solar PV and wind power account for circa 30% of the total work force in the renewable energy sector. The largest job markets in the sector are located in China (1.6 million), the European Union (1.1 million), Brazil (0.9 million) and the United States (0.5 million) [10]. Compared to fossil fuels, renewables create between 1.5 to 7.9 times more jobs-year per GWh electricity generated [11] and between 1.9 and 3.2 times more jobs per million USD invested [12].

6)      Renewable power generation becoming increasingly competitive: the levelised cost of electricity (LCOE) of learning technologies such as wind, solar PV, CSP and some biomass technologies has fallen considerably. For instance, depending on technology and markets, prices for PV modules have fallen over 60%. Similarly, wind turbine costs have declined by around 25% compared to 2009. Other technologies such as hydropower and geothermal electricity, under favorable resource conditions, are often the lowest cost option to generate electricity. In fact, at current prices for fossil fuels and conventional technologies, renewables are the most cost-effective option for off-grid electrification and for centralized grid supply in particular locations [13]. For instance, depending on technology and region the LCOEs of coal plants range between 0.03 and 0.12 USD/kWh, while LCOEs of natural gas plants between 0.04 and 0.12 USD/kWh [14]. For renewables, 0.03 to 0.07 USD/kWh for small hydropower projects; 0.03 to 0.06 USD/kWh for large hydro; 0.05 to 0.06 USD/kWh for biomass; 0.05 to 0.09 USD/kWh for geothermal; 0.08 to 0.12 USD/kWh for onshore wind; 0.15 to 0.31 for solar PV; and, 0.22 to 0.25 USD/kWh for solar CSP [13].

7)      Investments in renewable power generation also increasing fast: global investments in renewable energy projects grew at an annual rate of circa 26% during the period 2004-2011, from $54 bn to $302 bn [15]. After a decline in 2011 (-16%), investments are expected not only to reach back 2011 levels but to overcome them. It is estimated that global investments in renewable energy projects will rise to $577 bn by 2030 [16].

8)      By 2030 renewables are expected to account for circa 50% of the total power generation capacity:  based on current trends, renewables are expected to scale from a 28% share in 2012 to a 48% of global installed power generation capacity by 2030.  This would allow renewables generating up to 37% of the total global electricity supply; wind and solar would contribute to power supply with shares of 12% and 6% respectively [16].

9)      The world is building a clean energy policy landscape: policy instruments and packages to support renewable energy are increasing. By 2012, at least 118 countries adopted targets for renewable energy. Targets include increases in shares of renewables in power generation, primary energy or final energy, heat supply, installed electric capacity or specific technologies. Additionally, at least 109 countries had some type of renewable electricity policy by 2012, namely feed-in-tariffs or renewable portfolio standards. Renewable energy policy initiatives have taken place both at national and state/provincial level[10].


Tabaré A. Currás

Advisor on Energy Economics

WWF-Global Climate and Energy Initiative

Mexico City – MEX



[1]          O. Edenhofer, R. Pichs Madruga, and Y. Sokona, “Renewable Energy Sources and Climate Change Mitigation, Special Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change,” Technical Support Unit Working Group III Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, 9781107607101, 2012.

[2]          “The Energy Report 100% Renewable Energy by 2050,” WWF International, Gland, 9782940443260, 2011.

[3]          M. Z. Jacobson and M. A. Delucchi, “Providing all global energy with wind, water, and solar power, Part I: Technologies, energy resources, quantities and areas of infrastructure, and materials,” Energy Policy, vol. 39, no. 3, pp. 1154–1169, Mar. 2011.

[4]          M. A. Delucchi and M. Z. Jacobson, “Providing all global energy with wind, water, and solar power, Part II: Reliability, system and transmission costs, and policies,” Energy Policy, vol. 39, no. 3, pp. 1170–1190, Mar. 2011.

[5]          Y. Y. Deng, K. Blok, and K. van der Leun, “Transition to a fully sustainable global energy system,” Energy Strategy Reviews, vol. 1, no. 2, pp. 109–121, Sep. 2012.

[6]          W. Krewitt, K. Nienhaus, C. Klebmann, C. Capone, E. Stricker, W. Grauss, M. Hoogwijk, N. Supersberger, U. V. Winterfeld, and S. Samadi, “Role and Potential of Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency for Global Energy Supply,” Federal Environment Agency, Dessau-Roßlau, Germany, ISSN 1862-4359.

[7]          The World Bank, “Data: GDP growth (annual %),” 2013. [Online]. Available: http://data.worldbank.org/indicator/NY.GDP.MKTP.KD.ZG/countries/1W?display=graph.

[8]          “BP Statistical Review of World Energy,” BP, London, Jun. 2012.

[9]          OECD/IEA, “World Energy Outlook 2012,” Paris, Nov. 2012.

[10]        REN21, “Renewables 2012- Global Status Report,” Paris.

[11]        M. Wei, S. Patadia, and D. M. Kammen, “Putting renewables and energy efficiency to work: How many jobs can the clean energy industry generate in the US?,” Energy Policy, vol. 38, pp. 919–931, 2010.

[12]        R. Pollin, J. Heintz, and Garret-Peltier, “The Economic Benefits of Investing in Clean Energy,” Department of Economics and Political Economy Research Institute (PERI), University of Massachusetts, Amherst, 2009.

[13]        IRENA Secretariat, “Renewable power Generation Costs in 2012: an overview,” IRENA, Abu Dhabi, 2013.

[14]        IEA/NEA, “Projected Costs of Generating Electricity,” Paris, 662010031P, 2010.

[15]        Bloomberg New Energy Finance, “Global trends in clean energy investment,” presented at the Fact Pack as at Q4 2012, 14-Jan-2013.

[16]        Guy Turner, “Global Renewable Energy Market Outlook: Fact Pack,” presented at the BNEF Summit 2013, New York, 26-Apr-2013.

Netzahualcóyotl Arroyo

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