Massive gains in global renewable energy generation capacity last year

The other day Chris from made an interesting comment on my post on coal power as the “saviour” of those in Third World poverty.  You can see my response here, but she got me thinking that I should look into how renewable energy generation has been going recently.

This morning ABC News saved me the trouble.  They have a post on the global expansion of renewable energy generation which provides a good overview of what is happening.  As they show, if you strip out the figures for hydropower which distort the calculation of annual percentage growth because of the very large existing base of “old” hydropower plants, the expansion of other, newer, forms of renewable energy is very impressive.

Despite tumbling fossil fuel prices, global renewable energy experienced its greatest surge in capacity last year, growing 9 per cent or around 147 gigawatts (GW) of power.

Stripping out hydro – the world’s largest source of renewable energy – other technologies such as solar, geothermal and wind grew by 18 per cent according a report published by REN21, a network of global government, non-government and research organisations involved in the sector.

“The world now adds more renewable power capacity annually than it adds from all fossil fuels combined,” the report noted.

“By the end of 2015, renewable capacity in place was enough to supply an estimated 23.7 per cent of global electricity, with hydropower providing about 16.6 per cent.”

While the growth was supported by several factors – including better financing, more sympathetic policies, as well as energy security and environmental concerns – the key driver was that renewables were now cost competitive in many markets.

“This growth occurred despite tumbling global prices for all fossil fuels, ongoing fossil fuel subsidies and other challenges facing renewables, including the integration of rising shares of renewable generation, policy and political instability, regulatory barriers and fiscal constraints,” the report said.

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) estimated fossil fuel companies last year received subsidies totalling around $US5.3 trillion ($7.3 trillion) worldwide, although the International Energy Agency put the figure at a more modest $US493 billion ($680 billion) largely due to a lower estimate of the potential costs of carbon pollution.

Solar PV capacity grew by 27 per cent to a total 227 GW capacity, while wind power was up by 17 per cent to 433 GW.

You can see the full ABC News article here.

It would be interesting to see the current figures for solar PV installation in the Lockyer Valley Region.  In a November 2012 post I calculated that 21.2% of the private houses in the Lockyer had solar power installations – up with the best in Australia at the time.


6 thoughts on “Massive gains in global renewable energy generation capacity last year

  1. Sorry, I haven’t replied. I’ve just found your responses. Like you, life has been crazy busy. It never stops when you live on acreage. 😉

    Thanks for all the links and book recommendation. I’ll investigate them.

  2. I still cant believe the imbalance of subsidies between fossil fuels and renewables, this just shows how viable renewable energy has become.

    Denmark is making tremendous strides towards 100% renewable energy future. i feel hopeful that renewable energy is reaching a point at which it will start to realize exponential growth, this again in spite of disinformation campaigns by the fossil fuel industry, and claims of “clean coal” and such misleading statements.

    As renewable energy becomes more common and affordable there will be a natural, and hopefully rapid, migration towards non fossil fuel energy.

    i saw a novel innovation of energy storage by using large balloons under the sea which were filled with compressed air during excess renewable energy production during the day. At times of low wind or sun availability, the compressed air was allowed to return from the balloons to drive the generator turbines, something like a pumped storage scheme, but probably a lot cheaper and if you don’t have the topography to accommodate an elevated storage dam, this is a good alternative.

    I read an IMF report for 2015 which stated that global subsidies for fossil fuel are conservatively calculated at $14.5 billion per day, taking into account environmental damage and health costs, associated with fossil fuel burning, compared to the tiny $120 billion per year for renewable energy. Kind of puts things in perspective, and you still have people saying things like ” oh yes but renewable energy is only competitive because of large subsidies”.

  3. We have a long street, consisting of approximately 5 acre blocks each, and I think everyone has solar on their roofs. Which is fantastic when the sun shines, however, we lost power last night (overload which broke something) and the only power in our street was from petrol generators, lol. The irony. 😉

    It would be great if we had a battery back-up for those down times, however, this ties into your comment about alternative energies becoming more affordable. I imagine the data being used in the ABC report, is calculating specifically grid connected use. I imagine they are not also calculating off grid in the energy generated calculations. So this affordability, was spurred by demand in components, which the government’s financial rebate targeted – on grid solar. Which is why the cost of batteries to store solar power, and the more expensive inverters for off-grid, are not so cost competitive.

    The demand for on-grid components had a knock-on effect for off-grid ones, certainly, so it’s brought down the cost somewhat. More so, than if on-grid systems weren’t subsidised at all. But it still means, if you want to buy components which give you the flexibility of off-grid, during times the grid is down (or even completely off grid) you’re still looking at more inflated costs without the subsidies. Which is important to distinguish in this report. I’d love to read it by the way, but the link isn’t working. The reason its important to distinguish, is so people can understand what model of solar generation, has become the most affordable.

    The report (by the sounds of it) showed how well the government’s financial initiatives, were able to stimulate growth in alternative energies, making it more affordable. However, it also provided the dilemma for government to pay back the money it borrowed, with interest. Which forces them to stick to the “growth at all costs” economic model. Growth at all costs, will never concede to environmental constraints. So on one hand, it gives to help the environment, at the same time it continues to consume so much of the environment, in the pursuit to grow economically. It’s quite the conundrum for us all.

    The reason alternative energies have become more affordable though, is because of the increase in government subsidies. Individual householders, were not able to come up with the money on their own. It’s nice to see an economic success story come out of this. It brought down the cost of solar components, while it also stimulated growth in this new energy sector. But do you think we’ve also fallen into the industrial mindset as a nation, to see Carbon as the cause of climate change – rather than the economic growth model of so many superpowers now? I don’t have the answer, its just something I’ve been pondering myself lately. Even if we could bring carbon levels down on an output basis, but continued to grow around the globe (expanding into the natural environment) we would ruin the natural elements in place to regulate the global temperatures anyway.

    I’m not suggesting alternative energies be dropped, but I wonder if we’re changing the trajectory by much?

    • Hi Chris. Sorry for the long delay in responding. Lately I’ve been frantically busy with supporting a response to a developer appeal against the Council refusing their application to establish a motocross facility in a most inappropriate area, and also managing our community group’s partnership with a Griffith Uni Honours researcher to do a major survey of koalas in the eastern portion of the Lockyer National Park. On top of the usual workload of maintaining our property etc.

      I can’t answer all of the good points you are making, however as a start (in relation to your questions about affordability and whether or not a renewable energy system can exist without a fossil-fuel (coal) backup generation and electrical grid system – have a look at

      I will try to come back to your other points, but there are so many of them and my time right now is pretty limited. But good to see your thoughtful comments – they make me review my opinions.

    • Regarding subsidies: a different way to look at the issue is, rather than advocating more subsidies for renewable energy, advocate the removal of subsidies from fossil fuels. If those fossil fuel subsidies were removed then the price of fossil fuels would increase significantly – and there would be a much more level playing field in which renewable energy sources would do even better than they are doing now.

      Here is some info on the global extent of fossil fuel subsidies from

      The IEA, within the framework of the World Energy Outlook, has been measuring fossil-fuel subsidies in a systematic and regular fashion for more than a decade. Its analysis is aimed at demonstrating the impact of fossil-fuel subsidy removal for energy markets, climate change and government budgets. The IEA’s latest estimates indicate that fossil-fuel consumption subsidies worldwide amounted to $493 billion in 2014, $39 billion down on the previous year, in part due to the drop in international energy prices, with subsidies to oil products representing over half of the total. Those subsidies were over four-times the value of subsidies to renewable energy.

      Since 2009 the IEA has provided ongoing input to the G-20 and APEC in support of their commitments to “rationalize and phase out over the medium term inefficient fossil fuel subsidies that encourage wasteful consumption”. Many countries are now pursuing reforms, but steep economic, political and social hurdles will need to be overcome to realise lasting gains.
      In actual fact, on a global basis renewables are doing amazingly well, for example last year the amount invested in new generating capacity for renewable energy was higher than the amount invested in new generating capacity for fossil fuel systems.

      Imagine how much more quickly the switch would take place if there was no subside for fossil fuels, or since the change is so urgent, how about half or even one quarter of the fossil fuel subsidies were re-directed to renewable energy.

      Looking at your comments on the real cause of climate change – unarguably the proximal cause of climate change is greenhouse gases, of which carbon dioxide is the most common. But you are right to question the causes behind the release of too much greenhouse gases. I completely agree that the capitalist system is one of the major drivers and also one of the major impediments to reducing greenhouse gas emissions. There are a whole lot of issues/causes bundled up under the heading "capitalism" – the nature and governance of corporations for one thing. Books have been written about it so I'm not going to go into the details here, but from my point of view there are three issues that need to be overcome: 1. the corporate capture of government through a whole lot of mechanisms; 2. the legal system that generally lets corporate executives and shareholders off the hook with respect to the illegal or unethical activities and impacts of corporate actions and does not allow blame to be apportioned where it belongs; 3. laws that give corporations "personhood" in the courts and under laws.

      The pursuit of endless economic growth is a product of the raison d'etre of corporations, but is compounded by the role that debt plays in both the functioning or corporations, but also and perhaps most significantly in the monetary system. This is a complex discussion, but if you want a thorough and relatively clear discussion of most aspects of it, have a look at Samuel Alexander's book "Prosperous Descent: Crisis as Opportunity in an Age of Limits". You can download it for $10 from the simplicity institute's website. You will never think about the economy, debt, "money printing", or "quantitative easing" in the same way again, and you will understand why the infinite economic growth mantra is so difficult to dispel.

      But if you are going to cite the capitalist system and economic growth as important causes of increases in GHG emissions (and reluctance to do anything about it), then you surely need to mention also population growth as being in the same league.

      Chris, I'm running out of time. I hope I've given you some new ideas, and also some confidence that the things you are concerned about are well worth being concerned about – and at the same time, learning more about, so that you/we all can better understand what we are up against and how to most effectively work to overcome the problems stopping us from taking meaningful action to avoid catastrophic climate change.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s