Solar power is growing upAccording to the latest data from Bloomberg New Energy Finance, solar power capacity installed around the world this year will beat wind power for the first time ever. "Photovoltaic plants will add about 36.7 gigawatts globally in 2013 and wind farms 35.5 gigawatts, or almost 25 percent less than last year, the research company said today in a statement. Solar capacity will rise about 20 percent from 2012."
And that's just solar photovoltaic (PV). Many places use solar water heaters, and there are also concentrated solar power plants that generate electricity directly from the sun's heat rather than via PV, so the total amount of solar power is actually higher than the PV number alone.
A lot of this increase in new capacity is due to the continued reduction in the cost of solar per watt, as well as new incentives in places like Japan and China. On the other side, wind power, which use to more than double solar's new installed capacity each year before 2011, has been slowing down in Europe, the U.S. and China, in good part because of lack of clarity on energy policy. There's also no doubt some substitution going one; some dollars, euros, or yuans that would've gone into wind might now go into solar if returns are judged to be more attractive. What matters is that we get clean energy in the end, though.
Until 2030, both maturing technologies will contribute almost equally to the world’s new electricity capacity, the company forecast. It sees wind accounting for 17 percent of global power capacity in 2030 from 5 percent now and solar expanding to 16 percent from 2 percent.
Cumulative wind capacity was almost three times solar at the end of 2012, with 278,000 megawatts of turbines operating compared with about 104,000 megawatts of panels, BNEF data show.
But you know what they say about forecasts... Hopefully things will happen even faster than this. With continued improvements in smart grid technology that allows renewables to be integrated more easily and further cost reductions in both wind and solar (maybe with some technical breakthroughs), things could get moving fast. Heck, sometimes all you need is a different business model, as solar installers like SolarCity have shown us.