By Jay Landers
Worldwide, additional renewable energy capacity is expected to jump by 107 GW in 2023, a gain of one-third compared to the capacity added last year and the largest absolute increase ever, according to a recent report from the International Energy Agency. All told, new sources of renewable energy will exceed 440 GW this year, led predominantly by the growth of solar photovoltaic and wind projects, the report notes.
“Solar and wind are leading the rapid expansion of the new global energy economy,” said Fatih Birol, Ph.D., the IEA’s executive director, in a June 1 news release. “This year, the world is set to add a record-breaking amount of renewables to electricity systems — more than the total power capacity of Germany and Spain combined.”
The findings are contained in the Renewable Energy Market Update: Outlook for 2023 and 2024, a publication released June 1 by the IEA, an organization that provides data, analyses, and recommendations regarding energy use. The report includes the IEA’s latest data and analysis on renewable power capacity additions in 2022 and provides forecasts for 2023 and 2024.
Solar continues to soar
Overall, renewable energy capacity additions grew nearly 13% to almost 340 GW in 2022, according to the report. Of this amount, solar PV accounted for 220 GW, a 35% increase from 2021 and an annual deployment record.
“Expansions in China and the European Union alone accounted for over 85% of the growth in annual PV capacity additions,” the report stated. “Annual PV growth rose in all major markets last year except the United States, where it shrank almost 15% due to supply chain challenges and rising costs.”
After solar PV, hydropower was the “next-largest contributor to record-level renewable energy expansion globally, owing to the commissioning of multiple large projects, mostly in Asia,” the report stated. “While global hydropower capacity additions did not break any records, they were the highest they have been since 2016 thanks to continuous expansion in China.”
By contrast, annual wind capacity additions fell 21% from 2021 to 2022, “declining for the second year in a row following record-level expansion in 2020,” the report stated.
“In 2022, COVID-related restrictions delayed the commissioning of multiple wind projects in China, resulting in a drop in annual additions,” according to the report. “Like in China, capacity additions in the U.S. market declined for the second consecutive year because of policy uncertainty ahead of promulgation of the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) and supply chain constraints leading to project delays.”
Wind will rebound
Two-thirds of the projected annual increase in global renewable energy capacity in 2023 can be attributed to solar PV, according to the report. “In response to higher electricity prices caused by the global energy crisis, policy makers in many countries, particularly in Europe, have actively sought alternatives to imported fossil fuels that can improve energy security,” the report states. Solar PV systems, particularly residential and commercial systems that can be installed quickly, stand to gain greatly from this search for alternatives.
Wind power, too, is expected to contribute significantly to the anticipated record growth in renewable energy capacity this year. Onshore wind capacity additions “are on course to rebound by 70% in 2023 to 107 GW, an all-time record amount,” the report stated. However, the addition of offshore wind capacity is “not expected to match the record expansion it achieved two years ago due to the low volume of projects under construction outside of China.”
“The global energy crisis has shown renewables are critical for making energy supplies not just cleaner but also more secure and affordable — and governments are responding with efforts to deploy them faster,” Birol said. “But achieving stronger growth means addressing some key challenges. Policies need to adapt to changing market conditions, and we need to upgrade and expand power grids to ensure we can take full advantage of solar and wind’s huge potential.”
Increases in the capacity of solar PV will carry over into next year, according to the IEA’s report. “Declining module prices, greater uptake of distributed solar PV systems and a policy push for large-scale deployment are driving higher annual solar additions in all major markets — including China, the European Union, the United States and India,” the report stated.
China will continue to lead the world when it comes to adding renewable energy capacity. “In 2022, China accounted for almost half of all new renewable power capacity worldwide,” the report stated. “By 2024, the country’s share is set to have expanded to a record 55% of global annual renewable capacity deployment. By 2024, China will deliver almost 70% of all new offshore wind projects globally, as well as over 60% of onshore wind and 50% of solar PV projects.”
Russia’s 2022 invasion of Ukraine has spurred the EU to greatly accelerate its deployment of renewable energy as a means of reducing its dependence on imported natural gas from Russia. “Policy actions in many European countries has led us to revise our forecast for renewable capacity additions in the EU in 2023 and 2024 upwards by 40% compared with before the war,” the report stated. “Rapid growth in distributed solar PV is the main reason for the more positive outlook, accounting for almost three-quarters of the EU forecast revisions.”
In the United States, renewable energy capacity additions “will rebound this year after a difficult 2022,” the report stated. “The U.S. markets for wind and solar PV contracted last year due to restrictive trade measures and supply chain constraints, but annual additions for both technologies are set to increase by around 40% in 2023, with solar PV setting a new record.”
By the end of 2024, cumulative world renewable energy capacity is expected to exceed 4,500 GW, an amount equal to the total power capacity of China and the United States combined, according to the report.
What is more, 2024 could see an increase of 550 GW of additional renewable energy capacity under what the report calls an “accelerated case” scenario. “This is mainly due to a more rapid deployment of residential and commercial PV installations, assuming a faster implementation of recent policies and incentives.”
The IEA’s bullish outlook for renewable energy is a sound one, says Thomas Gros, the global head of renewable and new energy at the management consulting firm Slalom Consulting.
“Clearly, with respect to renewables in general and solar photovoltaics in particular, we are on a trend to go significantly higher in terms of their percentage in the grids all across the world, including here in North America,” Gros says.
A key aspect of the ongoing growth in renewable energy capacity has to do with the declining costs of solar PV, says Ed Hirs, an energy fellow at the University of Houston. “The Chinese manufacturers of the photovoltaic cells have been able to scale their manufacturing and drive the price down,” he says. “And so, at least in the United States, if we couple that with the incentives from the Inflation Reduction Act, this is relatively clear sailing for a while.”
For his part, Gros points to offshore wind as a renewable energy market that is poised to grow significantly in the coming years, especially in North America. “We are right now at the beginning of what I think is a really fast growth period for offshore wind,” he says.
However, Hirs and Gros caution that inadequate electrical grids around the world ultimately will limit the extent to which renewable energy capacity can be added. In the United States, “we need to be paying attention to the interconnections,” Hirs says, referring to the process whereby new generation sources are connected to the electrical grid. Previous assessments have shown that the time required to obtain approval for such connections in the United States has increased as the number of proposed new energy-generation projects has grown.
The surge in the number of planned renewable energy projects complicates the process further, Gros says. Electric utilities are faced with the question: “How do we efficiently connect these distributed energy resources in a way that we can plan for it, model it, and incorporate it during this incredible growth period on the generation side?” he says.
At the same time, greater use of electric vehicles and the trend toward electrification of residential heating and cooling systems mean “grids are being challenged in a way that they've never been before,” Gros says.
This article is published by Civil Engineering Online.