Renewables to grow 50%, but coal to dominate — report

Source: By Carlos Anchondo, E&E News reporter • Posted: Tuesday, October 22, 2019

Renewable power capacity was growing faster than projected last year and is expected to increase 50% globally over the next five years, according to a new report from the International Energy Agency.

Yet the 1,200-gigawatt projected increase — “equivalent to the current total power capacity of the United States” — is not fast enough to meet global sustainability energy targets and address climate change, the outlook said. The Paris-based group said solar photovoltaics (PV) would make up almost 60% of the growth and a quarter would come from onshore wind.

“Renewables are already the world’s second largest source of electricity, but their deployment still needs to accelerate if we are to achieve long-term climate, air quality and energy access goals,” said Fatih Birol, the IEA’s executive director, in a statement.

In its accelerated forecast, IEA said renewable capacity growth could be 26% higher than projected if three primary obstacles holding back renewables were addressed. Those are policy and regulatory uncertainty, high investment risks in developing economies, and system integration of wind and solar PV in certain countries.

Meeting those challenges, the report said, could mean that total renewable capacity would grow by more than 60% to 4,000 GW by 2024.

While the IEA report forecasts that renewables will make up 30% of global electricity generation in 2024, coal is still expected to be the largest source of electricity that year. Natural gas remains relatively flat for its share of global generation, hovering at slightly less than a quarter over the next five years, an IEA graph shows.

The report comes as the U.S. solar industry has called the solar investment tax credit phaseout its “biggest hurdle.”

“Yes there will be massive renewable growth, but not enough to meet climate targets,” Daniel Whitten, vice president of public affairs at the Solar Energy Industries Association, said in a tweet yesterday in response to the IEA report. “The ITC is a proven policy that will lead to major carbon reductions and billions of dollars in private investment.”

The IEA report said that wind and solar PV developers “are rushing to complete projects” before federal tax incentives end. Accelerated deployment in North America, analysts said, will depend on solar and wind projects becoming more cost-competitive in the United States as well as faster grid expansion in the Midwest, among other factors.

Gregory Wetstone, president and CEO of the American Council on Renewable Energy, said the most important way to evaluate progress isn’t so much the rate of growth, but the “fulfillment of the clean energy future” that Americans want and deserve.

“If we’re going to have any chance at mitigating climate change and hitting international climate goals, the trajectory for renewables growth needs to go meaningfully higher, with significantly more renewable energy deployment worldwide,” Wetstone said.

Christina Hoicka, an assistant professor of sustainable energy economics at York University, said a suite of options is required to help accelerate deployment of renewables. She said those include energy storage, microgrids and demand response.

Hoicka referenced past IEA data finding that renewable electricity would need to make up at least 40% — and up to 63% — of new electricity by 2040 to meet emissions targets in the Paris climate accord. Accelerating the deployment of renewables means different arrangements of flexible technologies on the grid, as well as energy efficiency and conservation measures, she said.

The IEA report noted that “geological availability of mineral resources is not expected to impede deployment” of renewables in the near future, but it acknowledges future supply chain tensions for minerals and greater price volatility.

“While new mining activities will be needed if the renewable power sector is to develop massively … improvements in resource efficiency and product value retention through reuse and recycling will be crucial to mitigate socio-environmental impacts,” the report said.