Solar Beating Wind For The First Time

Just a few days ago we reported that big solar was going in at a record clip in the U.S., putting the sector on course to far out-distance wind power in capacity additions in 2013. Now we’re learning that this is a worldwide phenomenon.

Bloomberg New Energy Finance said on Thursday that new global solar PV installations are likely to come in around 36.7 gigawatts this year, while wind should finish at 35.5 GW. If this forecast comes to pass, it would be the first time solar topped wind.

Highlander power plant California solarworld duke

Part of the 21-MW Highlander power plant in California (image via SolarWorld)

“The dramatic cost reductions in photovoltaics, combined with new incentive regimes in Japan and China, are making possible further, strong growth in volumes,” Jenny Chase, BNEF’s head of solar analysis, said in the firm’s report.

Wind power – at least the land-based variety – has long offered less expensive power generation than solar, and by the end of 2012 there was some 278 GW of wind installed around the world, compared to around 104 GW of solar. But a variety of factors are creating a very different picture for 2013.

First, wind installations are off dramatically in the U.S. from their 2012 pace, when the feared expiration of the production tax credit drove the industry over the 13 GW mark in new capacity for the first time. So far in 2013, just 959 MW of new wind has gone in.

Meanwhile, the lower price of solar has helped it overcome decreased policy support in many regions, while hefty government backing in Asia – in Japan, in particular – is really driving growth.

So altogether, BNEF sees solar installations in 2013 up 30 percent over the 2012 installations, while new wind installations decline by 25 percent. In the long-run, the two sectors will be in close balance, Bloomberg said:

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.

Pete Danko is a writer and editor based in Portland, Oregon. His work has appeared in Breaking Energy, National Geographic's Energy Blog, The New York Times, San Francisco Chronicle and elsewhere.