10 things you probably didn’t know about the record breaking year for renewables

With figures from multi-stakeholder network REN21 revealing that 2015 was a record year for renewable energy installations, edie digs deep into the data to bring you 10 surprising statistics about the world's green energy transformation.

According to the Renewables 2016 Global Status Report released Thursday (1 June) by REN21, the renewables sector is now cost competitive with fossil fuels in many markets and is established around the world as mainstream source of energy.

The report reveals that renewable power generating capacity saw its largest increase ever, with an estimated 147 gigawatts (GW) added. 2015 was also a record year for investment – reaching $286bn worldwide in renewable power and fuels.

Rapid growth, particularly in the power sector, was driven by several factors including the improving cost-competiveness of renewable technologies, dedicated policy initiatives, better access to financing, energy security and environmental concerns.

REN21 executive secretary Christine Lins said: “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. For every dollar spent boosting renewables, nearly four dollars were spent to maintain our dependence on fossil fuels.”

With increased investment came an increase in technological advances, cost reductions and jobs. There are now 8.1 million people working in the renewable energy sector, with employment in the industry rising by 5% over the past 12 months.

In the wake of the historic Paris Agreement that brought together the global community, more than 170 countries now have renewable energy targets in place and 146 countries have supported policies. Hidden away in the report are some interesting statistics. edie has analysed the current market trends to bring you 10 takeaway statistics from the renewables industry.

1) Record-high solar and wind investment

The tumbling costs of solar have been driving installations across the world. Solar PV experienced another year of record growth in 2015, with the annual market for new capacity up 25% over 2014. More than 50 GW was added – equivalent to an estimated 185 million solar panels – bringing total global capacity to around 227 GW.

Meanwhile, wind power experienced another record year in 2015, with more than 63 GW added – a 22% increase over the 2014 market – to a global total of around 433 GW. The global wind revolution was led by the Chinese industry, which installed 30.8 GW of new capacity and increased its cumulative capacity to 145 GW.

2) China achieved 100% electrification

China, often viewed by onlookers as a polluted, coal-powered villain in debates on climate change, has gradually established its position as the leading installer of solar power, introducing plans to reduce emissions further by postponing the developments of 200 coal-fired power plants – both operational and planned – until at least 2018.

At one point the world’s most populous nation achieved 100% electrification from renewables, in part because of significant off-grid solar PV installed since 2012. China now has a 519GW capacity – 22GW more than the entirety of Europe.

3) Hydropower making waves across the industry

At the end of 2015, global renewable generation capacity amounted to 1,985 GW. Hydro accounted for the largest share of the global total, with an installed capacity of 1,064 GW. In 2015, three-quarters of new hydro capacity was installed in Brazil, China, India and Turkey (26.3 GW in total). More than one gigawatt of new capacity was also installed in Europe, North America and the Middle East (Iran), plus 550 MW in Africa.

4) EU solar continues to stagnate

The EU solar PV market was far below its 2011 peak, restrained by a shift away from Feed-in-Tariffs (FiT) and general policy uncertainty. Nevertheless, about 7.5 GW was added, bringing the region’s total to almost 95 GW of operating solar PV capacity, well ahead of all other regions. Three countries – the United Kingdom (3.7 GW), Germany (1.5 GW) and France (0.9 GW) – were responsible for more than 75% of the EU’s new grid-connected capacity; with the UK accelerating installations in anticipation of Renewables Obligation (RO) expirations and FiT cuts.

5) Brazil produces twice as much biofuels as the EU

The use of biofuel as a low-carbon source continues to irk some green campaigners, especially following a recent report which claimed that the climate impact of biodiesel from palm oil is three times that of fossil diesel. But with ExxonMobil exploring its potential, biofuel remains a valuable part of the renewables jigsaw.

Global production of biofuels was dominated by the US and Brazil, the world’s second largest biofuel producer. The Latin American nation significantly increased both ethanol and biodiesel production during 2015, due to good sugarcane harvests and blending mandates. Total production of biofuels in Brazil rose to 32.3 billion litres, twice the amount of the 28 EU countries.

6) Mauritania heads renewable energy investment surge

With China accounting for more than one third of the global total, developing countries surpassed developed countries in total renewable energy investments for the first time.

Several developing countries saw substantial increases, due at least in part to rapidly expanding markets driven by falling solar and wind power technology costs. Considering investments made in new renewable power and fuels relative to annual GDP, top countries included in Mauritania, Honduras, Uruguay, Morocco and Jamaica.

7) Iceland has the highest share of energy from renewables 

Today nearly all of Iceland’s electricity and heating is provided by renewable sources, i.e. hydropower and geothermal energy. Iceland recorded the highest share of final energy from renewable sources (77.1%) in 2013/14, the most recent data available. The European Union (EU) average is somewhat lower, at just over 15%.

8) Turkey possesses the largest geothermal market

Turkey led the geothermal power market in 2015, commanding about half of new global capacity additions. The country continued its relatively rapid build-up of geothermal power capacity, with 10 units completed in the past twelve months, adding 159 MW for a total of at least 624 MW. This represents a dramatic growth for geothermal power generation capacity, considering in 2008 the overall installed capacity was 30 MW. Turkey is well on its way to meeting its goal of having 1 GW of geothermal power capacity in place by 2023.

9) Costa Rica reaches 99% electricity generation

Countries across Latin America achieved high shares of their electricity generation with renewables. None more so than Costa Rica, which generated 99% of its electricity from renewable sources and is well on course to achieve a 100% target by 2030. The country’s economy relies on tourism and agriculture, not energy-intensive industries like manufacturing. Costa Rica also has some natural advantages, being filled with volcanoes able to tap into geothermal power.

10) Growth of cities committing to 100% renewables targets

The list of cities around the world that have committed to achieving a 100% renewable electricity or energy (across all sectors) system is growing rapidly. The 100% Renewable Energy movement expanded in 2015 with new members including Byron Shire, Coffs Harbour and Uralla in Australia; Oxford County and Vancouver in Canada; and the US cities of Rochester (Minnesota) and San Diego (California).

George Ogleby

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