2015 Was a Record-Breaking Year for Clean Energy, Global Report Reveals

June 7, 2016 | Kelly Tatera

Rooftop solar panels
Photo credit: Intel Free Press/flickr (CC BY 2.0)

Nearly a quarter of the world’s power needs could be supplied by renewables

Of last year’s many scientific achievements to be proud of, a new global status report on clean energy reveals that 2015 was a record-breaking year for renewable energy — in fact, renewables could supply nearly a quarter of the world’s power needs.

The report, put together by the energy policy network REN21, shows how a spike in clean energy investments drove the largest-ever annual increase in clean-energy-generating capacity, adding an estimated 147 gigawatts (GW) to the global grid. This figure tells scientists that, by the end of 2015, renewable energy was able to power nearly a quarter of the world’s energy demand — 23.7 percent to be exact.

Wind and solar energy accounted for the majority of the growth in renewable energy investments, raking in about 77 percent of new installations, trailed by hydropower, which accounted for most of the rest.

DON'T MISS: Denmark Broke its Own World Record for Wind Power Generation in 2015

"What is truly remarkable about these results is that they were achieved at a time when fossil fuel prices were at historic lows, and renewables remained at a significant disadvantage in terms of government subsidies," REN21 executive secretary Christine Lins said in a press statement. "For every dollar spent boosting renewables, nearly 4 dollars were spent to maintain our dependence on fossil fuels."

The report reveals that 2015 global investments in clean energy reached $285.9 billion, beating the previous year’s $273 billion. The torchbearer behind this growth is China, which accounted for more than one-third of the global investments in renewable energy, tailed by the US, Japan, the UK, and India.

"As renewables secure record investments year after year, we are seeing that it is local governments, communities, and citizens who are the real pioneers of this transition to a world powered by 100 percent renewable energy," senior program manager for climate energy, Anna Leidreiter, from the charity World Future Council, said in the status report.

"Their support is logical really – renewable energy delivers impact locally and therefore most cities and communities see a huge benefit in investing in renewable sources to ensure that revenues stay in the region."

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However, in addition to the much-needed investments in the field, it’s important that countries are actually employing the energy source. The report investigated which countries were leading in terms of overall power capacity sourced from renewables, and found that China took the number one spot again, followed by the US, Brazil, Germany, and Canada. But the list dramatically changed when the researchers looked at the capacity of renewable energy power per capita: Denmark was first, trailed by Germany, Sweden, Spain, and Portugal. Bravo to all 9 countries leading the clean energy race.

Still, despite the fact that the report was generally positive, the researchers warn that we’ve still got our work cut out for us. A few notches on the to-do list include addressing policy and political instability, regulatory barriers, and budgetary constraints.

"The renewables train is barrelling down the tracks, but it's running on 20th century infrastructure – a system based on outdated thinking where conventional baseload is generated by fossil fuels and nuclear power," the Chair of REN21, Arthouros Zervos, stated in the release.

"To accelerate the transition to a healthier, more-secure, and climate-safe future, we need to build the equivalent of a high-speed rail network – a smarter, more flexible system that maximises the use of variable sources of renewable energy."

For more information on the report, check out REN21’s video below.


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