A new report from policy network REN21 (Renewable Energy Policy Network for the 21st Century) has shown that investment in and construction of renewable energy sources reached record levels in 2015.
Over the course of the last year, around 147 gigawatts worth of new renewable generating capacity was installed and made active, driven mostly by new solar and wind plants.
Investment in renewable sources increased to a massive $286 billion over the year, more than double the amount invested in gas and coal power and up from $274 billion in 2014.
Importantly, according to REN21, one of the biggest things that has been demonstrated in the past year is the commercial and economic viability of renewables, something that previously has been seen as an obstacle to a lower carbon transition.
“What is truly remarkable about these results is that they were achieved when fossil fuel prices were at historic lows, and renewable remained at a significant disadvantage in terms of government subsidies. For every dollar spend boosting renewables, nearly four dollars were spent to maintain our dependence on fossil fuels” said Christine Lins, the head of REN21.
She went on: “The fact that we had 147GW of capacity, mainly of wind and solar, is a clear indication that these technologies are cost competitive with fossil fuels.
“They are the preference for many countries and more and more utilities and investors and that is a very positive signal.”
Of the $286 billion fed into renewable generators, more than half (56%) was invested in solar power, and 38% in wind. In terms of new capacity, wind power was the leading source last year, with “a record 63 GW added” making “a total of about 433GW”.
This year marked an important milestone as a significant amount of the money invested in renewables came from emerging economies and from countries previously criticised for their huge role in contributing to global C02 emissions.
Around a third of the investment in renewables in 2015 came from China, with the rest of the top five investors made up of Japan, the US, India and the UK.
Relative to GDP, the biggest investors were Jamaica, Honduras, Uruguay and Mauritania. Commenting on this, Lins said: “It clearly shows that the costs have come down so much that the emerging economies are now really focusing on renewables.
“They are the ones with the biggest increases in energy demand, and the fact that we had this turning point really shows the business case – and that is really a remarkable development.”
Within Europe, investment in renewables actually fell over the year by 21%, as subsidies and various other policy support instruments were removed. However, renewables still made up just under 45% of Europe’s energy capacity mix, with wind power playing a key role.
In the UK, renewable investment grew by 25% according to the report, but there is some worry that with the various solar subsidies that have been withdrawn since the data for the report was compiled, this could drop.
Jean-Francois Fauconnier at Climate Action Network Europe warned that Europe faces a struggle at the moment, given the removal of subsidies running in opposition to climate change commitments, especially since the Paris Summit.
He said: “The EU is at risk of missing the ongoing energy revolution and lagging behind other leading economies for decades.”
Nonetheless, Europe continues to supply a large proportion of the world’s wind energy, with new generators still being built.
As well as investment increasing and overall power generation capacity growing, a recent report from the International Renewable Energy Agency showed that employment in renewables jumped by more than 5% in 2015, while jobs fell in the oil industry as major companies struggled against plummeting commodity prices.
Oil prices are beginning to stabilise after the huge hit they took in the 18 months running up to the beginning of this year, but these figures from REN21 look to show that despite the renewed strength this may give the industry, renewable energy is on a strong enough trajectory to be able to weather the competition.