Record year for solar and renewables, but still not fast enough

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REN21 report says record 98GW of solar capacity added globally in 2018, 52GW of wind, and 178GW total of all renewables. But other sectors – including transport, heating, and cooling – coasting along “as if we had all the time in the world.”

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A record amount of solar capacity and renewable power was installed across the world in 2017 – as the cost of both wind and solar became competitive with fossil fuels – but it still is not enough, a major new report has found.

The annual Renewables 2018 Global Status Report from REN21, a renewables policy organisation, notes that a record 98GW of solar capacity was added, as well as 52GW of wind, and a total of 178GW of renewables.

Including large hydro, this amounted to $US310 billion of new investment, nearly twice that of new fossil fuels and nuclear capacity, and the global share of renewables is now at 23 per cent, with wind and solar providing 7.4 per cent.

But while the growth in renewables electricity was pleasing and continues the transformation of the electricity sector, REN21 says it is concerned by the lack of change in transport, cooling and heating, which means the world is lagging behind its Paris climate goals.

“We may be racing down the pathway towards a 100 percent renewable electricity future but when it comes to heating, cooling and transport, we are coasting along as if we had all the time in the world. Sadly, we don’t,” said Randa Adib, executive secretary of REN21.

Adib’s concern was shared by investors representing $26 trillion of assets under management, which used the prelude to the G7 Summit in Canada to call for governments to step up their ambition and action to achieve the goals of the Paris Agreement.

“The global shift to clean energy is underway, but much more needs to be done by governments to accelerate the low-carbon transition and to improve the resilience of our economy, society and the financial system to climate risks,” investors wrote in a joint statement.

Emma Herd, the CEO of the Investor Group on Climate Change, the Australian chapter of this group, says investors are stepping up in unprecedented numbers, but could do so much more if governments acted too.

“Investors could do even more if governments delivered the policies required to effectively manage climate risk and accelerate investment in low-carbon solutions.”

Labor’s Mark Butler said this was a clear reproach to Australia’s Coalition government, which refuses to lift its weak 2030 target even though most analysts say it will be largely met – in the electricity sector at least – by 2030.

“The Turnbull government’s weak National Energy Guarantee is projected to deliver no new large-scale renewable energy investment over the 2020s,” he said in a statement.

“And far from being on track to delivering their weak targets, according to the government’s own data emissions are projected to increase all the way to 2030.”

The REN21 report said of particular concern was  global energy demand and energy-related carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions, which rose for the first time in four years in 2017, by 2.1 per cent and 1.4 per cent respectively.

“In the power sector, the transition to renewables is under way but is progressing more slowly than is possible or desirable,” it says.

“A commitment made under the 2015 Paris climate agreement to limit global temperature rise to “well below” 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels makes the nature of the challenge much clearer.

“If the world is to achieve the target set in the Paris agreement, then heating, cooling and transport will need to follow the same path as the power sector – and fast.”

The scale of the problem is illustrated in this chart above, which shows all energy usage, including the oil-dominated transport sector, and the traditional biomass for heating and cooking.

The heating, cooling and transport sectors – which together account for about four-fifths of global final energy demand – continue to lag behind the power sector.

Around 92 percent of transport energy demand continues to be met by oil and only 42 countries have national targets for the use of renewable energy in transport.

However, increasing electrification is offering possibilities and more than 30 million two- and three-wheeled electric vehicles are being added to the world’s roads every year, and 1.2 million passenger electric cars were sold in 2017, up about 58 per cent from 2016.

Currently, electricity provides just 1.3 per cent of transport energy needs, of which about one-quarter is renewable.

There is little change in renewables uptake in heating and cooling. National targets for renewable energy in heating and cooling exist in only 48 countries around the world, whereas 146 countries have targets for renewable energy in the power sector.

Small changes are under way. In India, for example, installations of solar thermal collectors rose approximately 25 per cent in 2017, as compared to 2016. China aims to have 2 per cent of the cooling loads of its buildings come from solar thermal energy by 2020.

“To make the energy transition happen there needs to be political leadership by governments,” says Arthouros Zervos, the chair of REN21.

“For example by ending subsidies for fossil fuels and nuclear, investing in the necessary infrastructure, and establishing hard targets and policy for heating, cooling and transport.

“Without this leadership, it will be difficult for the world to meet climate or sustainable development commitments.”

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31 Comments
  1. Andrew Roydhouse 5 months ago

    Does not seem a bad result when you look at the YoY increase on power generated was 6% of the total. As an increase on renewable ti was over a 25% increase. I suspect the figures for 2015 to 2018 was perhaps an increase in total generated by 2-3%.

    The on-going trajectory is more important given the ongoing falls in PV project prices and the somewhat slower but still meaningful fall in wnd project costs.

    Fairer summation may be, ‘Good effort but could (& will) do better.’

    • trackdaze 5 months ago

      Usa coal consumption is 6% down this year according to EIA. Its now less than 30% of generation. I suspect China coal consumption is at that zero gravity state at the top of the perobola.

      US Electric vehicle sales are up about 50%. China is close to 70% both are looming like they will accelerate further soon.

      • Ian 5 months ago

        The appetite for EV is there, the ability to retool existing vehicle factories has existed for a long time, it’s the battery manufacturing that needs to ramp up. If there were cheap abundant battery packs available , the world’s car makers could switch to 100 % battery EV within a year or 2.

        • trackdaze 5 months ago

          Battery production is advancing infront of vehicle production. Its roughly doubling every 12 months. Some is going to bigger battery packs. Evs at about the 15month mark.

          Cost and and density are improving by about 7% a year

  2. DJR96 5 months ago

    Increasing availability of EV’s for all purposes will start having an impact by reducing FF use for transport/ Which will continue the demand for more renewables generation. It is only when there is an abundance of generation that we’ll also start using the excesses for building heat via demand management. Those things will all come in time. Just keep building renewable generation in the meantime.

    • George Darroch 5 months ago

      And the greater penetration of EVs makes the change in electricity generation worth even more .

      • Steven Gannon 5 months ago

        It will probably help our balance of payments too – less imported oil.

        • Phil NSW 5 months ago

          Thanks to current and previous governments poor management we will have to import all these EV’s and give them the opportunity to tax us on the way. I realise we are also importing the ICE vehicles. I would love to see a conversion kit to rebirth ICE vehicles as EV’s. I like Harry’s E-type.

          • Steven Gannon 5 months ago

            A few backyard mechanics have been doing conversions on their vehicles for a few years now, If young guys can do it at home, then it could be viable to do it. An issue I see is the age and condition of the vehicles.

            Mr Gupta and another party have had a look at the old Holden factory, it may happen yet. There is a lot of skilled labour in Adelaide and Melbourne that would be great assets if it ever happens.

    • Ian 5 months ago

      With the cheaply available reverse cycle air conditioners why would anyone persist with gas or oil fired heating?

      • Greg Hudson 5 months ago

        The cost of the air cons is not the issue, it is the gouging by the retailers that prevent the wholesale installation of heat pumps. Having said that, I had a 13kW unit in my last house, and it cost me both arms and both legs to run (at 29.9c/kWh).

    • Peter G 5 months ago

      I so agree. Lets hope that the abundance of RE generation starts to be reflected in some sensible pricing for consumers some decade soon – so that the consumers could benefit (as they used to be able to do) by using cheap off peak for thermal storage.

  3. Tim Forcey 5 months ago

    HEAT PUMPS – RENEWABLE HEAT

    “…when it comes to heating, cooling and transport, we are coasting along as if we had all the time in the world.”

    Exactly, so let’s get going with the heat pumps (e.g. reverse-cycle air conditioners)!

    “Why reverse-cycle heating is a cool idea”
    https://www.thecourier.com.au/story/5442892/get-off-the-grid-reverse-cycle-heating-is-a-cool-idea/?cs=64

    • Phil Shield 5 months ago

      Tim, I agree with you completely. What I find odd about the report is that heating and cooling is described as a separate sector to electricity. Almost 100% of cooling is provided using electricity, so using renewables for electricity production takes care of that problem. The report promotes solar thermal for cooling as though it were a good idea, but that is no longer the case because the combination of solar PV and conventional air conditioning is so much cheaper.
      The best way to reduce carbon emissions from heating is the electrification of heating, particularly using heat pumps.
      In Queensland I believe reverse cycle air conditioning is the dominant method of heating homes due to the prevalence of air conditioning.

      • Jolly Roger 5 months ago

        I use my air con for heating in Victoria and it works out cheaper than firewood or oil heaters and with solar even less. My heat pump is an old model though so when it hits zero outside it can stop. Cheaper new units would help and heat pumps for hot water are also still pretty expensive.

        • Shilo 5 months ago

          I actually find the heating on my Aircon system not as good as on cool, it stops hearing frequently to defrost, I actually use a few old fashioned oil finned heaters as well.
          On another subject it’s excellent to see how times have changed, not so long ago the world was going to run out of fossil fuel, especially Oil, and it was imminent. Well in fact it was imminent from around 1995, up until around 2015.
          Luckily however we all now can breath easy obviously due to Solar and EV cars.
          We were all worried for no reason at all, oil was never running out because we did not need to use it all.

          • Ian 5 months ago

            Your experience is that your air conditioner/heat pump ices up and needs defrosting in cold weather. Bummer. Maybe the design is not so good. As others have said some of these sorts of air conditioners are designed to work in far colder places. There is an alternative to air source heat pumps and that is ground source ones. These have closed ( usually) water loops buried horizontally or sunk vertically into the ground and draw heat from there, this is highly effective in both summer cooling and winter heating and is not subjected to the problem of icing of the condensing heat exchanger.

        • Phil Shield 5 months ago

          Yes, a decent new split system works well for space heating even in cold weather. They use them everywhere in South Korea and they have very cold winters.
          For hot water there are cheap heat pumps available especially when you take into account the STC rebates, but I believe they are of suspect quality and don’t work well in the cold. The best I know of is the Sanden, it works well even in sub zero conditions, but it is expensive. I operate mine during the day using cheap solar PV, it is also more efficient to operate during the day as it’s warmer.

      • Alastair Leith 5 months ago

        Concentrated Solar Thermal has a place, and won a very tough PPA tender process in South Australia to supply the SA Govt and utilities it contracts for with electricity. Solar Reserve say if they built another nine Auroras in SA they’d have the price of the final way down, as much of the costs is related to parts and construction services supply chain tooling and efficiencies.

        • Phil Shield 5 months ago

          Yes I agree solar thermal still has a place, but not for cooling using an absorption chiller. It is cheaper to use electricity for cooling using a conventional vapour compression cycle.

          • Alastair Leith 5 months ago

            Oh ok, think we were talking at cross-purposes, I didn’t understand what you were saying.

    • Alastair Leith 5 months ago

      And HW heat pumps. And industrial process heat from RE generated electricity, the next Industrial Processes report to be released by Beyond Zero Emissions.

  4. Barry Alternative Fact Covfefe 5 months ago

    Most governments who are not fighting renewable energy are hoping renewable energy will flourish under business as usual. Even removing fossil fuel subsidies is a road too far for them (but removing renewable subsidies or letting them sunset is not a big deal).
    A few exceptions exist but this is unfortunately the reality for most.

  5. Ren Stimpy 5 months ago

    This guy Barnaby who selfishly tries to cash in on his office.
    He denies climate change, which should be shameful for actual growers. This dickhead who was endorsed by Turnbull but who does NOTHING but shame the country. Do you country folk want to be represented by the climate-denying fuckwad for all eternity?

    Because that’s what all the rest of us think about you for electing that selfish money-grubbing git.

    • Ren Stimpy 5 months ago

      or something…

    • riley222 5 months ago

      He’s a politician, and he was a good one. Thats not a compliment.
      Along with his colleagues, he has sold out ordinary Aussies, which is now in the spotlight. Its obvious that while he was able to promote big business as his real agenda, he pretended, maybe even had, empathy with the more ordinary farm business, to the extent that it assisted him.
      A good retail politician for sure, and a warning.

      • wideEyedPupil 5 months ago

        Interestingly in reports of the interview (I didn’t watch) he admitted knowing his career in politics was done for during the New England by-election but he continued to lie about his situation and continued to run for election as an MP, knowing full well what his electorate would think of him if all the details emerged (and they haven’t yet according to Tony Windsor, just the Campion stuff, there’s a lot of other allegations that went unreported for same reason as Campion allegations went unreported, Barnaby’s “personal life” was off-limits for MSM in this country, allowing his partner to sell it for $150,000).

        • Steven Gannon 5 months ago

          The Nats are sitting on a written complaint from a high profile WA woman, as far as I know.

  6. Ian 5 months ago

    We , humanity, are perhaps waking up to the fact that transport is so woefully dependent on oil. How could we not have seen this before. The conversion of stationary power generation and usage from FF to renewables is occurring nicely under a maturing market trend , but we have hardly touched transport yet. Besides the $17 billion tax grab from oil, this country has very little to lose from going all- out to decarbonise transportation.

  7. Ken Dyer 5 months ago

    If people of faith really took notice of what God said about coal (and oil), the world as a whole would eschew fossil fuels as quickly as possible.

    Coal is a grim reminder that God judged the world because it had become
    filled with wickedness, corruption, and violence (Genesis 6:11–13).

    One wonders therefore whether religious MP’s of the LNP COALition understand that they are going against God?

    Disclaimer: I am not religious, but, just saying……

  8. The_Lorax 5 months ago

    Great to see a more realistic assessment of the situation. The fossil fuel share of global energy use has remain stuck at ~80% for forty years now, this is despite all the growth in renewables in recent years. And of course energy consumption (and therefore carbon emissions) have more than doubled during that period. It’s important to remember that the goal should be a rapid reduction in carbon emissions, not growth in renewables. Renewables are part of the answer, but so is energy efficiency, reductions in consumption, changes in agricultural practices, reforestation etc etc.
    https://www.theatlas.com/i/atlas_rJyBevixz.png

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