Renewables around the worldEthical Energy & Climate News & Features
Renewable energy is increasingly powering the world, but erratic policy making is holding the sector back from its potential contribution to cutting carbon pollution and meeting climate and development targets, according to REN21’s Renewables 2019 Global Status Report (GSR), released today (18 June).
The report confirms that for the fourth consecutive year, more renewable power capacity was installed than fossil fuel and nuclear power combined – 100 gigawatts (GW) of solar PV alone was added in 2018, enough to meet more than 25% of electricity demand in France.
But a lack of ambitious and sustained policies to drive decarbonisation across the heating, cooling and transport sectors means countries are not maximising the benefits of the transition – including cleaner air and energy security – for their people.
‘A key breakthrough could occur if countries cut their fossil fuel subsidies which are propping up dirty energy’, said Rana Adib, executive secretary at REN21.
Subsidising fossil fuels
Ambitious policy and regulatory frameworks are critical to creating favourable and competitive conditions, allowing renewable energy to grow and displace more expensive and carbon-emitting fuels.
40 countries have undertaken some level of fossil fuel subsidy reform since 2015, but these subsidies continued to exist in 112 countries in 2017, with at least 73 countries providing subsidies of over $100 million each.
Estimated total global subsidies for fossil fuel consumption were $300 billion in 2017, an 11% increase from 2016.
The global renewables outlook
Solar PV and wind are now mainstream options in the power sector. Over 90 countries had more than 1 GW of renewable power capacity installed, and 30 countries had more than 10 GW. At least nine countries (Denmark, Uruguay, Ireland, Germany, Portugal, Spain, Greece, UK and Honduras) generated more than 20% of their electricity with solar PV and wind.
Global renewable energy uptake no longer depends on just a few countries. In 2018 the global deployment of renewables kept up a steady pace overall with the European Union’s roll-out slightly up and China’s annual installations and investment declining compared with the previous year. This shows renewable energy is a strong, global powerhouse.
Cities are increasingly becoming strong drivers in renewable energy deployment, adopting some of the most ambitious targets for renewables globally. In numerous cases, these commitments and actions have exceeded national and state/provincial initiatives.
More than 100 cities (ranging from Nairobi, Kenya and Dar es Salaam, Tanzania to Auckland, New Zealand, Stockholm, Sweden and Seattle, USA) use at least 70% renewable electricity, and at least 50 cities put in place renewable energy targets covering power, heating and cooling, and transport.
Transport, heating and cooling
There is a huge opportunity for countries to drive action by expanding the transition to the heating, cooling and transport sectors. Renewables supply more than 26% of global electricity, however they provide only 10% of the energy used for heating and cooling and just over 3% for transport. This imbalance between energy sectors is in large part due to insufficient or unstable policy support. The number of countries with a policy for renewables in heat actually declined.
Despite insufficient support, initiatives in transport, heating and cooling sectors are being implemented. Sustainable biofuels, EVs and fuel economy policies are reducing overall fossil fuel dependency in the transport sector.
Ambitious policies, such as Brazil’s 27% blending mandate for ethanol and California’s Low Carbon Fuel Standard Program, demonstrate renewables’ contribution to the transport sector.
Heating and cooling policies include building energy codes, renewable heat incentives and mandates, and indirect approaches like carbon pricing. Carbon pricing remains acutely under-utilised. By the end of 2018, only 44 national governments, 21 states or provinces and seven cities had implemented carbon pricing policies, covering just 13% of global CO2 emissions.
‘With the countries needing to come back with more ambitious climate targets in 2020, this report shows there are an array of opportunities to scale up action and improve people’s lives by extending the benefits of the energy transition throughout the economy,’
Chair of REN21
Renewables in the UK
The UK is Europe’s largest national investor in renewables, with an increase of 23% in 2018 to $8.3 billion, but industry momentum and private sector investor confidence in ocean energy is slowing, creating an unclear investment outlook for policy support.
The UK hit annual records in shares of generation for both onshore (9.1%) and offshore (8%) wind power. A fifth of global CO2 emissions came from only 100 cities, including London.
The UK is among the largest users of wastes and biomass, and was a major producer of bioelectricity in 2018.
Bio-power capacity increased 30% to 7.7 GW, and generation rose 11% in 2018, to 35.6 TWh.
A 27 MW capacity combined heat and power plant was commissioned in Sandwich, delivering renewable heat and power to 50,000 homes and a nearby business and science park.
The UK solar PV market – which was ninth worldwide for installations in 2017 – declined in 2018 to below 0.3 GW.
Onshore and offshore wind energy generated 17.1% of UK electricity, and the UK maintained its lead for total offshore wind capacity (8 GW).
As of 2017 primary energy demand in the United Kingdom was at its lowest level since 1964.