Clean energy is responsible for two-thirds of the new power added in 2018 and one-third of the world’s power is now being generated by renewable energy. These are some of the conclusions contained in a recent International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) report. Last year saw the largest annual increase in global renewable generation capacity ever. New solar capacity alone was more than the combined total of new coal, natural gas, and nuclear power. In the last five years, the growth of renewables has made it hard to deny that clean energy can and will replace fossil fuels. In fact, the transition is already underway. We saw tremendous growth in renewable energy in 2015 and in 2016 we added 161 gigawatts (GW) of renewable energy capacity.
Solar and wind power continue to grow at a prodigious rate. According to IRENA, the world passed 1,000 GW of cumulative installed wind and solar power last year. 10 years ago, there was less than 8 GW of solar. In 2018 solar energy increased by 94 GW and wind energy increased by around 49 GW.
Both the UK and Germany set new records, however, the growth of renewables is not just a western phenomenon, in fact developing nations are leading this prodigious growth. The International Energy Agency said 120 million people gained access to electricity last year and much of this increase occurred due to the installation of renewables in remote locations in the developing world. Asia has seen an 11 percent increase in renewable energy and Africa has seen an 8 percent increase.
There have also been notable increases in geothermal energy which increased in Turkey, Indonesia, and the United States. However, 90 percent of the new renewable energy sources in the US were either wind or solar power. This represents a five-fold increase in these two clean power sources (57 million megawatt-hours (MWh) in 2008, and 301 million MWh in 2018). According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) between 2008 and 2018 renewable energy has doubled in the US. In 2018, renewable generation provided the US with 742 million MWh of electricity which translates to 17.6 percent of the nation’s electricity generation.
There is still a lot of room for growth as wind provides only 6.5 percent and solar 2.3 percent of the nation’s electricity. Hydroelectric power leads renewables providing slightly more energy than wind. Nuclear plants provided 19 percent of U.S. electricity in 2018 but 63.4 percent came from fossil fuels. According to Grist at the current rate of growth, the US could get all of its electricity from carbon-free sources by 2050.
Forecasts suggest that renewables will just keep growing. In 2015, Bloomberg New Energy Finance’s New Energy Outlook predicted a $6.9 trillion investment in new renewable electric power generation over the next 25 years. A 2016 report by Ceres, Bloomberg New Energy Finance, and Ken Locklin, predicts that there is a $12.1 Trillion Investment Opportunity for Renewables.
“Renewables will have the fastest growth in the electricity sector, providing almost 30% of power demand in 2023, up from 24% in 2017. During this period, renewables are forecast to meet more than 70% of global electricity generation growth, led by solar PV and followed by wind.” (IEA)
These forecasts are being backed up by ambitious commitments from the world’s most populace countries. China, the world’s biggest energy consumer, revised its renewable energy target upwards, committing to 35 percent clean energy by 2030. India is adding 150 GW of wind and solar in the next four years to meet its 28 percent target by 2022.
Led by impressive growth in both wind and solar renewable energy shows no sign of slowing down. This growth will continue to increase as we come to terms with the fact that we cannot tackle climate change without arresting our use of fossil fuels. It is both obvious and inevitable that to meet the IPCC climate goals we will need to accelerate our adoption of emissions-free energy.