Global Renewable Energy Is Status Positive

The headline figure from the authoritative REN21 Renewables Global Status Report 2015 (GSR) states renewables accounted for more than 59 percent of all new electricity generating capacity installed worldwide during 2014.

That near 60 percent is an unequivocal statement of scale from the worldwide renewable energy sector and represents ratification for many policymakers — renewable energy targets and other support policies are now in place in 164 countries. But perhaps more significantly, the report notes that for the first time in four decades global carbon emissions associated with energy consumption remained stable in 2014, despite a 1.5 percent increase in energy use and 3 percent growth in global GDP.

This dissociation between economic growth and carbon emissions is attributed to the increased penetration of renewable energy and to improvements in energy efficiency, led in no small part by China’s rapidly increasing use of renewables.

“This encouraging trend is due to the remarkable success of renewables. It should energize all efforts to make the important climate summit in Paris in the end of this year a success story as well,” commented Alexander Ochs, Director of Climate and Energy Program at the Worldwatch Institute.

About 135 GW of renewable energy capacity was added over the year, of which 128 GW came from wind, PV and hydro alone. Total installed renewable energy capacity is now 1,712 GW, up 8.5 percent from 2013. This equates to around 27.7 percent of the total global generating capacity, enough to supply an estimated 22.8 percent of global electricity, with hydropower alone providing about 16.6 percent.

Solid Overall Growth for 2014

Although renewables faced policy challenges in some countries, such as the imposition of new taxes in Europe and the expiration of the US federal production tax credit, some technologies experienced more rapid growth in deployment in 2014 than they have averaged over the past five years.

The REN21 analysis concludes that in many countries renewables are broadly competitive with conventional energy sources. Indeed, in many nations renewables already contribute significant proportion of supply. For example, in 2014 wind power met 39.1 per cent of electricity demand in Denmark, 27 per cent in Portugal, and 21 per cent in Nicaragua, while solar PV met an estimated 7.9 per cent of electricity demand in Italy, 7.6 per cent in Greece, and 7 per cent in Germany.

However, it’s perhaps no coincidence that as policymakers have focused predominantly on the power sector, the bulk of new capacity and investment centred on just three technologies: solar PV, wind, and hydropower. Globally, wind and solar PV each saw record capacity additions — each surpassing hydropower — and together they accounted for more than 90 percent of non-hydro installations in 2014.

Solar power and wind were the leading technologies by far in terms of investment dollars committed, with mostly solar PV accounting for more than 55 percent of new investment in renewable power and fuels not including large hydro. Wind power took a 36.8 percent share and both saw significant increases over 2013: solar power investments rose 25 percent to $149.5 billion, while wind advanced 11 per cent to $99.5 billion.

China, the USA, Brazil, Germany, and Canada remained the top countries for total installed renewable generation capacity, with China alone home to approximately a quarter of the global total, including about 280 GW of hydro. Top countries for non-hydro capacity were China again, the USA and Germany followed by Italy, Spain, Japan, and India, which all ended the year with similar capacity levels.

Among the world’s top 20 countries for non-hydro renewable power capacity, those with the highest capacity amounts per inhabitant were all in Europe — where Denmark has a clear lead, followed by Germany, Sweden, Spain, and Portugal.

Developing Nation RE Investment Up More Than A Third

Globally new investment in non-large hydro renewable power and fuels increased 17 percent over 2013 figures, to $270.2 billion. Including large-scale hydropower, new investment in renewable power and fuels reached at least $301 billion, outpacing net investment in fossil fuels for the fifth year running.

However, investment in developing countries was up 36 percent from the previous year to $131.3 billion, coming closer than ever to surpassing the investment total for developed economies, which reached $138.9 billion in 2014 but grew only 3 percent on 2013 figures.

China, which added the most wind power, solar PV, and hydropower capacity of any country in the world in 2014, accounted for 63 percent of developing country investment. Meanwhile Chile, Indonesia, Kenya, Mexico, South Africa and Turkey each invested more than $1 billion in renewable energy over the year.

In terms of dollars spent, the leading countries for investment were China, the USA, Japan, the UK, and Germany. Relative to GDP though, and the top countries included Burundi, Kenya, Honduras, Jordan, and Uruguay. Leading countries for investment per inhabitant were the Netherlands, Japan, Uruguay, the UK, with Ireland and Canada both about even.

In 2014, an estimated 7.7 million people worldwide worked directly or indirectly in the sector.

Solar Continues Stellar Growth

Solar PV capacity has grown at the most phenomenal rate — up 48-fold over the 10 years from 2004 to 2014 (3.7 GW to 177 GW). Rapidly falling costs have made unsubsidized solar-generated electricity more cost-competitive, fuelling the record-breaking 40 GW added capacity installed in 2014.

The top three PV markets, China, Japan, and the United States, accounted for the vast majority of new capacity, followed by the UK and Germany. Five countries added more than 1 GW of solar PV to their grids in 2014. Others in the top 10 for additions were France, Australia, South Korea, South Africa, and India.

Leaders for solar PV per inhabitant were Germany, Italy, Belgium, Greece, the Czech Republic, and Japan. Nonetheless, Asia eclipsed all other markets — accounting for almost 60 percent of global additions and where China alone increased its cumulative capacity by 60 per cent — adding a reported 10.6 GW for a total exceeding 28 GW. Over 80 percent of China’s new capacity was in large-scale plants.

Japan’s market continued its rapid expansion in 2014, with an estimated 9.7 GW added to the grid raising total capacity to 23.3 GW. Again, commercial and utility-scale projects drove demand. Elsewhere in Asia, the largest market was South Korea, followed by India and Thailand with 0.9 GW, 0.7 GW and 0.5 GW, respectively.

North America added 6.7 GW in 2014, of which Canada accounted for about 0.5 GW for a year-end total of 1.7 GW.

US installations were up 30 per cent over 2013 to 6.2 GW for a total of some 18.3 GW at the end of 2014. For the first time, each of the three major market segments (residential, commercial, and utility) installed more than 1 GW, although commercial sector demand declined slightly.

The EU continued to lead the world in total regional operating capacity with 87 GW though EU markets declined for the third year running, with an estimated 6.3 GW added — well down from the 2011 peak of 22 GW. Italy and Spain saw precipitous declines in 2014, while the German market at 1.9 GW shrank 43 per cent relative to 2013 and former GW-sized markets, including Belgium, Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, and Greece, installed little capacity in 2014.

Exceptions to the trend included France, the Netherlands, Switzerland, and the UK, which installed 2.4 GW for a year-end total of 5.2 GW.

Australia ranked seventh globally for new capacity in 2014, adding 0.9 GW for a total surpassing 4.1 GW.

In Latin America, Chile added 395 MW to its existing 12 MW and accounted for the vast majority of the region’s installations. Much of this growth is in large-scale projects that supply the mining industry, as well as large merchant plants that rely on the spot market for revenue. Mexico also saw substantial growth with 64 MW.

Some new markets are also starting to install measurable capacities of solar PV, both on- and off-grid. South Africa, for example, installed about 0.8 GW in 2014 to rank ninth globally for capacity added, and Rwanda commissioned a solar PV farm (8.5 MW) in 2014 that represents 7 percent of national installed power capacity.

By early 2015, at least 70 solar PV plants larger than 50 MW were operating in at least 14 countries. The top 10 were all in China, India, and the USA.

Global PV capacity in operation at the end of 2014 was enough to produce at least 200 TWh of electricity per year.

Asia Leads Wind Market for Seventh Year

Wind power capacity has grown by a factor of eight in the 10 years since 2004 (48 GW to 370 GW in 2014) and growth resumed in 2014, which marked another record year. Over 51 GW of new capacity was added, representing a 44 percent increase over 2013.

China alone added an estimated 23.2 GW and accounted for 45 per cent of global additions while Asia remained the largest market for the seventh consecutive year and overtook Europe in cumulative capacity.

With a total installed capacity approaching 115 GW, wind generated 156.3 TWh for China in 2014, accounting for 2.8 per cent of the country’s total demand.

New markets are also developing in Indonesia, Mongolia, Pakistan, the Philippines, Thailand, and Vietnam. Pakistan added 150 MW for a year-end total of 256 MW, followed in the region by Japan at 130 MW. India was the world’s fifth largest market at 2.3 GW — up 34 percent over 2013 — and remained fifth globally for cumulative capacity with 22.5 GW.

In terms of wind installations, China is followed distantly by Germany, the USA and Brazil. Others in the top 10 were Canada, the UK, Sweden, France, and Turkey. Leading countries for total wind power capacity per inhabitant were Denmark, Sweden, Germany (which moved up from sixth place in 2013), Spain, and Ireland.

Although the European Union yielded its position as the top region for cumulative wind capacity to Asia in 2014, it nonetheless saw its second highest installations ever, largely thanks to Germany, and the market grew by 4 per cent.

An estimated 1.7 GW of grid-connected capacity was also added offshore — all in the UK, Germany, Belgium, and China — bringing the global total to more than 8.5 GW, 8 GW of which is in Europe.

More than 11.8 GW of wind capacity was added to EU grids, for a total approaching 129 GW. Germany and the UK accounted for 59 percent of new EU installations — this compares with 46 percent in 2013 — with Germany surpassing its 2013 record, adding nearly 5.3 GW.  The UK added 1.7 GW to the grid for a year-end total of 12.4 GW, 36 per cent of which operates offshore.

Other top markets included Sweden with 1.1 GW installed and France with 1 GW. Conversely, several previously important markets such as Denmark, Italy, and Spain saw declines relative to 2013.

The United States ranked third for additions with nearly 4.9 GW, second for cumulative capacity with nearly 66 GW), and first for wind power generation with more than 181.8 TWh. Rebounding, with a record 13 GW under construction as of early 2015, Texas led for capacity added with more than 1.8 GW alone, followed by Oklahoma, Iowa, Washington, and Colorado.

Canada also had a strong year, surpassing its 2013 record. It added nearly 1.9 GW, for a total of 9.7 GW, led by Ontario with 1 GW, Quebec at 0.5 GW, and Alberta at 0.4 GW added.

To the south, wind power is picking up speed in several new markets across Latin America and the Caribbean. The region added about 4.3 GW during 2014, with Mexico adding 0.6 GW, Chile 0.5 GW, Uruguay 0.4 GW, and Peru adding 146 MW marking the top markets after Brazil, which installed a record 2.5 GW, double its 2013 market.

Australia added nearly 0.6 GW of wind capacity, bringing its total to 3.8 GW and providing 4 per cent of national electricity in 2014. Turkey also moved into the top 10 markets by adding 0.8 GW, after installing about 0.5 GW annually since 2010, for a total approaching 3.8 GW.

Collectively, Africa installed nearly 1 GW during the year thanks largely to South Africa, which increased its capacity from 10 MW to 570 MW in a single year. Morocco followed with 300 MW and Egypt came third on 60 MW followed by Algeria’s 10 MW, its first large-scale wind farm.

Morocco, with a total approaching 0.8 GW, surpassed Egypt’s 0.6 GW to lead the African continent for total wind power capacity at year’s end.

The top 10 countries accounted for 84 percent of year-end global capacity, but by the end of 2014, 24 countries had more than 1 GW installed.

Hydropower Additions Lead by China

An estimated 37 GW of new hydropower capacity was commissioned in 2014, 3.6 percent growth, raising the global total to approximately 1,055 GW.  By far, the most new capacity was installed in China, with significant capacity also added in Brazil, Canada, Turkey, India, and Russia.

The top countries for hydropower capacity and generation remained China, Brazil, the United States, Canada, Russia, and India, which together accounted for about 60 percent of global installed capacity at the end of 2014.

Global hydropower generation, which varies each year with hydrological conditions, was estimated at 3,900 TWh in 2014, an increase of more than 3 per cent from 2013. Hydropower generation declined in many countries due to droughts, but it recovered significantly in China following a drop in 2013.

China commissioned almost 22 GW — actually down 29 per cent relative to 2013 — for a year-end total of 280 GW, exceeding 1000 TWh of hydropower generation for the first time.

Brazil added 3.3 GW in 2014, including 138 MW of small-scale hydro for a year-end total of 89.2 GW, though hydropower output has been severely affected by prolonged droughts.

Ranking third for new installations was Canada, which completed 1.7 GW of new hydropower capacity in 2014, raising its total generating stock to 77.4 GW. However, output dropped by 3.1 percent to 375 TWh.

In Russia, net capacity additions in 2014 were 1.1 GW, increasing installed capacity to 47.7 GW.

Renewables Outlook

Renewable energy provided an estimated 19.1 percent of global final energy consumption in 2013 — the latest figures available — and growth in capacity and generation expanded in 2014, enough to supply an estimated 22.8 percent of global electricity.

This growth has been driven by both renewable energy support policies and the increasing cost-competiveness of renewable energy. Nonetheless, the report also finds that growth continues to be tempered by subsidies to fossil fuels and nuclear power, particularly in developing countries.

For all its impressive contribution to world’s energy mix, Christine Lins, Executive Secretary of REN21, summarises the perennial challenge for renewables: “Creating a level playing field would strengthen the development and use of energy efficiency and renewable energy technologies. Removing fossil-fuel and nuclear subsidies globally would make it evident that renewables are the cheapest energy option.”

Indeed, REN21 makes a number of policy recommendations based on its research, primarily it argues that policy programmes should shift away from single-technology support schemes towards measures that support a balanced combination of diverse technologies. In addition, more work must be done to support/enable more flexible power grids, increase demand-side management and integrate renewable energy-based power systems with the transport, buildings, industry, and heating and cooling sectors.

Other recommendations include the standard call for stable and predictable policies that can adapt to a changing environment, increased support for the renewable heating and cooling sector and improved access to finance in developing countries — all areas where big gains could be made from some focused policies.


  • David Appleyard is a contributing editor. Formerly Editor in Chief of Renewable Energy World and sister renewable energy magazines Wind Technology, Large Scale Solar and HRW - Hydro Review Worldwide, now a freelance journalist and photographer contributing to a wide range of on-line and print publications. David has some 20 years' experience of writing about the renewable energy sector and is based in Europe.

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David Appleyard is a contributing editor. Formerly Editor in Chief of Renewable Energy World and sister renewable energy magazines Wind Technology, Large Scale Solar and HRW - Hydro Review Worldwide, now a freelance journalist and photographer contributing to a wide range of on-line and print publications. David has some 20 years' experience of writing about the renewable energy sector and is based in Europe.

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