Is Renewable Energy Growing?

Is renewable energy growing?

Renewable energy has become an increasingly important part of the global energy landscape over the past few decades. Renewable energy comes from natural sources that are constantly replenished, such as sunlight, wind, water, plants, and geothermal heat. The most common renewable energy sources used today are solar, wind, hydropower, and biomass. Renewable energy is considered “clean energy” because it produces little to no greenhouse gas emissions or air pollutants.

There are several key reasons why renewable energy is so important. First, it helps mitigate climate change by displacing fossil fuel use and reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Fossil fuels like coal, oil and natural gas are the leading drivers of climate change. Second, renewable energy improves public health by reducing air pollution that leads to issues like asthma and heart disease. Third, renewable energy provides energy security by relying on domestic energy sources and reducing dependence on imported fossil fuels. Fourth, renewable energy creates economic development and jobs in manufacturing, installation, and other fields. Given these benefits, there has been tremendous growth in renewable energy in recent years, driven by concerns about climate change, energy security, and economic development.

Current State of Renewable Energy

As of 2021, renewable energy sources accounted for about 12.9% of total U.S. energy consumption and 20.38% of electricity generation according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA). Globally, renewables made up 29.5% of total electricity generation in 2020 according to REN21 (REN21). This represents significant growth from previous decades. The share of renewables in global electricity generation has nearly doubled since 2009. Most growth has come from solar and wind power.

Growth of Solar Power

According to the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA), in 2000 the U.S. had just 1,000 megawatts (MW) of installed solar capacity. But since then the market has grown exponentially, with total solar capacity more than quadrupling in the last decade alone. As of January 2023, the U.S. had over 135,000 MW of total installed solar capacity, enough to power over 25 million homes.

The SEIA forecasts that U.S. solar capacity will more than double over the next 5 years, and potentially quadruple again by the end of this decade. Solar is expected to account for 20% of total U.S. electricity generation by 2030.

This exponential growth can partly be attributed to the rapidly declining costs of solar panels and installation, as well as supportive policies and tax incentives. But it is also being driven by increased consumer demand as more homeowners, businesses and utilities adopt solar to save money on electricity bills and reduce their carbon footprints.


Growth of Wind Power

Wind power has seen tremendous growth in the United States over the past decade. According to the American Clean Power Association, wind is the largest source of renewable electricity generation in the U.S., providing 10.1% of the country’s electricity and growing. Wind capacity grew from 40 GW in 2010 to 142 GW in 2022, an 11% average annual increase (;

The International Energy Agency (IEA) reports that global wind electricity generation increased 14% in 2022 to over 2,100 TWh, the second highest growth on record ( This growth demonstrates wind power’s increasing importance as a renewable energy source worldwide.

Growth of Hydropower

Hydropower has seen steady growth over the past two decades as countries continue to expand hydro capacity. According to the International Energy Agency (IEA), hydropower supplied 17% of global electricity generation in 2020, making it the third-largest renewable energy source after coal and natural gas [1]. The IEA projects hydropower capacity to grow by over 25% between 2020-2030 under their net zero scenario, with an average annual growth rate of close to 4% [2].

This continued investment in hydropower demonstrates its importance as a reliable and flexible source of renewable electricity. Countries with significant remaining hydro potential like China, Brazil, and India are expected to lead this growth. Ongoing technological innovations and pumped storage capacity are also supporting further expansion of hydropower worldwide.

Growth of Other Renewables

In addition to the major renewable energy sources like solar, wind, and hydropower, other renewables like geothermal, biomass, and tidal are also seeing growth. According to the International Energy Agency, global geothermal capacity is expected to grow from 16 GW in 2021 to 21 GW in 2027, while bioenergy is projected to expand from 133 GW to 150 GW over the same timeframe (IEA). Tidal power capacity remains small but is increasing, especially in South Korea which brought its tidal capacity to 60 MW in 2021. Overall, other renewables besides wind, solar, and hydropower accounted for about 13% of total renewable capacity additions in 2021.

Geothermal and bioenergy have the advantages of providing constant baseline power, unlike intermittent sources like solar and wind. They also enable renewable energy usage for heating and transportation applications, beyond just electricity generation. However, growth can be limited by geographical constraints, high upfront costs, and other economic and technical challenges. But with continued policy support and technological improvements, other renewables are expected to play an increasing role in the global energy transition.

Factors Driving Renewable Growth

There are several key factors driving the growth of renewable energy globally. According to the International Energy Agency (IEA) report, government policies and falling technology costs are two of the biggest drivers.

Many governments around the world have implemented policies and incentives to accelerate the deployment of renewable energy. These include renewable portfolio standards, feed-in tariffs, tax credits, and other mechanisms. As the IEA notes, these policies have played a critical role in enabling the rapid growth of renewables in recent years.

Additionally, the costs of renewable energy technologies like solar and wind have declined dramatically in the last decade. The levelized costs of solar PV and onshore wind have fallen by 85% and 56% respectively since 2010 according to IEA data. As costs continue to fall, renewables are increasingly cost-competitive with fossil fuel sources.

Other factors supporting renewables growth include corporations and other large energy buyers seeking access to clean and affordable power through power purchase agreements, improved financing options, and innovations that are improving renewable energy integration and flexibility.

Challenges to Further Growth

While renewable energy has seen tremendous growth, expanding it further faces some key challenges. Three major ones are storage, transmission infrastructure, and policy uncertainty.

Storage is crucial because solar and wind power are intermittent – the sun doesn’t always shine and wind doesn’t always blow. Large scale storage solutions like batteries are needed to capture renewable power when it’s generated and deploy it when it’s needed (IEA).

Transmission infrastructure also needs major upgrades. Renewable sources are often located far from population centers that need power. New transmission lines are vital to connect supply and demand (Sustainable Review).

Finally, policy uncertainty hampers investment and growth. Government incentives like tax credits are key motivators, but they often change frequently. More consistent clean energy policies are needed to drive continued expansion (Regen Power).

Projections for Future

Most projections show renewable energy continuing its strong growth in the coming decades. According to the International Energy Agency (IEA), renewables are on track to account for 95% of the increase in global power capacity through 2026, with solar PV alone providing more than half.[1]

The IEA predicts that by 2030, renewables will overtake coal to become the largest source of electricity generation worldwide. The share of renewables in total power generation is expected to reach over 40% by 2030 and close to 60% by 2050.[2]

According to projections by BloombergNEF, renewables will supply 50% of the world’s electricity by 2050. The largest growth will come from solar PV and wind power, which are expected to supply 34% and 24% of electricity respectively by 2050.

Falling technology costs, supportive government policies, and mounting urgency to address climate change are key factors propelling the growth of renewables globally. However, meeting the most ambitious climate goals will require even faster growth supported by large investments and enabling infrastructure.


Overall, renewable energy has seen remarkable growth over the last decade, driven by falling costs, supportive policies, and increased environmental awareness. Solar and wind power have expanded exponentially to become mainstream sources of electricity in many parts of the world. Other renewables like hydropower and geothermal energy also continue to grow steadily.

While challenges remain, from integrating variable renewables into the grid to expanding transmission infrastructure, the outlook for continued renewable energy growth remains positive. Most projections forecast strong growth continuing as countries seek to meet climate goals and take advantage of the improving economics of renewables. Renewable energy is poised to become an increasingly dominant part of the global energy mix this decade and beyond.

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