Report: Renewables Hit Major Global Milestones

(3BL Media/Justmeans) - A new report by the UN Environmental Programme (UNEP) on the growth in renewable energy showed some remarkable accomplishments. For one thing, new investment in traditional coal and gas-fired power plants accounted for less than half the investment in solar wind, and other renewables. According to Global Trends in Renewable Energy Investment 2016, the annual global investment in new renewables capacity, reached $266 billion last year, while investments in coal and gas power stations weighed in at $130 billion. If early stage and R&D projects are included, the number for renewables grows to $286. This topped the previous record set in 2011, by 3%. For purposes of this report, renewables includes hydro projects up to 50 MW, as well as biomass and waste-to-energy, biofuels, geothermal, and marine power sources. The report was produced in collaboration with Bloomberg New Energy Finance and the Frankfurt School UNEP Collaborating Centre.

Perhaps more surprising, was the fact that this year, for the first time, investment in renewable energy by developing countries, outpaced investment in the developed world. Renewable energy investments by developing countries, reached $156 billion last year, an increase of 19% over the previous year. That compares with investments totaling $130 billion by developed countries, which represents an 8% decrease, compared to the previous year. The decrease in investment by developed countries occurred primarily in Europe where investments have been on a downward trend since 2011. This was due to a number of factors including the economic downturn in Southern Europe.

In terms of capacity, the 134 GW of renewables added last year, outpaced all other forms of power generation combined. Renewables accounted for a full 53.6% of all capacity installed in 2015. This is the first time that has occurred. The vast majority of this energy capacity came from wind (62 GW) and solar PV (56 GW).

UNEP Executive Director, Achim Steiner, as he introduced the report, called 2015 “another remarkable year,” saying that the progress that has been achieved, “would have been unthinkable ten years ago.” Especially, given the financial instability and the surprisingly low fossil fuel prices, neither of which had “any dampening effect on this trend.”

The report further notes that the installation of these renewables, avoided approximately 1.5 billion tonnes of CO2.

A key driver behind the growth among developing countries was China. Chinese investment reached $102.9, an increase of 19% over the previous year. That represented a full 36% of the world total. India, South Africa, Mexico and Chile all also saw significant increases in investment. Combining for $22.1 billion. The US invested $44.1 billion, also up 19%, while Europe’s combined investment of $48.8 billion, was down 21% from the previous year.

The rapid growth among developing countries signals the onset of a trend in which renewables are providing the first electric power source for many customers. This amounts to leapfrogging traditional electric utility infrastructure, much as was done in the telecommunications sector with the widespread adoption of mobile technology.

While this is certainly good news, particularly for future generations, it should be noted, as Prof. Dr. Udo Steffens, President of the Frankfurt School of Finance & Management said. “Despite the ambitious signals from COP 21 in Paris and the growing capacity of new installed renewable energy, there is still a long way to go."

Indeed, even with these substantial additions, renewables (not including large hydro) represent only about one-sixth of the world electric power generation. Total hydro power adds about that much again. All together that represent close to a third of energy capacity. However, since many renewables do not produce power around the clock, the share of electricity consumption derived from renewables was closer to 20% including all hydro. That means there’s a lot more work needed to reach the goals set forth in Paris and not a lot of time to do it.

Image credit: Daniel Parks: Flickr Creative Commons