The International Environment Agency issued a report this week showing 2015 to be a record year for renewable energy, with new sources constructed exceeded the total generational capacity of Canada.
The latest Medium-Term Renewables Market Report states that “in 2015, annual renewable electricity capacity growth reached an all-time record at 153 gigawatts (GW), thanks to record additions in both onshore wind (63GW) and solar photovoltaics (PV) (49GW)”.
Growth was so significant that over half of the new electricity capacity installed over the year was accounted for by renewable sources. Renewable capacity grew by 15% compared to 2014, with around 500,000 new solar panels being installed every day, and, in China alone, an average of two wind turbines installed every hour.
Improving renewables policies across the globe have led the body to raise its five year forecast for renewables growth by 13%, compared with last year’s forecast. This will be helped by a predicted fall in costs for new renewable sources, with the IEA expected costs for new solar PV to fall by 25%, and costs for onshore wind to drop by 15%.
Over the next half decade, growth in raw terms (accounting for around 2/3 of global growth) is expected to be concentrated in China (37%), the US (13%), the EU (12%) and India (9%). However, as time goes on, growth is set to be more concentrated in emerging economies, rather than already industrialised ones.
The IEA’s executive director Dr Faith Birol said, “We are witnessing a transformation of global power markets led by renewables and, as is the case with other fields, the centre of gravity for renewable growth is moving to emerging markets”.
Speaking to the Guardian, Birol explained: “If you think of running a marathon, Europe started with a big advance, more than half of the marathon they are leading by far. They are now getting a bit tired, and some others are overtaking Europe slowly but surely.”
Overall, the IEA said that “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.
Even these estimates, Birol said, could be exceeded with certain policy changes.
He said: “I am pleased to see that last year was one of records for renewables and that our projections for growth over the next five years are more optimistic.
“However, even these higher expectations remain modest compared with the huge untapped potential of renewables. The IEA will be working with governments around the world to maximise the deployment of renewables in coming years.”
The UK has been identified as one country where there is much room for improvement, with the IEA lamenting that “the policy landscape for renewables [in the UK] has become more challenging since the 2015 general election”.
With the current government’s focus on shale gas and nuclear, the “role envisioned for renewables is uncertain”, with Mr Birol explaining that unless policy changes, a huge amount of potential will go untapped.
Part of the government’s motivation for focusing on other forms of generation is the need to maintain a secure energy supply, with the unreliability of solar and wind being cited as a mark against renewable generators. However, Birol explained, “The issue is not the predictability of solar and wind, it is the predictability of government policies because investors need to see what their prospects are. This is the main challenge I see in the renewable energy sector.”