Renewable Power Posts Record Growth, But Wider, Faster Shift Needed to Hit Paris Goals
Renewable electricity accounted for 70% of new power generation around the world last year, but greenhouse gas emissions are still on the rise and the global economy as a whole needs to pick up the pace to drive the post-carbon transition, concludes the Renewables 2018 Global Status Report released earlier this week.
“Renewable power generation capacity saw its largest annual increase ever with an estimated 178 gigawatts added globally,” concluded Arthouros Zervos, chair of the Renewable Energy Policy Network for the 21st Century (REN21), in the foreword to the mammoth report.
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Overall, this year’s report “reveals two realities: one in which a revolution in the power sector is driving rapid change towards a renewable energy future, and another in which the overall transition is not advancing with the speed needed,” he added. “While momentum in the power sector is positive, it will not on its own deliver the emissions reductions demanded by the Paris climate agreement or the aspirations of Sustainable Development Goal 7. The heating, cooling, and transport sectors, which together account for about 80% of global total final energy demand, are lagging behind.”
E&E News [subs req’d] notes that the world’s energy-related carbon dioxide emissions grew 1.4% last year, after holding steady for three years. Coal consumption grew 1%, with more than 650 new plants in development around the world. Global energy demand increased 2.1%, PV Magazine adds.
The renewable power sector did maintain the rapid growth it has shown in recent years. New solar photovoltaic generating capacity alone was greater than additions in coal, natural gas and nuclear power combined,” with renewable generating capacity increasing 9% in one year—its largest percentage increase ever, PV Mag notes.
Renewables delivered those results thanks to continuing cost reductions, but no thanks to any drastic increase in available cash.
“Global investment in renewable power and fuels in 2017 totalled $279.8 billion (excluding hydropower plants larger than 50 MW)—up 2% from 2016, but 13% below the all-time high seen in 2015,” PV Mag states. “Most of that sum was invested in PV (57%) and wind power (38%). Investment in 2017 held steady or trended upwards in Latin America and the United States, but fell 30% in Europe, where it has been in decline for more than seven years.”
The report states that China, Europe, and the United States accounted for nearly 75% of global renewables investment last year. However, as a percentage of GDP, “the Marshall Islands, Rwanda, the Solomon Islands, Guinea-Bissau and many other developing countries are investing as much as or more in renewables than developed and emerging economies,” Zervos noted. “These positive developments need to be scaled up for a global energy transition.”
Corporate sourcing of renewable energy is also extending beyond the U.S. and Europe, with countries like Burkina Faso, Chile, China, Egypt, Ghana, India, Japan, Mexico, Namibia, and Thailand getting onboard.
REN21 also called for better reporting of “myriad developments” in small-scale renewables, and in the “end-use sectors” that shape the demand for fuel and electricity. It described renewable heating and cooling technologies as a “sleeping giant” due to their lower growth rates and visibility.
“Grassroots efforts, decentralized solutions, innovation, start-ups, off-grid applications, solar thermal, and other activities are not visible when reporting at the global level, yet collectively they make a significant contribution,” Zervos wrote. “These developments offer opportunities for scaling up and furthering the transition in the energy system.”