Special Report on Global Renewable Energy Growth: Global Renewable Energy Generation Capacity Jumps to Record Level

Christine Lins

The evolution of renewable energy over the past decade has surpassed all expectations. Global installed capacity and production from all renewable technologies have increased substantially; costs for most technologies have decreased significantly; and supporting policies have continued to spread throughout the world.

Developments in the early 2000s showed upwards trends in global renewable energy investment, capacity, and integration across all sectors; yet most mainstream projections did not predict the extraordinary expansion of renewables that was to unfold in the coming decade. Numerous scenarios projected levels of renewable energy for 2020 that already were surpassed by 2010.

Today, governments are increasingly aware of the potential impacts of renewable energy on national development. While the primary objective of developing a renewable energy sector is often to maintain or expand energy services, the far-reaching impact of these technologies adds further value to their use: reducing the health and environmental impacts of energy use, mitigating climate impacts improving educational opportunities, creating jobs, reducing poverty, and increasing gender equality.

Global perceptions of renewable energy have shifted considerably since 2004. Over the last 10 years, continuing technology advances and rapid deployment of many renewable energy technologies have demonstrated that their potential can be achieved. Renewables advanced further towards realising that potential in 2013.

Continued Renewable Energy Growth

By the end of 2013, global renewable power capacity exceeded 1,560 gigawatts (GW), equaling an 8.3% increase over 2012. Hydropower rose by 4% to approximately 1,000 GW, accounting for about one-third of renewable power capacity added during the year. Other renewables collectively grew nearly 17% to an estimated 560 GW. For the first time, more solar PV than wind power capacity was added worldwide. Overall renewables accounted for more than 56% of net additions.

China, the United States, Brazil, Canada, and Germany remained the top countries for total installed renewable power capacity; leading countries for non-hydro capacity were China, the United States, and Germany, followed by Spain, Italy, and India. China’s new renewable power capacity surpassed new fossil fuel and nuclear capacity for the first time.

In the heating and cooling sector, trends included the increasing use of renewables in combined heat and power plants; the feeding of renewable heating and cooling into district systems; hybrid solutions in the building renovation sector; and the growing use of renewable heat for industrial purposes. Heat from modern biomass, solar, and geothermal sources accounts for a small but gradually rising share of final global heat demand, amounting to an estimated 10%. The use of modern renewable technologies for heating and cooling is still limited relative to their vast potential.

In a rising number of countries, renewable energy is considered crucial for meeting current and future energy needs... It is becoming a mainstreamed energy resource.

The growth of liquid biofuels has been uneven in recent years, but their production and use increased in 2013. Liquid biofuels provide about 2.3% of global transport fuel demand. In 2013, global production rose by 7.7 billion litres to reach 116.6 billion litres. New plants for making advanced biofuels, produced from non-food biomass feedstocks, were commissioned in Europe and North America. However, overall investment in new biofuel plant capacity continued to decline from its 2007 peak.

The combined modern and traditional renewable energy share in final energy consumption remained at 19 % about level with 2011, even as the share of modern renewables increased. This is because the rapid growth in modern renewable energy is tempered by both a slow migration away from traditional biomass and a continued rise in total global energy demand.

Increased Policy Support and Shifting Investments

As renewable energy markets and industries mature, they increasingly face new and different challenges, as well as a wide range of opportunities. In 2013, renewables faced declining policy support and uncertainty in many European countries and the United States. Electric grid-related concerns, opposition in some countries from electric utilities concerned about rising competition, and continuing high global subsidies for fossil fuels were also issues. Overall—with some exceptions in Europe and the United States—renewable energy developments were positive over the course of the year.

Markets, manufacturing, and investment expanded further across the developing world, and it became increasingly evident that renewables are no longer dependent upon a small handful of countries. Aided by continuing technological advances, falling prices, and innovations in financing—all driven largely by policy support—renewables have become increasingly affordable for a broader range of consumers worldwide. In a rising number of countries, renewable energy is considered crucial for meeting current and future energy needs.

Supporting policies clearly played a central role in driving global renewable energy capacity to a new record level last year. The number of emerging economy nations with policies in place to support the expansion of renewable energy has surged more than six-fold in just eight years, from 15 developing countries in 2005 to 95 early this year.

These 95 developing nations today make up the vast majority of the 144 countries with renewable energy support policies and targets in place. This rise in developing-world support contrasts with declining support and renewables policy uncertainty (and even retroactive support reductions) elsewhere in the world.

For the first time ever China invested more in renewable energy than did all of Europe combined.

Robust policies coupled with continuing technological advances, falling prices, and innovations in financing have made renewables increasingly affordable for a broader range of consumers worldwide. Global new investment in renewable power and fuels was at least USD 249.4 billion in 2013 down 14% relative to 2012 and 23% lower than the record level in 2011.

Yet the global decline in investment also resulted from sharp reductions in technology costs. This was particularly true for solar PV: even as global investment in solar PV declined nearly 22% relative to 2012, new capacity installations increased by more than 27%. Lower costs and efficiency improvements made it possible to build onshore wind and solar PV installations in a number of locations around the world in 2013 without subsidy support. Considering only net investment in new power capacity, renewables outpaced fossil fuels for the fourth year running.

Even with the overall downward trend in world investment, there were significant exceptions at the country level; for example, Canada, Chile, Israel, Japan, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, and Uruguay all increased their investment in 2013. Despite the overall decline in China’s investment, for the first time ever China invested more in renewable energy than did all of Europe combined. Moreover, it invested more in renewable power capacity than in fossil fuels.

The impacts of these developments on employment numbers in the renewable energy sector have varied by country and technology, but, globally, the number of people working in renewable industries has continued to rise. An estimated 6.5 million people worldwide work directly or indirectly in the sector.

Mainstreaming Renewables

It is clear that renewables are becoming a mainstreamed energy resource. This is welcome news as we enter into the Decade of Sustainable Energy for All (SE4ALL), where countries are asked to mobilise to ensure universal access to modern energy services, improved rates of energy efficiency, and expanded use of renewable energy sources by 2030. While REN21’s Renewables 2014 Global Status Report clearly document advancements in the uptake of renewables, it also demonstrates that we need to move faster and more deliberately if we are serious about ensuring access to clean and sustainable energy for all people by 2030.

Conclusion

The past decade has set the wheels in motion for a global transition to renewables, but a concerted and sustained effort is needed to achieve it. With increasingly ambitious targets and innovative policies, renewables can continue to surpass expectations and create a clean energy future. As this year’s GSR clearly demonstrates, the question is no longer whether renewables have a role to play in the provision of energy services, but rather how we can best increase the current pace to achieve a 100% renewables future with full energy access for all.

Christine Lins is the Executive Secretary of the Renewable Energy Policy Network for the 21st Century (REN21)

About the GSR

First released in 2005, the annual Renewables Global Status Report provides a comprehensive and timely overview of renewable energy markets, industries, investments, and policy developments worldwide. It enables policymakers, industry, investors, and civil society to make informed decisions.

The report covers recent developments, current status, and key trends on all renewable technologies and end-use sectors. By design, it does not provide analysis or forecast. The Renewables Global Status Report relies on up-to-date renewable energy data, provided by an international network of more than 500 contributors, researchers, and authors.

www.ren21.net/gsr

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