By David R. Baker
Ten years ago, when Ron Pernick predicted that solar power would be a $23.5 billion industry by the decade’s end, skeptics scoffed.
After all, worldwide sales of photovoltaic solar equipment in 2000 were just $2.5 billion. Pernick’s prediction had to be wrong.
It was. The global solar market last year hit $71.2 billion.
Pernick is co-founder and managing director of the Clean Edge Inc. market research firm, and for the last 10 years, his outfit has produced annual tallies of alternative energy sales around the world.
The latest report, released today, shows a decade of remarkable growth. The market for solar power, wind power and biofuels still pales when compared with that for fossil fuels (Exxon Mobil, for example, made $383.2 billion last year). But clean-energy technology is no longer stuck in a niche.
“It went from relative obscurity 10 years ago to being one of the dominant market forces today,” said Pernick.
Wind power has grown from a $4 billion global market in 2000 to $60.5 billion in 2010, according to the Clean Energy Trends 2011 report. Ten years ago, alternative energy firms received less than 1 percent of the venture capital invested in the United States. Last year, they got 23 percent, with investments totaling $5.1 billion.
For biofuels, the report’s data only stretch back to 2005. But in that time, the worldwide market for ethanol, biodiesel and other biofuels has grown from $15.7 billion to $56.4 billion.
The growth has not been smooth.
Sales of photovoltaic solar equipment, for example, grew steadily for most of the decade but nearly doubled last year, jumping from $36.1 billion in 2009 to $71.2 billion in 2010. A flood of solar cells pouring out of new factories in China pushed prices down and sales up.
A separate report, released Thursday by the Solar Energy Industries Association, found the U.S. solar market to be worth $6 billion in 2010, up from $3.6 billion the previous year.
The market for wind power equipment, in contrast, declined last year for the first time since Clean Edge began keeping track. Worldwide sales dropped from $63.5 billion in 2009 to $60.5 billion in 2010, according to Clean Edge. Many wind farm projects in the United States came to a halt as federal officials debated extending a grant for renewable power developers.
The amount of new wind power generation installed in the United States last year was barely half the amount built in 2009, according to the American Wind Energy Association.
“We’ve seen these cycles,” said Clint Wilder, Clean Edge senior editor. “It’s an industry that’s still quite susceptible to those kinds of forces, year to year.”
Clean Edge predicts that by 2020, the global biofuel market will reach $112.8 billion. Wind power sales will grow to $122.9 billion, while solar sales will hit $113.6 billion. Like all predictions, the actual results could be less. Or they could be more.