“Following one of the worst years in economic history, signs of hope have begun to emerge for the cleantech sector, with clean energy becoming a driving force for global economic recovery from Beijing to Seoul, and Washington to Brussels,” says Clean Energy Trends 2010 produced by Clean Edge. The annual report examines solar photovoltaics (PV), wind, and biofuels, as well as cleantech investment and jobs data around the world.

Solar PV will grow from a US$30.7bn industry in 2009 to US$98.9bn by 2019, it predicts. New solar PV installations reached 6 GW last year, a six-fold increase from five years earlier but, because of rapidly declining solar PV prices, industry revenue fell 20% last year from US$38.5bn in 2008.

Wind power will grow from US$63.5bn in 2009 to US$114.5bn by 2019. Global wind power installations reached a record 37,500 MW last year, with China accounting for one-third of new installations.

Solar and wind to have 3.3 million jobs within the decade

The global solar PV and wind power industries together currently account for 830,000 jobs around the world. By 2019, the report predicts that the global solar and wind industries’ growth will push the total to 3.3 million jobs.

Production and pricing of ethanol and biodiesel reached US$45bn last year and will grow to US$113bn by 2019. In 2009, the biofuels market consisted of 23.6bn gallons of ethanol and biodiesel production worldwide.

US-based venture capital investments in energy technologies declined from US$3.2bn in 2008 to US$2.2bn in 2009, but the percentage of total venture capital investments from cleantech continued to rise, accounting for 12.5% of total activity last year, the largest share in the history of the cleanenergy asset class.

In the USA, US$100bn of the US$787bn stimulus package will go to cleantech investments and activities, while South Korea’s Green New Deal’ will commit US$84bn to cleantech investments by 2013. China, by some estimates, could end up spending US$440-660bn on clean and renewable energy over the next decade.

Solar PV is old news but important

“Relative to the long list of innovations in cleantech, solar photovoltaic technology is old news,” the report explains. “Invented more than 50 years ago, it is now a proven, commercialiased product manufactured and installed at multi-megawatt scale.”

Although the world installed 6 GW of solar PV last year, “it would be foolish to assume that any of this leads to industry stability,” and advancements in technology, inventive financing strategies and price declines “are rapidly altering the solar landscape. This rate of change will only accelerate in the coming years.”

Traditionally, a doubling of global solar PV manufacturing capacity has resulted in a 20% price decline but this pattern changed five years ago as shortages in polysilicon sent prices skyrocketing from US$30/kg in 2004 to US$400 in 2008. This drove demand for thin-film, which became the cheapest form of solar and now are made for US$1/Wp.

Cheaper solar PV modules allowed the installed cost to fall from US$7/Wp in 2008 to US$5 in 2009, and as low as US$3/W installed for some utility-scale solar PV projects. This price drop is causing some countries to reduce national incentive programmes, with Germany planning to reduce its feed-in tariff in the middle of this year in a move that will “further intensify the demand for less expensive PV in the world’s largest solar market.”

“Age of cheap solar is upon us”

“Although solar’s price decline is likely to slow in the coming years, it’s clear that a new age of cheap solar is upon us and PV product makers have to adapt,” the report notes. “The new age of affordable solar will spawn innovative ownership models, unlock new markets around the world, and solidify manufacturing leadership for a select group of large industry players.”

Clean Edge was founded in 2000 as a research and publishing firm devoted to the cleantech sector. In addition to its annual Clean Energy Trends and Clean Tech Job Trends reports, it organises an annual cleantech investor summit.