Slow Uptake Has Countries Missing Benefits of Renewable Energy Transition, REN21 Warns
While the industry’s growth in 2018 showed that “renewable power is here to stay”, countries around the world are falling short of the full benefits they could gain from the post-carbon transition and needlessly dragging out their dependence on fossil fuels, concludes the Renewables 2019 Global Status Report, released this week by the Paris-based REN21 Secretariat.
“Solar photovoltaics (PV) and wind are now mainstream options in the power sector, with an increasing number of countries generating more than 20% of their electricity with solar PV and wind,” the report states.
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“Decarbonization pathways and frameworks were developed further during 2018,” the organization notes. “At the sub-national level, a growing number of governments in many regions became leaders, setting more ambitious targets than their national counterparts. Developing and emerging economies continued to increase their deployment of renewables, and distributed renewable energy systems further helped to spread energy access to households in remote areas.”
But the good news was mostly limited to the global power sector, REN21 concludes. Elsewhere, “the lack of ambitious and sustained policies to drive decarbonization in the heating, cooling, and transport sectors means that countries are not maximizing the benefits of the transition—including cleaner air and energy security—for their populations. On a global level, these sectors remain heavily reliant on fossil fuels, which are highly subsidized in many countries.”
REN21 sees slow progress in renewable heating and cooling due to a lack of policy support. The renewable share of transportation rose slightly to 3.3%, with biofuels a “central component of the policy framework” and electric vehicle uptake accelerating. Overall, the report concludes that “ambitious policy and regulatory frameworks are needed to create favourable and competitive conditions, allowing renewable energy to grow and displace more expensive and carbon-emitting fuels.”
But the report shows the number of countries with national or sub-national renewable energy targets actually declining between 2017 and 2018, from 179 to 169. 100% renewable electricity targets were in place in 65 countries in 2018, up from 57 in 2017.
“New and revised targets have become increasingly ambitious, particularly in the power sector, but far fewer countries had renewable energy targets specifically for the heating, cooling, and transport sectors, and targets for economy-wide energy transformation remain rare,” the report states. “Sub-national governments are often the first movers in establishing innovative and ambitious mechanisms, including 100% renewable energy or power targets.”
While carbon pricing policies are expanding, the report adds, they still cover only 13% of global emissions.
In the foreword to the report, REN21 Chair Arthouros Zervos cites cities as emerging leaders in renewable energy deployment, with some of the world’s most ambitious development targets. He also points to an “array of opportunities” to distribute the benefits of the energy transition across the economy.