Record Year for Renewables
2016 was a record year for renewable energy, with a bumper 161 GW capacity installed across the world, the newly published Renewables 2017 Global Status Report (GSR) has revealed.
The GSR, by REN21 (Renewable Energy Policy Network for the 21st Century), reported that altogether, total global capacity rose 15% over the 2015 figure to almost 2,017 GW.
Solar PV made up almost half (47%) of the new installations last year with wind power accounting for another 34% and hydropower 15.5%.
While spending on new renewable energy capacity was down 23% compared to the previous year, the report states that is due to lower price rather than less investment. Renewable energy has become much cheaper than in the past in many places and is competing with conventional generation forms. “Recent deals in Denmark, Egypt, India, Mexico, Peru and the UAE saw renewable electricity being delivered at $0.05 per KWh or less. This is well below equivalent costs for fossil fuel and nuclear generating capacity in each of these countries,” the GSR explains.
At a worldwide level, around twice as much was still spent on new renewable energy than on power generated using fossil fuels. However, spending is unbalanced with most investment focused on solar PV and wind power, the UN-associated REN21 agency details, and needs to be better spread across all renewable energy technologies to achieve the goal of maintaining global warming under 2ºC.
Past concerns that systems would be unable to cope with and manage peaks. Recent advances, especially where system flexibility (grid interconnections, sector coupling, enabling technologies etc.) and energy storage is concerned, have shown that a baseload provided by fossil fuel or nuclear power is not really needed. “The number of countries successfully managing peaks approaching or exceeding 100% electricity generation from renewable sources are on the rise. In 2016, Denmark and Germany, for example, successfully managed peaks of renewable electricity of 140% and 86.3% respectively,” the report explains. With the global energy storage capacity total now nearing 6.5 GW the tools are in place to collect renewable energy as it is created and retain it for use when required.
An important achievement reflected in the report is the fact that despite the 3% growth registered by the global economy, energy-related CO2 emissions resulting from industry and fossil fuel power generation stayed stable for the third year in a row, mainly because the amount of energy produced from coal has dropped but also due to increased renewable energy capacity and energy efficiency. Also highlighted as a positive is the increased popularity of mini-grids, stand-alone systems and pay-as-you-go, mobile phone technology supported electricity. Investment in the latter has grown from $3 million in 2012 to $223 million in 2016.
“The world is adding more renewable power capacity each year than it adds in new capacity from all fossil fuels combined. One of the most important findings of this year’s GSR is that holistic, systemic approaches are key and should become the rule rather than the exception. As the share of renewables grows we will need investment in infrastructure as well as a comprehensive set of tools: integrated and interconnected transmission and distribution networks, measures to balance supply and demand, sector coupling (for example the integration of power and transport networks) and deployment of a wide range of enabling technologies,” explained REN21 chairman Arthouros Zervos in a statement.