Who said there's no progress?Exponential growth might not seem like much at first, but after enough time has passed, things start to happen really quickly. Case in point, renewable energy has been around for decades, yet we've made more progress increasing capacity in the past few years than in all the preceding decades. Take wind power for example:
China is widening its lead over the US with 16.1 gigawatts of extra capacity added in 2013, and while 2013 wasn't the best year for wind for various reasons, if we look at the cumulative global total, the long-term trend is very healthy.Things could start moving faster in the US if it finally starts harnessing offshore wind power more.
That's a 6.6X increase since 2004, and a 18.7X increase since 2000! It's always dangerous to extrapolate in the future, but let's just say that in 2013 the world added twice as much new wind power as the whole world had in 2000. It took decades to reach 17 gigawatts of capacity, and the world added 35 gigawatts just last year. Not too shabby!
But in many ways, solar power is growing even more impressively than wind. Until a few years ago, wind power was all the rage because solar was considered to be too expensive in most places (which wasn't true if you took into account all the externalities of fossil fuels...). So the installed solar base in 2004 was much smaller than the equivalent wind power base in the same year. But since then, things have exploded, mostly thanks to lower costs for solar cells, forward-looking countries creating pro-solar policies, and solar installers making the whole process easier for both their residential and commercial customers.
Above you can see that China is investing massively in solar too, going from the 5th position to the 2nd in a single year and almost doubling the new capacity of Japan. But despite that, Germany is still ahead because they started investing into solar earlier than most; but at their current rate, they will only keep their lead for a year or two.
This chart is really interesting! Global solar PV capacity was just 3.7 gigawatts in 2004. And in 2013 it reached 138 GW, with nothing but more growth on the horizon. In fact, if Elon Musk builds his solar panel gigafactories, things could actually accelerate as costs drop quickly and supply stays ahead of demand.
When you bring it all together, you get the chart above. Hydropower is still by far the biggest source of renewable energy, but solar and wind are growing much faster, so they should catch up and surpass it in the years to come.
Note the great performance of solar hot water capacity, which is higher than both wind and solar PV. More sunny parts of the world should deploy solar water heaters rather than heat their water with dirty energy (natural gas, electricity from fossil fuels, etc).
All this renewable energy growth creates a lot of jobs. Note that the graph above doesn't include jobs from large-scale hydropower, so if you count it, the numbers are much higher.
Update: How are we going to store all that intermittent renewable energy from the sun and the wind? How about a grid-scale battery made with... gravel?!