Despite oil price plummet, record clean energy growth in 2015

Source: Daniel Cusick, E&E reporter • Posted: Monday, April 11, 2016

Global renewable energy capacity increased 8.3 percent in 2015, with a record 152 gigawatts of new power coming from wind, solar, hydroelectric, biomass and geothermal resources, findings from the International Renewable Energy Agency show.

The surge comes against a backdrop of record low oil and gas prices, IRENA noted, a condition experts attribute to the renewable energy sector’s maturity and resilience to shifts in fossil fuel prices, traditionally the major driver in electricity markets.

Adnan Z. Amin, director general of the Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates-based group, said in a statement that alternative energy sources are being buoyed by falling costs, government policies promoting clean energy, and a “a host of economic, social and environmental drivers” that give renewables an edge over conventional electricity sources.

“This impressive growth, coupled with a record $286 billion invested in renewables in 2015, sends a strong signal to investors and policymakers that renewable energy is now the preferred option for new power generation capacity around the world,” Amin said.

Global-scale adoption of clean energy was a key message at this week’s Bloomberg New Energy Finance summit in New York, which drew more than 1,000 business leaders, policymakers and energy experts from around the world.

“We’re in a low-cost-of-oil environment for the foreseeable future,” Michael Liebreich, chairman of BNEF’s advisory board, told the summit Tuesday. “Did that stop renewable energy investment? Not at all.”

In a keynote address to the summit, Secretary of State John Kerry cast the world’s transition to renewables as a global imperative (ClimateWire, April 6).

“If we’re going to stave off the worst impacts of climate change, we have to accelerate this transition,” Kerry said. “We need to get to the point where clean energy sources are generating most of the world’s energy, and we need to get there quickly — certainly by the middle of this century.

“Ladies and gentlemen, no matter what country you live in, the cost of investing in clean energy now is far cheaper than paying for the consequences of climate change later,” Kerry added. “And as we work together to achieve our targets, those betting on renewable energy are going to win big.”

The latest IRENA figures suggest the transition is well underway.

Wind and solar generation saw double-digit growth in capacity additions globally, according to IRENA, with wind gaining 63 GW of new capacity (a 17 percent increase) and solar adding 47 GW of capacity (a 37 percent gain).

Hydropower, the world’s No. 1 source of emissions-free electricity, rose by 35 GW (3 percent), while bioenergy and geothermal each recorded 5 percent growth, at 5 and 1 GW, respectively.

Experts attributed much of the growth to sharply falling technology costs, especially for solar and wind power, since 2010. The average price of solar photovoltaic modules has fallen 80 percent globally since 2010, according to IRENA, while onshore wind turbine costs have dropped 45 percent over the same period.

But government policies are also driving the phenomenal growth in wind and solar, particularly in the world’s fastest-growing countries — China and India — and other emerging economies in Africa, Asia and Latin America. “Renewables are not just a solution for industrialized countries, they are also powering economic growth in the fastest-growing economies in the developing world,” Amin said.

According to IRENA, Central America and the Caribbean saw the largest percentage growth in clean energy in 2015, at 14.5 percent. The region was followed by Asia (12.4 percent), North America (6.3 percent) and Europe (5.2 percent). Asia led the world in actual megawatts added, accounting for more than 88 GW of new capacity, or 58 percent of the world’s total.

As of December, hydropower accounted for the largest share of the global renewable energy generation, with 1,209 GW of installed capacity. Four countries accounted for roughly two-thirds of hydropower capacity added in 2015: Brazil, China, India and Turkey.

Wind power remained the world’s No. 2 source of renewable energy, with 432 GW of installed capacity, while solar closed the year in third with 227 GW of capacity. Electricity produced from bioenergy accounted for 105 MW of capacity, while geothermal provides roughly 13 GW of capacity.