Solar power and the year that was

Last year many Australians felt the shock of electricity prices and moved to support renewables such as solar power and wind energy - technologies that have the potential to take the pressure off household utility bills.

This trend was felt worldwide, with a Worldwatch Institute study reporting that solar and wind energy use grew throughout 2012.

According to Worldwatch Institute - a research and outreach organisation for sustainable living - solar power consumption increased by 58 per cent worldwide to 93 terawatt-hours (TWh), and the use of wind power increased by 18 per cent to 521 TWh.

Australia has missed out on one of the top spots for the nations with the highest solar photovoltaic (PV) capacity, with Germany, Italy, the US and China taking the lead. This is despite the fact that Australia has over one million solar rooftop systems installed, as well as the world's highest solar radiation per square metre of any continent on the globe. 

Hydropower maintained its spot as the leader in producing renewable energy for the world, but solar and wind were the focus of new investment and capacity - regardless of the fact that while renewable energy capacity grew last year, actual new investment fell.

In 2012 global investment for solar power fell by 11 per cent to $140.4 billion, however part of this is due to the fact that related technologies have come down so much in cost that it requires less spending to install them, and so overall capacity was still able to grow.

"Although policy uncertainties and changes will likely challenge the growth of solar and wind in the future, these technologies are nonetheless well poised to grow," said Matt Lucky, report co-author and Sustainable Energy lead researcher at Worldwatch.

"Declining solar technology prices, while challenging for current manufacturers, are helping solar to reach near grid-parity in many markets. With the decreasing cost of operating and maintaining wind farms, wind power is already cost competitive with conventional power energy sources in many markets."

With Australia's abundant supply of sunshine and wind, it only seems logical that as time goes on, society will look more towards renewable energy. Governments and councils are increasingly looking towards energy efficiency measures to save costs, as outlined by NSW's new Energy Efficiency Action Plan, and clean and renewable energy make up a critical part of such efforts.

Posted by Charlie Moore