Solar tops coal as world’s biggest source of new capacity over past decade

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Some $US1.3 trillion has been tipped into solar installations in last decade, pushing it above coal and forcing prices down dramatically.

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More solar power capacity was installed globally over the past 10 years than any other generation technology – including coal – a new report has shown.

The Global Trends in Renewable Energy Investment 2019 report, published on Friday (Australian time) shows solar accounted for the largest single share of the net 2,366GW of new power capacity installed over the past decade, at 638GW.

And that’s counting fossil fuels, too. Coming in behind solar as the next largest installed generation source over the 10 years is coal (529 GW), then wind (487GW) and then gas (438GW).

 

But the report, which is based on data from Bloomberg New Energy Finance, makes it clear that renewables have been the star.

All told, the decade – from 2010 to 2019 inclusive – has seen a quadrupling of renewable generation (excluding large hydro), with solar alone growing from 25MW installed capacity at the beginning of 2010 to an expected 638GW by the close of this year. (As you can see in the chart below, the vast bulk of that is solar PV, and just 5GW solar thermal.)

This boom in renewables has been driven by a total investment over the period that is on course to hit $US2.6 trillion, with half of that amount – $1.3 trillion – tipped into solar.

Meanwhile, the cost of producing electricity from solar and wind has been going in the other direction, driving up the competitiveness of renewables, dramatically.

According to the report, the levelised cost of electricity has plummeted 81 per cent for solar PV since 2009, and fallen 46 per cent for onshore wind.

Solar’s stunning cost trajectory was also featured in another report this week out of Europe, which noted the LCOE of PV had fallen so far that it was beating spot wholesale electricity prices across the Continent – even with the addition of two hours’ storage in some countries.

“Sharp falls in the cost of electricity from wind and solar over recent years have transformed the choice facing policy-makers,” Moore said in a statement released with the report,” said BloombergNEF chief executive Jon Moore in a statement accompanying the report.

“These technologies were always low-carbon and relatively quick to build. Now, in many countries around the world, either wind or solar is the cheapest option for electricity generation.”

But while the economics now speak for themselves, policy makers must continue to drive the transition to decarbonised global grids, said Inger Andersen, executive director of the UN Environment Programme.

“We cannot afford to be complacent. Global power sector emissions have risen about 10 per cent over this period. It is clear that we need to rapidly step up the pace of the global switch to renewables if we are to meet international climate and development goals.”

The message is a pointed one for global leaders, coming ahead of the UN Global Climate Action Summit in New York later this month.

It’s especially pertinent to Australia, which – having just this week officially achieved its Large Scale Renewable Energy Target of 33,000GWh of new renewables by 2020 – is entering a policy void on both further energy market transition and broader emissions reduction, precisely at the time it should be doubling down on decarbonisation.

“It is important to see renewables becoming first choice in many places,” added Nils Stieglitz, president of Frankfurt School of Finance and Management.

“But now we need to think beyond scaling-up renewables. Divesting from coal is just one issue within the broader field of sustainable finance. Investors increasingly care whether what they do makes sense in the context of a low-carbon and sustainable future.”

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