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It took global wind and solar power developers 40 years to install their first trillion watts of power generation capacity, and the next trillion could be completed in the next five years.
That's the conclusion of the Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF) investigation, which calculated that the industry reached the milestone of one terawatt sometime in the first half of this year.
That's about the same generating capacity as the entire US fleet, although renewable energy runs less frequently than traditional coal and nuclear power plants and therefore produces less electricity over time.
The findings illustrate the scale of the green energy boom, which has attracted US $ 2.3 trillion of investment to deploy wind and solar farms at the scale it operates today.
The BNEF estimates that the drop in costs for those technologies means that the next terrawatt of capacity will cost about half, $ 1.23 trillion, and will arrive sometime in 2023.
"Wind and solar are winning the battle for cost supremacy, so this milestone will be just the first of many," said Albert Cheung, head of analysis at BNEF in London.
The world had a total of about 6.2 terawatts of installed capacity in 2016, of which about one terawatt is coal in China, according to the research group.
Like all milestones, reaching a terawatt is an arbitrary mark that scratches the surface of the debate about how much renewable energy will contribute to the global energy system.
Each power plant operates on a different “capacity factor,” a measure that captures both the facility's efficiency in generating electricity and how often it operates.
On average, wind farms have a capacity factor of around 34 percent worldwide, which means they work about a third of the time, according to BNEF.
Some of the best sites have factors greater than 60 percent.
For photovoltaic solar energy that tracks the sun, those readings range from 10 percent in the United Kingdom to 19 percent in the United States and 24 percent in the Atacama desert in Chile.
By comparison, coal plants have a capacity factor of 40 percent and nuclear plants sometimes double.
Still, the terawatt of installed capacity for renewable energy marks substantial growth for an industry that barely existed at the turn of the century.
More than 90 percent of all that capacity was installed in the last 10 years, reflecting the incentives that Germany initiated in the early 2000s that made green power payments transparent to investors and bankers for same.
Asian nations have absorbed 44 percent of new wind and 58 percent of solar developments to date, with China accounting for about a third of all those installations.
Wind accounted for 54 percent of the first terawatt, but solar is expected to overtake wind in early 2020.
China has led the world in solar energy installation for the past five years with 34 percent of the world's solar capacity and will continue to be the world's largest market for both power sources, reaching 1.1 terawatts in the country for the year 2050.
"As we move into the second and third terawatts, energy storage is going to be much more important," Cheung said.
"That's where we see a lot of investment and innovation right now."
By David Twomey
Original article (in English)