IEA Offers Good News, Cautionary Note, on Clean Energy Growth
More than half of the new electric generation capacity installed around the world last year was green, edging out coal for the first time ever, according to the International Energy Agency’s latest review of where humanity gets its energy. But the IEA is sounding a cautionary note: “It’s by far not enough.”
The warning came from IEA Executive Director Fatih Birol, who nonetheless also observed that “we are witnessing the transformation of energy markets led by renewables, and this is happening very quickly,” The Guardian reports.
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The agency’s report predicted that growth in renewable capacity will outpace oil, gas, coal, and nuclear power for the next half-decade, led by emerging economies rather than developed countries. “A total of 153 gigawatts of net renewable electricity capacity was installed globally in 2015,” The Guardian writes, “a record high, equivalent to Canada’s capacity, and up 15% on the year before.”
Onshore wind farms and solar power represented the largest renewable capacity gains, adding 63 and 49 GW respectively. The IEA predicted that wind capacity will double and utility-scale solar will triple by 2021, as costs fall another 15% for the former and 25% for the latter. “China is expected to add a further 305 GW [of clean energy] over the next five years, followed by India with 76 GW,” The Guardian states, as clean sources reach 60% of new capacity by the end of that period.
Even with those big numbers, however, renewables “still provide a relatively small share of the world’s electricity,” the outlet notes, citing the IEA report. “Green sources are only expected to provide 28% of electricity generation by 2021, up from 23% in 2015, and much of that will be from existing hydropower dams.”
That penetration is insufficient, the agency says, to meet the Paris climate goal of keeping global warming below 2ºC. More worrying still, unless policy and market conditions change, new installation rates are at risk of “flatlining to 2021,” Climate Change News observes in its coverage of the IEA report.
Indeed, Bloomberg New Energy Finance reported earlier this year that global investment in renewable energy plunged 23% in the first half of 2016.
“There are a number of barriers that are still unsolved,” Climate Change News quotes IEA renewables lead Paolo Frankl as saying during a media call. “If you don’t put in place the right strategies and the right policies, you risk hitting the wall.” In particular, Frankl identified “grid infrastructure, policy stability, and availability of finance” as elements that need to be addressed to achieve the agency’s most optimistic “accelerated” scenario of expanding clean energy by another 30% in the next five years.