Last year, coal and gas-fired electricity generation drew less than half the record investment made in solar, wind and other renewables. This is just one of several fantastic firsts for green energy announced in a UN-backed report.
$266bn invested in renewables
Global Trends in Renewable Energy Investment 2016, the 10th edition of UNEP’s annual report, states the annual global investment in new renewables capacity, at $266 billion, was more than double the estimated $130 billion invested in coal and gas power stations in 2015.
All investments in renewables, including early-stage technology and R&D as well as spending on new capacity, totalled $286 billion in 2015 – some 3% higher than the previous record in 2011.
That means that since 2004, the world has invested $2.3 trillion in renewable energy (unadjusted for inflation).
Developing nations invest more
Just as significantly, developing world investments in renewables topped those of developed nations for the first time in 2015.
‘Access to clean, modern energy is of enormous value for all societies, but especially so in regions where reliable energy can offer profound improvements in quality of life, economic development and environmental sustainability. Continued and increased investment in renewables is not only good for people and planet, but will be a key element in achieving international targets on climate change and sustainable development.
‘By adopting the Sustainable Development Goals last year, the world pledged to end poverty, promote sustainable development, and to ensure healthier lives and access to affordable, sustainable, clean energy for all. Continued and increased investment in renewables will be a significant part of delivering on that promise.’
UNEP Executive Director
Solar and wind
As in previous years, the report shows the 2015 renewable energy market was dominated by solar photovoltaics and wind, which together added 118GW in generating capacity – far above the previous record of 94GW set in 2014.
Wind added 62GW and photovoltaics 56GW. More modest amounts were provided by biomass and waste-to-power, geothermal, solar thermal and small hydro.
In 2015, more attention was drawn to battery storage as an adjunct to solar and wind projects and to small-scale PV systems. Energy storage is of significant importance as it is one way of providing fast-responding balancing to the grid, whether to deal with demand spikes or variable renewable power generation from wind and solar.
Last year, some 250MW of utility-scale electricity storage (excluding pumped hydro and lead-acid batteries) was installed worldwide, up from 160MW in 2014.
China and India
In 2015, for the first time, investments in renewable energy in developing and emerging economy nations ($156 billion, up 19% compared with 2014) surpassed those in developed countries ($130 billion, down 8% from 2014).
Much of these record-breaking developing world investments took place in China (up 17% to $102.9 billion, or 36% of the world total).