Despite the expected US withdrawal from the Paris Agreement, renewable energy costs are decreasing, leading to a record global boost at a markedly lower cost, according to new global data.
Although the total financial investment in renewables actually fell due to the political climate, the new renewable energy capacity installed worldwide in 2016 was 161GW, a 10% rise on 2015 and a new record, according to REN21. The plummeting prices for solar and wind power led to new power deals in countries including Denmark, Egypt, India, Mexico and the United Arab Emirates all being priced well below fossil fuel or nuclear options.
The new record capacity cost $242bn, a 23% reduction in investment compared to 2015, and renewables investment remained larger than for all fossil fuels. New solar power provided the biggest boost – half of all new capacity – followed by wind power at a third and hydropower at 15%. It is the first year that the new solar capacity added has been greater than any other electricity-producing technology. With record new additions of installed renewable energy capacity, rapidly falling costs and the decoupling of economic growth and energy-related carbon dioxide emissions for the third year running, it appears a global energy transition is on the way. The new record capacity ($242bn cost), a 23% reduction in investment compared to 2015, and renewables investment remained larger than for all fossil fuels. Subsidies for green energy, however, are still much lower than those for coal, oil and gas.
At the same time, global demand for coal has fallen for the second consecutive year, according to a BP study, helped by the US and China burning less of the dirtiest fossil fuel. The 1.7% fall in worldwide consumption in 2016 marks a striking reversal of fortune for coal, which was the largest source of energy demand growth until four years ago, BP said.
Christiana Figueres, the former UN climate chief who delivered the Paris agreement and is now convener of Mission 2020, said: “The economic case for renewables as the backbone of our global energy system is increasingly clear and proven. Offering ever greater bang-for-buck, renewables are quite simply the cheapest way to generate energy in an ever-growing number of countries.” Less than a month ago, Donald Trump announced he will withdraw the US from the Paris climate agreement, in effect ensuring the world’s second largest emitter of greenhouse gases will quit the international effort to address dangerous global warming. Analysts warned that the US’s withdrawal from the Paris climate change agreement, as announced by Donald Trump, risked the US being left behind in the fast-moving transition to a low-carbon economy.
Unfortunately, the green transition is still not happening fast enough to avoid the worst impacts of global warming, especially in the transport and heating sectors. Seeing the president of the US not only withdrawing from an international accord, but appointing climate change deniers to administrate the EPA, is quite unfortunate. But the switch to renewable energy seems irreversible, at the moment at least.