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The world's renewable energy capacity will take a record leap this year

As the world grapples with soaring energy prices, a landmark shift towards renewable energy is taking place. Solar power, in particular, is enjoying a remarkable boom, a phenomenon detailed in a new report released Thursday by the International Energy Agency (IEA). 

The global drive to embrace clean energy, spurred by Russia’s attack on Ukraine and resultant fossil fuel price hikes, is set to result in a record-breaking addition to the world’s renewable energy capacity this year.

IEA’s report predicts that solar and wind power installations are on track to reach 440 gigawatts in 2023. To put this into perspective, it’s an increase of about one-third compared to the capacity added in the previous year. This will push the world’s total installed capacity to an impressive 4,500 GW, a figure comparable to the combined power output of the United States and China.

Fatih Birol, the IEA’s executive director, explained the significance of this shift. “The global energy crisis has shown renewables are critical for making energy supplies not just cleaner but also more secure and affordable,” he stated. 

More nations are embracing renewable energy

Governments around the world are acknowledging this, expediting their deployment of renewable energy resources. Recent incentives from the Biden administration, for instance, are already accelerating renewable adoption in the United States.

The surge in renewable power capacity this year will predominantly be driven by photovoltaic (PV) technology, accounting for about two-thirds of the increase. Both large-scale solar farms and small-scale consumer rooftop installations are experiencing significant growth, thanks to the booming manufacturing capacity for PV components, especially in China.

The construction of new wind farms is also anticipated to rebound following a period of subdued growth. However, the IEA report pointed out an important bottleneck: unlike the solar sector, supply chains for wind turbines are not expanding quickly enough to meet the increasing demand.

Power grids must adapt and be upgraded

Alongside this surge in renewable energy, Birol highlighted the need for power grids to adapt. Solar and wind power, with their intermittent nature, require a fundamental shift in the way network operators handle energy compared to conventional coal, gas or nuclear plants. Grids must be upgraded and expanded to accommodate this new energy landscape.

By 2024, several European countries, including Spain, Germany, and Ireland, are expected to witness a combined contribution of wind and solar power amounting to over 40% of their overall annual electricity generation.

Transitioning the global economy away from fossil fuels is a crucial step in the fight against climate change. Experts suggest that to achieve the Paris climate accord’s target of restricting global temperature increase to 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 Fahrenheit) above pre-industrial levels, emissions must be reduced by half by 2030 and reach ‘net zero’ by mid-century.

The International Renewable Energy Agency, a separate entity from the IEA, is urging for a substantial increase in wind and solar investments. The global community is expected to discuss an international target for renewable energy deployment during this year’s U.N. climate summit in Dubai. This signals a shared commitment to a sustainable, renewable-powered future.

More about solar energy 

Solar energy, one of the most popular forms of renewable energy, harnesses the power of the sun’s radiant light and heat. It’s a clean, abundant, and renewable source of energy that can be used for a multitude of applications, including generating electricity, providing light or comfortable interior environments, and heating water for domestic, commercial, or industrial use.

To capture and convert the sun’s energy into usable forms, several technologies are available:

Solar Photovoltaics (PV)

Photovoltaics is the most well-known method for harnessing solar energy. Solar PV systems convert sunlight directly into electricity using semiconductor materials (often silicon-based) through the photovoltaic effect. The cells generate electric current when photons from the sun hit the cell and energize the electrons.

Concentrated Solar Power (CSP)

CSP plants generate electricity by using mirrors or lenses to concentrate a large area of sunlight onto a small area. The concentrated light is then used as a heat source for a conventional power plant. There are several types of CSP technologies, including parabolic trough, compact linear Fresnel reflector, Stirling dish, and solar power tower systems.

Solar Heating and Cooling (SHC)

SHC technologies collect thermal energy from the sun and use it for heating and cooling purposes. They can be used for water heating, space heating, space cooling, and process heat applications.

Passive Solar

Passive solar design takes advantage of the sun’s energy to maintain a comfortable temperature in a building without the need for mechanical systems. It involves designing buildings with efficient insulation, strategic window placement, and reflective coatings on walls, windows, and roofs.

Solar energy has numerous advantages. It’s sustainable, renewable, and abundant, and it emits no greenhouse gases when producing electricity. It’s also versatile, capable of powering everything from small devices to entire buildings and even cities.

Challenges of using solar energy

However, it does come with some challenges. Solar energy production is intermittent since it’s dependent on daylight hours and weather conditions. Hence, it requires storage solutions or supplementary power sources for periods of low production. 

Additionally, while the cost of solar technologies has dropped significantly in recent years, initial setup and installation can be high.

Given these factors, continued advancements in solar technology, energy storage solutions, and grid management will play a crucial role in expanding the role of solar power in our global energy mix. The future of solar energy remains promising, and it’s expected to be a major contributor to the world’s transition to sustainable energy.

More about wind energy

Wind energy is another form of renewable energy that harnesses the natural power of the wind to generate electricity. As the wind moves across the surface of the earth, it carries kinetic energy with it. Wind turbines capture this kinetic energy and convert it into mechanical power, which can then be converted into electricity.

There are two main types of wind turbines:

  1. Horizontal Axis Wind Turbines (HAWTs): These are the most commonly recognized type of wind turbine. They consist of a tower with three blades rotating around a horizontal axis, similar to traditional windmills.
  2. Vertical Axis Wind Turbines (VAWTs): These turbines have a vertical rotor and can capture wind from all directions without needing to be repositioned, unlike HAWTs. VAWTs are less commonly used than HAWTs, but they can be advantageous in areas where wind direction is highly variable or in urban environments.

Wind turbines can be installed both onshore and offshore. Onshore wind farms are typically cheaper to install and maintain, but offshore wind farms can capture more energy due to higher wind speeds over the ocean.

One of the main benefits of wind energy is that it’s a clean, renewable form of energy that doesn’t release harmful emissions. It’s also abundant, particularly in certain regions with high wind potential. Wind farms, especially those onshore, can be built relatively quickly compared to other types of large-scale energy infrastructure.

Challenges of using wind for energy supply

However, there are also challenges associated with wind energy. Wind is intermittent, and its availability does not always coincide with electricity demand, necessitating effective energy storage solutions or backup power sources. 

Wind turbines also require a significant amount of space, which can lead to land use conflicts. Furthermore, they have been associated with noise and aesthetic concerns, as well as impacts on wildlife, particularly birds and bats.

In terms of economic considerations, while the cost of wind energy has been decreasing, the initial investment can still be high. However, once a wind farm is set up, the cost of operation and maintenance is relatively low.

Despite these challenges, wind energy plays a crucial role in the transition towards sustainable and clean energy sources. Advancements in technology, like more efficient turbine designs and better energy storage solutions, are continually improving the feasibility and efficiency of wind energy.


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