UN report: Renewable energy grew 16 percent in 2010

By Susanne Retka Schill | June 13, 2012

The United Nation’s interagency energy group, REN21, issued its annual report covering the spectrum of global renewable energy. “REN21 Renewables 2011 Global Status Report” found that the combined renewable energy sectors supplied an estimated 16 percent of global final energy consumption in 2010. And, despite the recession, total global investment in renewable energy broke a new record in 2010. Investment in renewable power and fuels reached $211 billion, up 32 percent from $160 billion the previous year. 

The United States’s total energy supply from renewables grew to about 11 percent in 2010, an increase of 5.6 percent relative to 2009, according to the report. The REN21 report analyzes all renewable energy sectors, starting with global market overviews of three major sectors: transport fuels, power generation and heating and cooling. The rest of the 116-page report weaves in brief discussions on biofuels along with analyses of wind, solar, geothermal, hydropower and other renewables in sections that deal with investment flows, industry trends, policy landscape and rural renewable energy. 

The report summarizes the growth of renewable transportation fuels from a global perspective. Liquid biofuels provided about 2.7 percent of road transport fuels in 2010, accounting for 4 percent in the U.S. and 3 percent in the European Union. Brazil led the use of biofuels with 41.5 percent of light duty transport fuel in 2010 coming from sugarcane ethanol.  Global ethanol capacity totaled 86 billion liters (22.7 billion gallons) at the end of 2010, a 12 billion liter increase from the year before. Biodiesel production added 1.5 billion liters for a total of 19 billion liters.

In the industry trends section, the U.N. report reviewed the consolidations that happened in the ethanol industry in the U.S. and Brazil during 2010. In addition to reviewing the year in biodiesel developments globally, the report noted the growth in activity in advanced biofuels development, in particular the testing of biofuels for aviation.

When it comes to jobs in the global renewable energy industries, biofuels by far led the field with more than 1.5 million jobs estimated in 2010, of which Brazil had an estimated 730,000 workers employed in sugarcane and ethanol production. Wind power followed with 630,000 jobs. The total number of jobs in all renewable energy sectors globally was estimated at 3.5 million.

"The global performance of renewable energy despite headwinds has been a positive constant in turbulent times,” Mohamed El-Ashry, chairman of REN21's steering committee, said. "Today, more people than ever before derive energy from renewables as capacity continues to grow, prices continue to fall, and shares of global energy from renewable energy continue to increase."