By New Scientist staff and Press Association
Record amounts of new renewables were added to energy systems worldwide last year at a lower cost as clean technology prices fell, a report shows.
Wind, solar, biomass, geothermal, small-scale hydropower, marine energy and waste-to-energy schemes added 138.5 gigawatts (GW) to global power capacity, equivalent to the total installed capacity of Canada.
The figure, which excludes large hydroelectric dams, is up 8 per cent from 127.5GW in 2015.
Despite the increase, global investment in new renewables was down almost a quarter to $241.6 billion as the costs of renewables such as solar and wind fell.
The spending per unit of power capacity from solar and wind dropped by more than a tenth in 2016, the report by UN Environment, the Frankfurt School-UNEP Collaborating Centre and Bloomberg New Energy Finance found.
Investment in new renewables was roughly double the amount going into fossil fuel plants and the clean technologies accounted for 55 per cent of capacity added worldwide in 2016.
Electricity coming from renewables, excluding large hydroelectric dams, rose from 10.3 per cent of total generation in 2015 to 11.3 per cent in 2016, preventing an estimated 1.7 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions.
The Global Trends in Renewable Energy Investment 2017 report comes after analysis by the International Energy Agency (IEA) showing carbon emissions from the energy sector flatlined over the last three years despite a growing global economy.
The IEA said this was due to growth in renewables as well as a switch from coal to natural gas and better energy-efficiency.
The Global Trends report shows an extra 75GW of solar power was added in 2016, a new high, while 54GW of wind was installed, down from the previous year’s high of 63GW.
While overall investment in renewables dropped, it rose in Europe by 3 per cent to $59.8 billion.
Offshore wind dominated European investments, with “mega-arrays” such as the 1.2GW Hornsea project off the Yorkshire coast in the North Sea, which is set to install 174 giant wind turbines capable of powering a million homes.
“Ever-cheaper clean tech provides a real opportunity for investors to get more for less,” says Erik Solheim, executive director of UN Environment. “This is exactly the kind of situation, where the needs of profit and people meet, that will drive the shift to a better world for all.”
“The question always used to be ‘will renewables ever be grid competitive?” says Michael Liebreich, chairman of the advisory board of Bloomberg New Energy Finance.
“After the dramatic cost reductions of the past few years, unsubsidised wind and solar can provide the lowest cost new electrical power in an increasing number of countries, even in the developing world – sometimes by a factor of two,” says Liebreich.
“It’s a whole new world,” he says. “Instead of having to subsidise renewables, now authorities may have to subsidise natural gas plants to help them provide grid reliability.”
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