The world installed half a million solar panels a day in 2015 and more than four wind turbines every hour, as the installed capacity of renewable energy overtook coal for the first time and became the largest single source of installed capacity in the world.
The International Energy Agency – in its medium-term outlook report for renewables – expects the share of renewable energy in the world’s electricity system to jump to 28 per cent by 2021, from 23 per cent now.
The data suggests that figure could be more than 30 per cent if its “accelerated scenario” comes to pass, and given the IEA’s history of grossly underestimating the uptake of wind and solar in particular, this could well turn out to be the case.
In its last World Energy Outlook, it said that wind and solar would overtake coal and gas as the single biggest source of electricity by generation by 2040. That prediction will likely be reinforced when that document is updated in November.
The IEA says that wind and solar will account for more than two-thirds of the growth in renewables, but says there should be no issues about integration, as long as governments and regulatory bodies have the right policies and investments.
IEA energy analyst Paulo Frankl said renewables had played a key role in achieving the ambitious Paris climate agreement, which had been ratified in less than a year, compared with more than seven years for the Kyoto Protocol. “Renewables are now considered an affordable solution,” he told journalists in a briefing.
Frankl said the share of wind and solar – dubbed “variable” renewables – would reach “astonishing” levels in some countries over the next five years.
Denmark, which will lead the way with almost 60 per cent, benefits from a grid integrated with other Nordic countries, but other countries with variable renewable penetration – such as Ireland and Spain – acted as virtual islands and showed high levels could be integrated satisfactorily with the right policies.
“We are witnessing a transformation of global power markets led by renewables and, as is the case with other fields, the center of gravity for renewable growth is moving to emerging markets,” said Dr Fatih Birol, the IEA’s executive director.
This graph above shows that until around 2008, renewables (green) grew about the same rate as other energy sources (coal, gas and nuclear), but has shot ahead in the last few years. The IEA said there are many factors behind this achievement: more competition, enhanced policy support in key markets, and technology improvements.
“While climate change mitigation is a powerful driver for renewables, it is not the only one,” Birol said in a statement. “In many countries, cutting deadly air pollution and diversifying energy supplies to improve energy security play an equally strong role in growing low-carbon energy sources, especially in emerging Asia.
“Renewables are expected to cover more than 60% of the increase in world electricity generation over the medium term, rapidly closing the gap with coal. Generation from renewables is expected to exceed 7600 TWh by 2021 — equivalent to the total electricity generation of the United States and the European Union put together today.