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

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

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New infographic shows almost all expert projections underestimated the scale and speed of the global shift to solar and wind energy, with one exception.

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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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  1. david_fta 5 years ago

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

    • Coagmano 5 years ago


  2. Bob_Wallace 5 years ago

    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.

  3. Peter Thomson 5 years ago

    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 5 years ago

      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.

    • dRanger 4 years ago

      I would like to add one additional problem with their forecasts – they could have had immediate effects on the stock valuation of the fossil fuel companies. As stock valuations are foreward looking, if you put out a forecast predicting a 50% drop in coal consumption in 10 years, what happens to coal company stock prices tomorrow? The reality is finally sinking in as proved by the recent bsnkruptcy of the major coal players but their valuation was propped up by faulty forecasts for many years. Of course, maybe simple incompetence explains why they missed the forecasts year after year after year…maybe.

  4. Math Geurts 5 years ago

    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.

  5. Georg Guensberg 5 years ago

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

  6. shindig 5 years ago

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

  7. John Higson 5 years ago

    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 5 years ago

      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 5 years ago

        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 5 years ago

          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 5 years ago

            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 5 years ago

            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 5 years ago

            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 5 years ago

            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.

          • dRanger 4 years ago

            You really demonstrated remarkable restraint with this guy so congratulations on that. It is so weird to get a glimpse of the worldview that has been created for these people. So many conspiracies and spin packed into such a small space.

          • John Higson 4 years ago

            Explain how anything I’ve said is anything even approaching a conspiracy theory? Do you even know what one is? Or is it just that your worldview is so fragile that any challenge to it is automatically batshit crazy? And ‘spin’ WTF are you on about?

            See Hall and Prieto on EROEI and then come back with referenced criticism and we’ll discuss whether I’m a conspiracist or not. Good fucking luck on that btw!


          • John Higson 4 years ago

            Google engineers came to the same conclusion about not being able to run our industrial society on renewable, the maths just doesn’t add up, sorry!


            Now try and tell me this is a biased source!

          • Bob_Wallace 4 years ago

            The Google engineers were assigned jobs which involved trying to make long shot ideas work. Their sour grape comments are devoid of any understanding of what it actually working.

            Tom Murphy sets up his arguments so that renewables fail and nuclear is the only answer.

          • Bob_Wallace 4 years ago

            Hall and Prieto make a dishonest argument. They calculate an EROEI for a grid using wind or solar and compare that to the EROEI for a nuclear plant, not for a grid using nuclear.

            They charge renewables with storage, backup, etc. while not charging nuclear similarly. (Yes, nuclear needs both storage and backup.)

            Silicon solar panels return their total lifetime energy input (cradle to grave) in less than two years. We don’t know how long solar panels last. They easily last 30 years and our oldest installed array is approaching 40 years of age and going strong. Let’s use a conservative number…

            30 / 15

            Wind turbines return their total lifetime energy input in 3 to 8 months, depending on the wind resources where they are installed. We are now replacing the 30 year old turbines at Altamont Pass because they were wearing out. Newer designs should last longer. But, again, let’s be conservative…

            360 (months) / 8 = an EROEI of 45
            360 / 3 = an EROEI of 120

          • John Higson 4 years ago

            And your basis for their argument being dishonest on eroei of solar in Spain is what exactly? Because I’m not seeing any basis for dishonesty, AT ALL.

            When trying to evaluate eroei, are you using the measures pioneered by Prieto and Hall or making up your own bullshit? Because it kinda looks like you are. Who are you to dispute their figures anyway and what are your qualifications for such? How many papers have you authored? You are just a guy with an opinion which happens to be wrong!


            I certainly don’t accept your figures on energy payback,sounds like something a booster for renewables would bullshit about to be honest.None of the figures I’ve seen are even in the same vicinity! Most NEVER paying back the energy embedded into them!

          • Bob_Wallace 4 years ago

            John, I don’t expect you to believe me. That’s because you clearly have an incredible amount of crap packed in between your ears.

            I’m just posting facts for anyone who might be mislead by your comments.

          • Diego Matter 4 years ago

            There we go, I knew you have your information from a denier site – is the worst kind!!!

          • Diego Matter 4 years ago

            Oh man, where do you get your information from? It sounds like from a right wing website. Just sayin.

            The energy payback for PV panels is 1.5 to 2 years and they pay for themselves many times over (the value is of course depending on many factors like your electricity price, what you get for electricity fed back into the grid and the price of the installed system – hint price came down dramatically – in australia you can install a quality 5kWp system for $7000 – $8000 which gives you all the electricity for a household of 5 people and an EV).

          • John Higson 4 years ago

            You think the study by Prieto and Hall is right-wing biased because it’s quoted in WUWT? Whilst I agree that it’s not the best source, but you should really go to the citation.

            I ABSOLUTELY stand by the study! And can even refer you to Prieto, who happens to be a contact of mine. Charles Hall pioneered the concept of EROEI(if you don’t know what it means LOOK IT UP!).

            Stop looking for reasons to bolster your pre-conceived notions of what ‘kind of’ person I am. You mentioning of ‘right-wing websites’ is a dead giveaway! Pull your head out from your arse and investigate what I wrote. You’ll find that I’m right. Especially, read the Hall and Prieto study about EROEI of PV in Spain and it’s absolute failure to return as much on investment as is needed to justify it!

            The extract from this book is MORE than enough to be going on with Diego-


            DON’T shoot the messenger!

          • Bob_Wallace 4 years ago

            Might we suggest the messenger learn something?

            I have no desire to shoot you but I do wish you would educate yourself and not post things which are not true. You’re just confusing some people and wasting the time of others.

          • John Higson 4 years ago

            Seriously?? Hall and Prieto, not true? LOL. By far the most respected and comprehensive study ever done on Solar PV. Your credibility is plunging as we speak!

            No, I’m here to teach and challenge propaganda which just muddies the water.

            WE CANNOT RUN INDUSTRIAL CIVILIZATION ON RENEWABLES! We can have a comfortable existence for about 1 billion humans(not as high a living standard as the first world enjoys today). It’s just a hard truth, powerdown is the only way!

          • Bob_Wallace 4 years ago

            You’re making a spectacle of yourself.

      • John Higson 5 years ago

        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 5 years ago

          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 5 years ago

            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 5 years ago

            ” 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 5 years ago

            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 5 years ago

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

            Put down the shovel and quit digging….

          • John Higson 5 years ago

            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.

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