For the past two decades, renewable energy has had a strong annual growth worldwide. However, the net capacity added in 2018 was the same as in 2017, 177 GW. Renewable energy plays a crucial role in reducing carbon emissions and other greenhouse gases product of the combustion of fossil fuels for electric generation, reason why this lack of progress is worrisome.
It is the first time since 2001 that the renewables’ power capacity did not increase compared to the previous year. The power capacity added in 2018 comes from solar PV, wind, hydropower, bioenergy, and other renewables. From that mix, solar PV contributed the most with 97 GW of capacity additions, which represents 55% of the total, followed by wind with 50 GW. According to the International Energy Agency (EIA), “renewable capacity additions need to grow by over 300 GW on average each year between 2018 and 2030 to reach the goals of the Paris Agreement”. On top of that, CO2 emissions from the power sector rose by 1.7%, to a historic high of 33 Gigatonnes.
The main reason why renewables’ capacity stalled is that China installed 44 GW of solar in 2018, which compared to 2017 (53 GW) is 17% less solar. China is the world’s largest producer of solar power and that 17% makes a difference, especially when the expectations were higher as in 2017 the country accounted for almost 45% of the total capacity increase. Other reasons are attributed to less wind installations in the European Union and India, as well as less solar installations in Japan.
Not everything is negative; the EIA’s report also mentions that many developing countries in the Middle East, North Africa and parts of Asia experienced an expansion in renewable capacity installed; as well as increased additions in the European Union, Mexico, the Middle East, and Africa. In the U.S., the third largest market for renewables, the growth was stable mainly due to faster expansion of wind energy.
In 2015, the U.S., China and 18 other countries announced their support for the Mission Innovation Initiative, which is meant to accelerate public and private clean energy innovation to address climate change and make clean energy affordable. These countries agreed to double their government investment in clean energy for research and development (R&D) over 5 years. In 2017, the global energy investment totaled $1.8 trillion; from which $298 billion went towards renewable electricity generation.
There are several initiatives to fight climate change, but it can only be achieved with the support of governments and by holding them accountable of their commitments. They have the power to accelerate the growth of clean energies by procuring stable policies and reducing risk to investors in research and development.
International Energy Agency, IHS Markit.