Reflecting on clean-energy performance in 2011, research firm Clean Edge released a report of the good, the bad and the not-too-ugly. Despite a turbulent economic year for most industries, combined revenue for the global solar, wind and biofuel industries rose 30 percent from $188 billion in 2010 to $246 billion in 2011. Benefitting from falling prices of technology, solar seems to be leading the pack, while biofuels had a tough showing largely due to the rising cost of commodities.
Acknowledging the negative buzz around Solyndra’s bankruptcy, Clean Edge’s report paints an otherwise positive picture for solar. According to the report, the global market for solar photovoltaics grew by 29 percent up to $91.6 billion. But with prices of technology drastically lower than the previous year that $91 billion stretched quite a bit farther, putting the number of installations over 2010 up by nearly 70 percent. With continued progress, Clean Edge estimates that the cost of installing solar PV systems could fall from $3.47 per watt down to $1.28 in the next 10 years.
Wind power also had respectable growth, up 18 percent from 2010. China led the way there, responsible for more than 40 percent of all new installations.
While the ethanol and biodiesel market increased substantially, the picture on the cost side was the opposite of wind and solar. The rise to a record $83 billion in global production was largely due to the rising prices of feedstock commodities used to manufacture the biodiesel.
In its report, Clean Edge cites other notable clean energy trends from 2011, including the military’s leadership in clean-energy development, Japan’s effort to replace nuclear with renewable, energy efficient commercial building retrofits, waste-to-resource investments, and promising new energy storage solutions for the grid.
These trends and ideas combined with the rise of venture capital investments into clean tech suggest a relatively optimistic direction for 2012.