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Solar and Wind Energy Grew Dramatically in 2012

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First Posted: Feb 13, 2013 05:24 PM EST
Rows of solar panels face skywards at the Greenough River Solar project near the town of Walkaway, Australia.

Rows of solar panels face skywards at the Greenough River Solar project near the town of Walkaway, Australia. Credit:Reuters

Even though President Barack Obama pledged to work around Congress should it fail to adequately address climate change, the rest of the world has moved significantly to increase its reliance on alternative energies like wind and solar.

Global energy generated by wind grew by about 20 percent during 2012, raising the world's total installed capacity to 282 gigawatts (GW). Meanwhile, solar energy reached 100GW for the first time ever, representing a 50 percent jump in just two years.

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Even more impressive is the fact that the United States is leading the charge. Both the U.S. and China accounted for 13GW each of new wind turbines around the world. India, Germany, and the UK were next with 2GW each.

Tax credits for wind-powered initiatives helped boost the construction of wind farms around the country, especially since it was unclear whether or not they would be extended. Organizations scurried to ensure their projects would be completed, and 8GW of the nation's 13GW total were added during the final quarter of 2012. Since the government did end up extending the tax credits, it's hoping that construction will continue at a brisk pace throughout the next year.

"While China paused for breath, both the US and European markets had exceptionally strong years," said Steve Sawyer, secretary general of the Global Wind Energy Council, to the Guardian. "Asia still led global markets, but with North America a close second, and Europe not far behind."

Solar energy also continued to boom, though its overall numbers lag well behind wind. In 2010, the world's total solar capacity only amounted to 40GW. Now, it's at the century mark, and it's expected to grow at a much faster rate than wind heading into the future. In the United States, Duke Energy Renewables President Gregory Wolf anticipates the country will add more solar power than wind for the first time in history.

"I would expect a lot of momentum still on solar," said Gregory Wolf, president of Duke Energy Renewables, in an interview with Bloomberg. "We really ramped up our solar in 2010. Today most of the projects are half or less of the cost now than then."

While 282GW and 100GW of increased global wind and solar capacity is certainly good news, it's helpful to note that these numbers are dwarfed by those from fossil fuels. In 2011, for example, the U.S. was capable of storing up to 318GW of coal, while estimates pinned China's capacity at a gobsmacking 650GW. International capacity was estimated to be at 1,600GW, so there's still a long way to go before alternative energy can be used for the majority of the world's needs. 

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