Renewable energy now at record levels worldwide

Renewable energy like wind power is surging ahead.

Renewable energy is now firmly established worldwide as a competitive, mainstream source of energy according to a new study, The Renewables 2016 Global Status Report, which shows that 2015 was a record year for renewable energy installations.

REN21, the international body of energy experts, government representatives and NGOs behind the report, revealed that renewable power generating capacity saw its largest increase ever in 2015, with an estimated 147 gigawatts (GW) added. Modern renewable heat capacity also continued to rise, and renewables use expanded in the transport sector. Distributed renewable energy is advancing rapidly to close the gap between the energy haves- and have-nots, REN21 claims.

China, the US, Japan, UK and India were the countries adding on the largest share of green power, despite the fact that fossil fuel prices have fallen significantly. The costs of renewables have also fallen, says the report and political drivers are seeing governments play an increasing role in driving the growth of renewables, particularly wind and solar, in the power sector. As of early 2016, 173 countries had renewable energy targets in place and 146 countries had support policies. 

Additional growth factors, says the report, include better access to financing, concerns about energy security and the environment and the growing demand for modern energy services in developing and emerging economies.

Christine Lins, Executive Secretary of REN21, said: “What is truly remarkable about these results is that they were achieved at a time when fossil fuel prices were at historic lows, and renewables remained at a significant disadvantage in terms of government subsidies. For every dollar spent boosting renewables, nearly four dollars were spent to maintain our dependence on fossil fuels.”

2015 was a record year not only for new installations, but also for investment – reaching $286bn worldwide in renewable power and fuels. Once investment in large hydropower (>50 MW) and in heating and cooling is taken into account, the total is far higher. With China accounting for more than one third of the global total, developing countries surpassed developed countries in total renewable energy investments for the first time, a significant development.

Increased investment is improving technological advances, cost reductions and creating jobs. There are now 8.1m people working in the renewable energy sector – representing steady growth in stark contrast with depressed labour markets in the broader energy sector.

While trends are generally positive, the report highlights several challenges that need to be addressed if governments are to fulfil their commitments to achieve a global transition away from fossil fuels. These include: achieving effective integration of high shares of renewables into the grid; addressing policy and political instability, regulatory barriers, and fiscal constraints. There is also far less policy focus on transport and particularly, heating and cooling, so these sectors are progressing much more slowly, says the report.

The report also calls for significant investment in infrastructure in order to keep pace with demand and to ensure that the sector is fit for the future. Arthouros Zervos, Chair of REN21, commented: “The renewables train is barrelling down the tracks, but it’s running on 20th century infrastructure - a system based on outdated thinking where conventional baseload is generated by fossil fuels and nuclear power. To accelerate the transition to a healthier, more-secure and climate-safe future, we need to build the equivalent of a high-speed rail network – a smarter, more flexible system that maximises the use of variable sources of renewable energy, and accommodates decentralised and community-based generation.”

Sam Ibbott, deputy public affairs director at industry trade body the Environmental Industries Commission, said: “On the surface this report shows welcome and encouraging progress for renewable energy at a global level – despite a fall in the price of fossil fuels.

"Earlier this year the Department for Energy and Climate Change published results of a public attitudes survey which stated that 70% of people see clear economic benefits to the UK from renewable energy, and that 56% would be happy to have a large-scale project in their local area. This should give the government confidence to be bold and push on. But as the report makes clear, future success is not guaranteed, with policy certainty remaining vital if we are to see continued investment – particularly in bringing the underlying infrastructure up to date, making it fit for the 21st century.”  

First published in 2005, the annual Renewables Global Status Report is the most comprehensive and timely overview of the status, recent developments and trends in renewable energy markets, industries, investments, and policy developments worldwide. By design, it does not provide analysis or forecast. Data is provided by a network of 700 contributors, researchers, and authors from all over the world.

To access the report click here.

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