Leading renewable energy companies include Acciona, Enercon, Gamesa, GE Energy, Q-Cells, Sharp Solar, SunOpta, Suntech, and Vestas. Several renewable energy companies have recently gone through high profile Initial Public Offerings, including Aventine (USA), First Solar (USA), Iberdrola (Spain), and VeraSun Energy (USA).
By mid-2007, some 140 publicly-traded renewable energy companies worldwide (or renewable energy divisions of major companies) each had a market capitalization greater than $40 million. (The number of companies in this category jumped from about 85 in mid-2006.) The estimated total market capitalization of these companies and divisions was more than $100 billion in mid-2007.
During 2006/2007, several renewable energy companies went through high profile Initial Public Offerings (IPOs), resulting in market capitalization near or above $1 billion. These corporations included the solar PV companies First Solar (USA), Trina Solar (USA), Centrosolar (Germany), and Renesola (U.K.), wind power company Iberdrola (Spain), and U.S. biofuels producers VeraSun Energy, Aventine, and Pacific Ethanol.
Currently three quarters of global wind turbine sales come from only four turbine manufacturing companies: Vestas, Gamesa, Enercon, and GE Energy. With a 23% market share, Vestas is the largest supplier of modern wind turbines. Vestas has installed some 35,000 wind turbines in 63 countries on five continents. Vestas wind turbines generate more than 60 million MWh of energy per year: enough electricity to supply millions of households. Vestas is a Danish company which employs 14,000 people globally and, in 2003, merged with the Danish wind turbine manufacturer NEG Micon.
Gamesa, founded in 1976 with headquarters in Bilbao, Spain, is currently the world's second largest wind turbine manufacturer, after Vestas, and it is also a major builder of wind farms. Gamesa’s main markets are within Europe, the US and China. In 2006, Europe accounted for 65 percent of Gamesa’s sales, of which 40 percent were within Spain.
In 2004, German company Enercon installed a total of 1,288 MW of wind power and had around 16% of the global market share. Enercon constructed production facilities in Brazil in 2006, and has extended its presence there, as well as in the more traditional markets of Germany, India, Austria, UK, Canada and the Netherlands.
GE Energy has installed over 5,500 wind turbines and 3,600 hydro turbines, and its installed capacity of renewable energy worldwide exceeds 160,000 MW. GE Energy bought out Enron Wind in 2002 and also has nuclear energy operations in its portfolio.
Acciona Energy is a leader in the renewable energy sector and the company’s mission is to "demonstrate the technical and economic viability of a sustainable energy model". Acciona Energy is the largest developer, owner and operator of wind farms in the world, with 164 wind farms in nine countries representing over 4,500 MW of wind power installed or under construction.
Wind power capacity increased more than any other renewable power technology in 2007, with an estimated 21 GW added, which represented a 28 percent increase over 2006. In 2007, the wind power industry saw an increase in wind manufacturing facilities in the United States, India, and China, which broadened the manufacturing base away from traditional markets in Europe. 2007 showed a boost for China and India, which export components and turbines.
Offshore wind power installations are slowly emerging, due partly to higher costs and maintenance levels compared with on-shore markets. Recent years have seen several hundred megawatts added annually, mostly in Europe.
Q-Cells became the world's largest solar cell maker in 2007, producing nearly 400 MW of product. Longtime market leader Sharp Corporation found itself in second place with production of 370 MW in 2007, which the company blamed on a constrained supply of silicon. China's Suntech was close behind the leaders with more than 300 MW of output. Kyocera and its 200 MW output was a distant fourth in 2007.
Four new companies entered the top ranks in 2007. CdTe-cell maker First Solar was at fifth place, the only US-based and only thin-film supplier in the Top 10 companies. Asian players Motech Industries (Taiwan), Yingli Green Energy (China), and JA Solar Holdings (China/Australia) rounded out the Top 10 ranking, pushing aside some established players like Mitsubishi Electric, Schott, and BP Solar.
Solar photovoltaics have been expanding rapidly, growing at an average of 40 percent per year since the beginning of this decade, albeit from a small base. In the past five years, global solar installations have expanded from approximately 600 MW in 2003 to nearly 3000 MW in 2008.
During 2007, investment in new solar PV manufacturing facilities was strong in Europe, Japan, China, Chinese Taipei, and the United States, with many new operations reported. The solar PV industry also saw an increase in silicon production facilities around the world, which was a response to silicon feedstock shortages in recent years. Solar PV manufacturers were signing long-term contracts to ensure a growing supply, and many silicon manufacturers are announcing plans to build new plants. By the end of 2007, more than 70 silicon manufacturing facilities were being constructed or planned worldwide.
Since 2004 there has been renewed interest in concentrating solar power (CSP) and three plants were completed during 2006/2007: the 64 MW Nevada Solar One, a 1 MW trough plant in Arizona, and the 11 MW PS10 solar power tower in Spain. Three 50 MW trough plants were under construction in Spain at the end of 2007 with ten additional 50 MW plants planned. In the United States, utilities in California and Florida have announced plans (or contracted for) at least eight new projects totaling more than 2,000 MW. Companies involved in new projects include Abengoa Solar, Acciona, Ausra, BrightSource Energy, Iberdrola, Solar Millennium, and Stirling Energy Systems.
In the ethanol fuel industry, the United States dominated, with 130 operating ethanol plants in 2007, and production capacity of 26 billion liters/year (6.87 billion gallons/year), a 60 percent increase over 2005. Another 84 plants were under construction or undergoing expansion, and this will result in a doubled production capacity. Brazil continued its ethanol expansion plans which began in 2005.
The biodiesel industry opened many new production facilities during 2006/2007 and continued expansion plans in several countries. New biodiesel capacity appeared throughout Europe, including in Belgium, Czech Republic, France, Germany, Italy, Poland, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, and the United Kingdom.
Commercial investment in second-generation biofuels began in 2006/2007, and much of this investment went beyond pilot-scale plants. The world’s first commercial wood-to-ethanol plant began operation in Japan in 2007, with a capacity of 1.4 million liters/year. The first wood-to-ethanol plant in the United States is planned for 2008 with an initial output of 75 million liters/year.
Renewable energy use tends to be more labor-intensive than fossil fuels, and so a transition toward renewables promises employment gains. Globally, about 2.3 million people work either directly in renewables or indirectly in supplier industries. The wind power industry employs some 300,000 people, the PV sector accounts for an estimated 170,000 jobs, and the solar thermal industry accounts for about 624,000. More than 1 million jobs are located in the biomass and biofuels sector.