Solar power consumption increased by 58 percent, to 93 terrawatt-hours (TWh), and the use of wind power increased by 18 percent, to 521 TWh. Although hydropower remains the world’s leading renewable energy, solar and wind continue to dominate investment in new renewable capacity and are quickly becoming the highest-profile renewable energy sources.
Global investment in solar energy in 2012 was $140.4 billion, an 11 percent decline from 2011, and wind investment was down 10 percent, to $80.3 billion. But due to lower costs for both technologies, total installed capacities grew sharply. In 2012, installed capacity for concentrating solar thermal power (CSP) reached 2.55 GW, with 970 megawatts (MW) alone added in 2012.
The wind and solar power are less reliable than nuclear (80-90% capacity factor), natural gas (pump in the gas and it runs as needed) or coal power plants (shovel in the coal it works). Wind works about 20-30% of the time when the wind is blowing and varies by the minute. Solar power works about 10-20% of the time when the sun is shining and there are not too many clouds.
Current solar PV and wind turbines have reached a scale and cost reduction path that will make it difficult for any leapfrog technology to displace them. Even though the current system architectures use too much steel and support structures for the energy that is produced. Concentrated solar power as has been indicated above is about 2% of the overall solar market and costs about twice as much as solar PV. There are rooftop solar water heaters in China with a significant market and contribution but those appear to be unlikely to be adopted in the developed countries.
The shift from coal to natural gas is not necessarily permanent. If natural gas prices continue to rise (they are up from a low of $2/MMBTu in Spring 2012 to roughly $3.40/MMBTu in late-February 2013), generators will likely increase use of existing coal plants and new demand for renewables may also occur. In fact, several analytic agencies – including the EIA and FBR Capital Markets and Company – expect coal to recapture some of its lost market share as natural gas prices rise over the next couple years.
The above world energy projection shows natural gas increasing the most and nearly doubling to 2040. Coal energy will still gain about 30%. Renewables will increase.
Wind power will be adding about 150-300 TWh per year going forward.
Solar power will likely get to 100-200 TWh per year as well at about 2020 and onwards.
Nuclear energy does have a path to industrial and world energy mix altering scaling but it will take 15 or more years to make significant progress.
Annular fuel can be used to boost the power of existing light water reactors. In theory by up to 50% but in practice it will be 10-30% energy boosts starting in 2023+.
Modular nuclear reactors will provide a marginal increase in power. Perhaps a few dozen in China by 2025. Canada could see 60GW in power for oilsand steam generation by about 2035. First deployment in about 2022-2025.
Nuclear energy makes a difference to the world energy mix if China goes all in after 2030. China will then have built out all of its hydro power.
Brian Wang is a Futurist Thought Leader and a popular Science blogger with 1 million readers per month. His blog Nextbigfuture.com is ranked #1 Science News Blog. It covers many disruptive technology and trends including Space, Robotics, Artificial Intelligence, Medicine, Anti-aging Biotechnology, and Nanotechnology.
Known for identifying cutting edge technologies, he is currently a Co-Founder of a startup and fundraiser for high potential early-stage companies. He is the Head of Research for Allocations for deep technology investments and an Angel Investor at Space Angels.
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