2015 proved to be an extraordinary year for renewable energy worldwide, REN21 highlights in its "Renewables 2016 Global Status Report." Renewable energy generation has grown to become a mainstream power source as costs have dropped as low or lower than conventional fossil fuel-fired power generation in a growing number of countries.
Records were set for growth in new installations and investment – an estimated 147 gigawatts (GW) and $286 billion in renewable power and fuels, respectively. In addition, renewable energy investment in developing and emerging economies exceeded that in developed economies for the first time ever last year, REN21's report..
The estimated 147 GW of new renewable power generation that came online in 2015 was the largest annual increase ever. Renewable heat generation capacity also increased, as did use of use of renewable energy in transportation and in bridging the divide separating ¨energy-haves and have-nots¨in developing countries around the world.
A confluence of contributing factors
Government leadership continued to play a leading role in fostering greater investment and faster development of renewable energy resources, wind and solar power generation in particular. The signing of the UN climate treaty in Paris this December added momentum to government initiatives.
According to a REN21 press release 173 countries had set renewable energy targets and 146 had instituted supportive policies. In addition, cities, communities and corporations are playing a vital role in the transition to emissions-free energy by joining the 100% renewable energy movement and investing in projects.
Improving access to financing was another key factor fueling 2015's record growth. Concerns about energy security, the environment and increasing demand for modern energy services in developing and emerging economies also contributed.
Total 2015 renewable power investment would be much higher than the $286 billion invested in renewable power and fuels if investment in new large hydroelectric power capacity of more than 50 megawatts (MW) were included, REN21 points out. China accounted for more than 1/3 of the global total.
Record-level capacity additions and investment fueled gains in renewable energy jobs and R&D. More than 8 million people had jobs in renewable energy industries globally in 2015, REN21 estimates. Renewable energy job growth has been substantially higher than that for economies overall, a much-needed bright spot amidst job losses in the fossil fuel sector and geopolitical concerns about economic fragility and national security.
"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," REN21 Executive Secretary Christine Lins stated.
REN21 also points out remaining challenges in its latest Renewables Global Status Report:
- Achieving effective integration of high shares of renewables into the grid;
- Addressing policy and political instability, regulatory barriers, and fiscal constraints;
- Further, there is far less policy focus on transport and, particularly, heating and cooling, so these sectors are progressing much more slowly.
“The renewables train is barreling 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,¨REN21 Chair Arthouros Zervos added.
"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 maximizes the use of variable sources of renewable energy, and accommodates decentralized and community-based generation."
REN21 is an international association of governments and private and public sector organizations based at UN Environment Program (UNEP) building in Paris, France.
*Image credits: REN21