Renewable energy installations surpass fossil fuels in record year for green power generation

More emissions-free power installed than fossil fuels last year for first time in history, according to the International Energy Agency.

Ben Chapman@b_c_chapman
Tuesday 25 October 2016 15:03
Solar panels in a field near Five Oaks, west Sussex.
Solar panels in a field near Five Oaks, west Sussex.

Last year marked a “turning point” for the planet as green energy accounted for more than half of new electricity capacity for the first time, leading experts said.

The IEA now predicts renewable energy capacity will grow 42 per cent by 2021, significantly more than it had predicted just a year ago, and said that within five years renewables will generate more than the combined consumption of the US and the EU.

Half a million solar panels were installed every day in 2015, shattering records, meaning there is now more renewables capacity in the world than coal for the first time. “We are witnessing a transformation of global power markets led by renewables” said Fatih Birol, the agency’s executive director.

The IEA predicted the world will now produce 13 per cent more renewable energy over the next five years than it had said in 2015, with 60 per cent of new global power capacity coming from renewables in that period.

The IEA’s renewed optimism comes as a result of a number of key policy shifts in 2016. Eighty-five countries including China and the US ratified the Paris climate agreement a year ahead of schedule, while fast-growing economies like India and Mexico have toughened their climate change rhetoric.

The agency singled out China as “the undisputable global leader of renewable energy expansion” and said it would lead the world.

“If you think of running a marathon, Europe started with a big advance, more than half of the marathon they are leading by far. They are now getting a bit tired, and some others are overtaking Europe slowly but surely,” Birol told the Guardian.

China accounted for 40 per cent of all renewable capacity increases last year - equivalent to two new wind turbines every hour, the agency said. The exceptional growth has led the IEA to be “more optimistic” about the next five-year period, Birol said.

“However, even these higher expectations remain modest compared with the huge untapped potential of renewables,” he added.

Traditional fuels still produce the bulk of electricity generation. Coal power plants supplied almost 39 per cent of world’s power in 2015, while renewables accounted for 23 per cent, despite having more capacity, because they often don’t work at maximum output.

The IEA also warned that policy uncertainty in several countries risked becoming a drag on investment, while a low oil price hampered development of renewable heat and biofuels

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