Despite economic uncertainties and political roadblocks, renewable power generation is expected to accelerate its rapid growth over the next five years.

According to a new report from the International Energy Agency (IEA), the time is fast approaching when it will no longer be accurate to call renewable energy a fledgling industry. In the very near future, global power generation from hydropower, solar, wind and other renewable sources is projected to increase by more than 40 percent to almost 6 400 terawatt hours (TWh) – or roughly one-and-a-half times current electricity production in the United States.

The report, Medium-Term Renewable Energy Market Report 2012, marks the first time IEA has devoted an entire study to clean energy. It concludes that renewable electricity generation should expand by 1 840 TWh between 2011 and 2017, almost 60 percent above the 1 160 TWh growth registered between 2005 and 2011. It also expects renewable energy to accelerate in developing countries, accounting for almost two-thirds of new growth.

The IEA says there are several factors contributing to this rapid advancement of clean energy, despite the sluggish economic climate that seems to be holding other industries back. First, renewable energy technologies are starting to come into their own. Solar panels are getting cheaper and more efficient, spurring global competition that drives down prices for the end consumer. Wind, geothermal, and hydropower are becoming more easily grid-connected. Second, developing countries are experiencing a rapid uptick in demand for affordable, reliable energy, and they’re acknowledging that fossil fuels alone can’t get the job done. Many are choosing to skip the decades of dependence on coal and oil by investing heavily in renewable energy portfolios.

While the report paints a promising future for the clean energy industry, it acknowledges that challenges still exist. Funding is still an issue for renewables, and cost and availability of financing will act as a key variable, with a need for more investment sources and structures. Although the industry is well into it’s “teenage” years, it’s still getting to know itself and its competition. Some parts of the renewable industry are going through a period of dramatic upheaval, with supply chains restructuring and shifting geographically while delivering cost reductions. Ultimately though, such a consolidation should lead to a more mature and robust renewable sector, as the IEA points out.

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