Renewable energy continued to grow in 2014 against the backdrop of increasing global energy consumption, particularly in developing countries, and a dramatic decline in oil prices during the second half of the year. This is the encouraging conclusion emerging from the Renewables 2015 Global Status Report (GSR2015) issued by REN21 in June.
As of early 2015, 164 countries have renewable energy targets in place, 59 of all newly built power plants in the world in 2014 were renewables-based with renewables representing 27.7 percent of the world’s power generating capacity and enough to supply 22.8 percent of global electricity demand.
The last decade has seen remarkable energy uptake in the power section where new renewable power generation capacities have increased more than eightfold. However, the share of modern renewables in global heat demand is still modest at 8 percent of the share of final energy consumption. Renewable energy also accounted for an estimated 3.5 percent of global energy demand for road transport in 2013, up from 2 percent in 2007.
Despite rising energy use, for the first time in four decades, global carbon emissions associated with energy consumption remained stable in 2014 while the global economy grew. This stabilisation has been attributed to increased penetration of renewable energy in China as well as the OECD countries and to improvements in energy efficiency in almost all regions of the world (see figure below from the GSR2015).
In 2014 wind energy had the lion’s share among all renewable technologies with 370 GW of global installed capacity and China leading with around 118 GW. Solar PV reached 177 GW global installed capacity, with Germany leading (38 GW), followed by China (28 GW), Japan (23 GW), and Italy (18 GW). Concentrated Solar Power installed capacity reached 4.4. GW worldwide, with Spain leading followed by the United States.
Nonetheless, solar power is the leading sector for money committed during 2014, receiving more than 55 percent (USD 149.6 billion) of total new investment in renewable power and fuels. Wind power followed with USD 99.5 billion (see figure above from the GSR2015). New investments in solar power were led by developed countries, whereas new investments in wind energy were led by developing countries, thanks to China.
The study highlights the importance of renewables as central pillar in combating climate change and energy poverty. With 15 percent of the global population still lacking electricity access, distributed renewable energy systems offer unprecedented opportunity to accelerate the electricity access as well as the transition to modern energy services in remote areas not reached by the grids. Distributed generation can be introduced in new markets, as they are more cost-competitive.
Evidence indicates that markets are significant, e.g. off-grid solar PV attracted globally approximately USD 64 billion of investment in 2014. However, the share of renewable energy in final consumption at the end of 2013 was at 19.1 percent, a moderate increase compared to 18 percent in 2010. A lot still needs to happen and the share of renewables needs to grow in the heating and transport sectors.
(Image: Solar energy panels in Sumba island, Indonesia. Credit: Asian Development Bank/Flickr)