Last year, renewable energy accounted for more than half of all new forms of power generation produced worldwide. It's an unprecedented milestone for our civilisation — one that points to a bright future for solar and wind power. An array of mirrors at the Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System. (Image: AP)
A new report put out by the International Energy Agency shows that renewable electricity capacity growth reached an all-time high in 2015, hitting the 153 gigawatt (GW) mark. That's a 15 per cent increase from 2014. To put this figure into perspective, the total in renewables growth is equivalent to the total current power capacity of Canada. Incredibly, about half a million solar panels were installed each day around the world last year.
The lion's share of this growth (about three-quarters worth) came in the form of new onshore wind and solar power plants. The IEA says that, for the first time, "renewables accounted for more than half of net annual additions to power capacity and overtook coal in terms of cumulative installed capacity in the world." (By net capacity, the IEA is referring to new capacity minus retired capacity, such as old hydro or coal plants being taken offline.)
That last point bears repeating. Renewables in the form of solar and wind now account for more installed capacity than any other form of electricity, including coal. That's huge, especially in consideration of the ambitious climate targets reached in Paris last year.
Wind turbines stand clustered offshore in Dronten, the Netherlands. (Image: AP)
Reasons for the surge in renewables were attributed to supportive government policies and sharp reductions in the cost of solar and wind. Encouragingly, the IEA says these trends are likely to continue, and it's projecting a 42 per cent increase in global renewable electricity capacity by 2021. Overall, the share of renewables in electricity generation will rise from 23 per cent in 2015 to a projected 28 per cent in 2021. That's slightly over a quarter of the world's total electricity need, so there's still plenty of room for improvement.
"China remains the undisputable global leader of renewable energy expansion, representing close to 40 per cent of growth," write the authors of the new report. China, which recently adopted a pro-environment policy, is concerned about ongoing desertification, rising sea levels and poor air quality. Last year, China installed wind turbines at a rate of two every hour.
The European Union and the United States made sizable advances last year as well, but the IEA says "Asia is the engine of renewable power capacity and growth", adding that "In the next five years, [China] and India alone will account for almost half of global renewable capacity additions".
If there was any doubt about the future of renewables, this report should answer any lingering concerns. And as the price of solar and wind continues to plummet, traditional forms of energy simply won't be worth it — both fiscally and environmentally.