Graph of the Day: Renewable energy boom underestimated by nearly all

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The coming of the renewable energy revolution has long been heralded by many of the world’s energy market authorities, and as solar and wind energy capacity is installed at record rates, these predictions seem to be being borne out.

But a new infographic published by Meister Consultants Group has shown that almost all of these expert predictions have vastly underestimated the scale at which the renewable energy revolution would happen.

As the first two charts below show, out of a number of predictions made by authorities including the IEA and the US Energy Information Administration over the past 15 years, only the most aggressive growth projections, such as Greenpeace’s Energy [R]evolution scenarios, have been even close to accurate on the actual scale of growth in installed solar and wind power.

Chart one: Cumulative installed solar PV capacity: Global

Screen Shot 2015-03-31 at 10.42.20 AM

Chart two: Cumulative installed wind capacity: Global

Screen Shot 2015-03-31 at 10.43.14 AM

As the report puts it, “renewable energy growth has consistently surprised (on the upside) the analysts, planners, and policy makers who have attempted to predict the future.”

Greenpeace’s projections, it notes, were based on drastic structural, policy and business changes – the sort that recent moves by E.On, China and countless other local and global institutions suggest are already underway.

As for where this boom is headed – and how fast – projections and scenarios range from 15 per cent of global primary energy demand by 2050 (Greenpeace’s reference scenario) to 82 per cent (Greenpeace’s Energy Revolution scenario). If Greenpeace continues its track record of accuracy, we’re in for a wild ride.

Chart three: Projected renewables share of global primary energy demand: All renewable energy sources Screen Shot 2015-03-31 at 10.43.28 AM

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  • david_fta

    Hey there world, we’ve got some coal to sell, really really cheap … hello? Anyone out there?

    • Coagmano


  • Bob_Wallace

    I’m predicting about 100% renewables by 2050. We pretty much have to reduce our carbon footprint to zero and then start taking it down.

    If we can see getting to 82% with today’s technology think about how much our technology might improve over the next 35 years.

  • Peter Thomson

    The IEA and USEIA are not good at predicting the impact of disruptive technology such as solar; their scenarios weigh heavily on known, well-understood technologies such as fossil and nuclear so their forecasts reflect these BAU-style scenarios. The massive churn of infrastructure we need to see happening for renewable energy to take over is something they find very hard to comprehend or forecast for.

    • Bob_Wallace

      I’d call them “lazy”. Put a ruler to the data to date and draw a straight line forward in time. Spend no energy looking for disruptive forces that are developing on the forward edge.

  • Math Geurts

    Contrary to this: in January 2015 IHS overestimated growth of PV in 2014. With a 25% growth growth will be 45 GW in 2015 in stead of 57 GW.

  • Georg Guensberg

    Interesting charts. My colleague and I recently compared the different WEO (central) scenarios by IEA on renewables. There is… let´s say… some developlment :-)

  • shindig

    And guess who gets it right: Greenpeace! hell’s bells.

  • John Higson

    Please demonstrate to me one industrial process which is closed system renewable? This is simply not credible. As population and energy usage continues to rise exponentially,even though renewables rise fast it will never never catch up with demand! You cannot run industrial society on renewables. You can have a perfectly comfortable 1 billion people on them,but not everybody,no chance,no time,no way.

    • Bob_Wallace

      You hire a carpenter to build you a house and you start berating him at the end of day one because he hasn’t finished? Come on, we’re just a tiny ways into transitioning to renewables and you want someone to show you a finished grid? An industrial plant running on nothing but wind and solar?

      I didn’t say renewables because there are many industrial plants running on hydro.

      Look, I could list a bunch of studies which have shown how entire grids, states, and countries can run their grids on renewables but you probably wouldn’t read them. Let’s do this instead.

      You do know that we can store energy by pumping water up into a reservoir with solar or wind electricity and then using that stored energy to make electricity when there is not enough wind/solar input? That’s called PuHS, pump-up hydro storage.

      Now imagine an island not connected to any other grid. No reason why that entire island, fish packing plant and all, couldn’t be run with solar panels, wind turbines and PuHS. It’s just a matter of installing enough of each.

      That’s how renewable grids will work. Enough wind, solar, geothermal, hydro, tidal, biogas, biomass and storage to meet demand 24/365.

      Now watch how we build those 100% renewable grids over the next 20-50 years.

      • John Higson

        Nice and confidently argued like a true believer. Still rubbish and will never happen,not with a global population of 7 billion and rising,not now,not in the future and not ever.Good luck with those rose tinted delusions!

        • Bob_Wallace

          It takes only a few hours to put enough solar panels on your roof to power you for the next several decades. And the skills needed are pretty simple.

          Wind farms are built with common large building construction skills. Look at any city in the world and you will see that millions of people have those skills. The specialized skills needed are taught in a few months in junior colleges.

          There is no material shortage. We already generate more energy from wind and solar than we use to manufacture and install wind and solar in a year.

          Now watch how we build those 100% renewable grids over the next 20-50 years.

          • John Higson

            And how long do the panels take to actually pay for themselves? Do they ever produce as much energy as was used to manufacture them? I don’t think they do….

            ‘There is no material shortage.’ Eeerrr,there soon will be of the materials that are needed to manufacture the renewables tech! Peak rare earths is just about here and and other metals will be soon.

          • Bob_Wallace

            Pay for themselves? Of course. Installed solar in the US is about $1.80/watt, $1,800/kW. The unsubsidized price of utility solar is running about 7 cents per kWh. On average a solar kW of solar will produce about 1,640 kWh per year. Selling for about $115. That’s a 16 year payoff. It can be a much faster payoff for end-user (rooftop) solar because the electricity generated is offsetting retail costs.

            Return energy? Silicon solar panels return all the energy it takes to manufacture and recycle them (cradle to grave) in less than 2 years. Thin film panels return their embedded energy in less than one year.

            Peak rare earth is bogus. Rare earth minerals are not rare. Plus we manufacture both solar panels and wind turbines without REMs.

            We are in no way close to peak aluminum or peak steel.

            You probably should take a close look at where you are getting your information. Someone has been treating you like a mushroom.

          • John Higson

            So,you’re an economist.Resource constraints don’t matter. I’m happy with my sources of information,are you,really? After all, ‘it’s hard to get a man to understand a concept when his livelihood depends on him not understanding it’.

            ‘That’s a 16 year payoff.’ Yes maybe,under the best possible circumstances,with the best possible weather and sunshine and no damaging storms,sandstorms etc etc etc.

            Solar energy is also not dense enough,in that the energy harvested is diffuse,plus it’s crap for baseload as the sun doesn’t always shine! If the energy return is so good then why do the studies contradict you? This one by Prieto is the best and recognised as being beyond reproach.The EROEI is dismal under the best conditions imaginable.Bye-Bye solar.


            On Steel and Aluminium,check out the grades of the ores of just these 2 essential metals. The days of 10% ore are a long way in the past! The amount of metal you’re producing per unit volume of ore is dropping precipitately meaning the the amount of energy needed to get the ore and then process it into the metal also rises precipitately and the snake eats it’s own tail!

            Pathological optimists like yourself are a part of the problem of the times.Actually,I’m being kind with the optimist tag,it’s more likely that you are a snake oil salesman with financial interests in pushing this agenda. I’ll say it one more time, you can not run industrial society as it is constituted now and with the current population ,on renewables,it’s not possible!

          • Bob_Wallace

            OK, John, you’ve shown your hand. Anyone who thinks WUWT is a reliable source of information almost certainly has a head stuffed full of misinformation.

            I’m not going to bother addressing your points in detail. I suspect you are totally immune to facts. But I’ll hit a couple of points.

            Energy density is a red herring. The issue is how expensive is it to turn that energy into electricity. Sunshine and breezes are “low density” but produce cheap electricity.

            A piano falling from a 40 story building is energy dense. Turning that energy into electricity is expensive.

            A sixteen year payoff is a sixteen year payoff. Catastrophes can happen to any generator. TMI-2 melted down just a short time into it’s expected operational life.

      • John Higson

        And the fossil fuel subsidy that all the Hydro,Solar and Wind get in their construction,maintenance and general functioning will come from where exactly? YOU are part of the problem.Conservation,de-powering and simplification are the only ways.Oh,and population reduction by humane but draconian means.

        • Bob_Wallace

          Have you not a clue as to the extent we subsidize fossil fuels? We spend many times more underwriting the costs of fossil fuels than renewables.

          Plus wind and solar are nearing the end of their subsidy lives. Their prices have dropped so much that they are becoming cheaper than subsidized oil and coal.

          ” population reduction by humane but draconian means”

          You thinking gas chambers with recliners and soothing music?

          • John Higson

            More like compulsory sterilization after 2 children.

            And you’ve not understood what I mean by ‘fossil fuel subsidy ‘have you? Renewables would not be viable without FF’s to enable them!

          • Bob_Wallace

            ” compulsory sterilization after 2 children”

            Why would you even bother talking about stuff like that. You know it will not happen.

            If you are interested in slowing population growth then talk about things that work and are acceptable. Affordable access to birth control methods, better education for women, more job opportunities for women, stronger safety nets for old folks (so that they don’t feel a need to grow a bunch of their own ‘safety nets’).

            ” Renewables would not be viable without FF’s to enable them!”

            Natural gas is currently our ‘go to’ to fill in during low wind/solar times. That’s simply because NG generation is cheaper than storage.

            Storage prices are dropping and storage is starting to push NG aside.

            We don’t need FFs to enable renewables. We just need cheaper storage and/or a price on carbon to kill off FFs.

          • John Higson

            The very fact that you baldly state it’ll never happen means that it needs to and quickly.Why do you believe this is unacceptable? It is the only way to move ahead!

          • Bob_Wallace

            Please, John, you’re already in a deep, deep hole.

            Put down the shovel and quit digging….

          • John Higson

            In your optimistic opinion.I don’t happen to have any confidence in the human animal to self regulate,therefore action,whatever that’ll be ,will be needed in a reactive manner.We are incapable of being proactive,because too many entrenched interests make money off the status quo. The longer we ignore it the more drastic will be the solution when it becomes inevitable.