Last year was a blockbuster year for clean energy around the world, as a new report documents. This huge growth came before the Paris Agreement was adopted and before countries embarked fully on their next set of national targets to reduce their carbon pollution that is driving climate change. Further growth in clean energy can be delivered as countries implement their national climate targets to meet the Paris Agreement.
The Renewables 2016 Global Status Report, released by REN21, documents six key signs that 2015 was truly a big year for renewable energy around the world. These signs also provide strong clues that more record breaking years are coming.
#1: Renewable electricity installation set a new record. The power sector witnessed its biggest increase in renewable energy capacity last year, with an estimated 147 gigawatts (GW) of renewable power capacity added. A record 63 GW of wind capacity was added, bringing the total installed wind capacity around the world to 433 GW. The solar PV market also broke its previous record with 50 GW installed capacity last year, bringing the total installed capacity globally to 227 GW (see figure).
#2: Investments in renewable energy broke record. Investment in renewable energy (without large hydropower) rose to $265.8 billion in 2015, according to Bloomberg New Energy Finance. This is an increase of five percent from the 2014 levels and exceeds the previous record set in 2011 (see figure). Private investors became more prominent in 2015 as the REN21 report notes: “the year witnessed both an increase in the number of large banks active in the renewables sector and an increase in loan size”. This is a good sign that mainstream investors are seeing renewable energy as a smart place to put their money.
#3: Renewables are outpacing investments in new coal- and gas-fired electricity capacity. REN21 estimates that the amount of investment in renewable energy ($265.8 billion) was double the $130 billion allocated to new coal- and natural gas-fired power generation capacity last year. As the REN21 report states: “the world now adds more renewable power capacity annually than it adds (net) capacity from all fossil fuels combined”. This is clear documentation that more countries and investors are shifting away from dirty to clean sources of energy to power the prosperity of people around the world.
#4: A Growing number of jobs are found in renewable energy. Employment in the renewable energy sector (not including large-scale hydropower) increased in 2015 to an estimated 8.1 million jobs, according to a new report from IRENA (see figure). This is a five percent growth from the 7.7 million jobs IRENA estimated in 2014.
#5: Costs keep coming down. The REN21 report documents the average and regional cost of renewable energy technologies and finds that: “renewable power generation is increasingly competing head-to-head with fossil fuels, without financial support, when new capacity is required and despite the fact that fossil fuels do not carry the full cost of their externalities”. And recent projects show that further cost reductions are occurring in some key sectors. For example a series of recent solar PV bids in Dubai, Peru, and Mexico came in well below the average cost in 2015.
#6: More countries are taking advantage of renewable energy opportunities (and supporting them with policies). By the end of 2015, most countries in the world had specific policies to support renewable electricity generation (see figure). This is one reason that more countries are now seeing renewable energy projects materialize. As a result, total investment in renewable power and fuels in developing countries in 2015 exceeded that in developed economies for the first time. While China continued to be a dominant market, a significant increase in investment occurred in India, Brazil, South Africa, Mexico and Chile. And other markets—such as Morocco, Uruguay, the Philippines, Pakistan and Honduras—also witnessed investments of over $500 million last year. As countries continue to implement their national climate action plans as a part of the Paris Agreement we should continue increased investments in more countries around the world.