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Renewable energy: how far has it come in the last 20 years?

Posted by: Chloe Jordan

Renewable energy has progressed hugely over the last 20 years.

During the 1990s, both wind and solar power were expensive and were not very efficient at producing energy. For example, in 1992 the highest efficiency rate for solar panels was just 16%. But today, due to advances in technology using photovoltaic materials, efficiency rates are now over 40%. In 2009 the cost of installing solar panels in the US was $9 per Watt on average, but today it costs around $2.90. According to the Global Trends in Renewable Energy Investment 2019 report, in the last ten years solar power costs have been reduced by 81%, offshore wind by 44% and onshore wind by 46%.

Wind efficiencies in the last twenty years have increased dramatically thanks to advances in technology. In America, the average generating capacity of wind turbines is now 240% higher than it was in 1998, at 2.4MW. This is thanks to longer wind turbine blades and taller hubs. The cost of installing wind turbines has also fallen. In 2009, a kW of installed capacity was 40% higher than it costs today. 

In 2009 IRENA was founded which promotes the development of renewable energy around the world. The agency supports its members in adapting their policy frameworks for green energy, capacity building and improving knowledge and technology transfer in the field of renewable energy. It also advises its members on funding options and engages in public relations to support their activities. When it was formed in 2009, it had 118 countries join but today more than 180 countries are actively engaged, who have all drawn up strategies to promote the development of renewables and increase the proportion of green energy in their total energy consumption.

In 2010, power generated from fossil fuels accounted for three-quarters of the UK total (288 TWh), ten times more than electricity generated from renewables (26 TWh). The percentage of clean energy used globally was 16%, which rose to 26% in 2019. In the last ten years, the number of countries with renewable energy policy targets have doubled.

In 2019, the UK’s hydro plants, solar panels, biomass and windfarms generated more electricity (29.5 terawatt hours) than the combined output from fossil fuels for the first time ever (29.1 terawatt hours).

Since 2010 spending on research and development has increased by 10% up to $13.1 billion, which has helped countries around the world to double their power capacity. Today, renewable energy accounts for a third of the world’s global power capacity (IRENEA data).

This combination of research and development, government support, reduced costs and increased efficiency ratios have been key drivers for the renewable sector.

Jobs in renewable energy

Globally there is clearly a trend towards the use and production of renewable energy, which will create more job opportunities for engineers. By the end of 2018, 11 million people were employed worldwide in the renewable energy sector, this number is expected to increase to meet Government legislations and countries aspiring to cut emissions. With this in mind, we would be happy to speak to candidates with project management, project director, or engineering experience who are interested in moving into the renewables sector. Please contact our dedicated renewables team on 0161 926 2525.

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