10 things you probably didn’t know about the renewables revolution

With new figures from the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) revealing that renewables grew at record pace in 2015, edie digs deep into the data to bring you 10 surprising statistics about the world's green energy transformation.

According to Renewable Capacity Statistics 2016, released by UN-backed clean energy agency IRENA on Friday (8 April), global renewable energy capacity grew by 8.3% last year, as countries added 152GW of renewable capacity. (Scroll down for interactive map)

According to IRENA, this surge in renewable installations was led, in large, by tumbling installations costs which saw total worldwide capacity reach 1,985GW at the end of 2015 – a 33% rise since 2010.

“Renewable energy deployment continues to surge in markets around the globe, even in an era of low oil and gas prices,” IRENA’s director general Adnan Z. Amin said. “Falling costs for renewable energy technologies, and a host of economic, social and environmental drivers are favouring renewables over conventional power sources.”

Interactive Map: The world’s top 20 renewable energy generators

This analysis follows on from another UN-backed report which revealed that renewable energy sources added more generation capacity than all other technologies combined in 2015, with a world record total of £286bn invested in renewables across the globe.

So, the renewables revolution is in full swing with nations ramping up capacity and global investment smashing records. But hidden away in the report are some interesting statistics. edie has analysed this latest batch of data to bring you 10 things that you probable didn’t know about global renewable energy capacity.

(Note: IRENA’s renewable power generation capacity data is measured as the maximum net generating capacity of power plants and other installations that use renewable energy sources to produce electricity. For most countries and technologies, the data reflects the capacity installed and connected at the end of the calendar year)

1) China has more renewable capacity than the whole of Europe

As the world’s largest carbon emitter, China is taking its share of responsibility in regards to renewable installation deployment. What is even more encouraging is that China now has a 519GW capacity – 22GW more than the entirety of Europe. A major development in 2015 was the 48% increase in solar capacity across Asia, where 15GW of new capacity was installed in China (and another 10GW in Japan).

2) The UK has the 5th highest European capacity (and ranks 11th overall)

Much has been made about the UK Government’s recent cuts to renewable subsidies and an ever changing green policy, but since 2006 the UK has actually leapfrogged Switzerland, Sweden and Norway to make the top five countries in terms of renewable capacity in Europe. At 33GW, the UK is also the 12th largest renewables producer by capacity. Earlier this month, the Department of Energy and Climate Change unveiled new energy trends and price data for the fourth quarter of 2015, generating the folowing pie chart for the full year.

3) 19 countries installed more than 1GW of capacity in 2015

This is probably the fact that optimises the international fall in installation costs the most. With the signing of the Paris Agreement on the horizon (pending a potential boycott), countries across the globe are ramping up installation efforts. The expansion of renewables remains mostly focused on a few countries, though, with 19 countries installing over one gigawatt during 2015 and these countries accounting for more than 90%. Asia accounted for 58% of new capacity last year, bringing its total to almost 800 GW or 40% of global capacity.

4) Hydropower continues to rule the waves of renewable energy generation

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 1,209 GW. Three-quarters of this was in large-scale plants of over 10 MW. In 2015, three-quarters of new hydro capacity was installed in Brazil, China, India and Turkey (26.3 GW in total). Over one gigawatt of new capacity was also installed in Europe, North America and the Middle East (Iran), plus 550 MW in Africa.

5) Japan installed 2.4GW more than the whole of Europe in solar installations last year

When thinking of the world’s largest emitters, Japan seems to get lost in the mire. Dwarfed by nearby China in terms of landmass, emissions and renewable capacity, it becomes easy to forget that Japan is in fact is the world’s eighth largest emitter. To see the land of the rising sun add a further 10GW of solar capacity – compared to Europe’s 7.6GW – last year alone is welcome news.

6) Six countries still have ‘0MW’ of renewables capacity

Soon to appear in a green pub quiz near you are the countries of Djibouti, South Sudan, Timor Leste, Kuwait, Nauru and Niue, which all hold the unenviable accolade of having ‘0MW’ of renewable capacity – although IRENA defines this as ‘between 0 and 0.5MW’ of capacity. St Lucia and St Vincent Grenadines have added 1MW in the past year to move out of this list.

7) Moldova saw capacity FALL by 53% in 2015

Sandwiched between Romania and Ukraine and very much caught up in Russia’s export web, Moldova has seen its renewable energy generation capacity fall from 69MW to 23MW over the past 12 months. Hydropower – which provides 80% of the country’s electricity – has fallen by 44MW in this timeframe, largely due to a reliance on Russian energy exports and the damaged economy of Transnistria – Moldova’s break-away region – where the majority of electricity is sourced from.

8) The River Thames has a higher renewables capacity than 40 countries

As more than 23,000 solar photovoltaics float atop of the reservoir near Walton-on-Thames, England’s capital city can sit proud on that fact that, at 6.3MW capacity, the River Thames has the potential to generate more renewable energy than 40 other countries.

9) Apple’s 2.2GW of new clean energy projects in China would see it rank as the 18th highest country in Asia for renewable capacity

Of the 30 Asian countries listed on the report, only 17 have a renewable capacity of more than 2GW. With tech giant Apple already making moves to install 2.2GW of renewable capacity at its facilities in China, it would surge pass 13 other Asian countries in terms of capacity. Thames Water has pledged to support the objectives of the Paris Agreement to limit the global temperature rise to 2C, and the firm says this latest solar project will contribute to achieving that goal.

10) Morocco added more renewable energy capacity in 2016 than it had for the previous 6 years

The city of Ouarzazate, nicknamed the ‘door of the desert’, in Morocco is famed for its starring role in both TV and film, having made regular appearances in Game of Thrones, The Mummy and Lawrence of Arabia. As of 2016, Ouarzazate is also famed for the construction of the World’s largest solar plant. More than 160MW of power is already operational and, by the time the whole plant is live in 2018, Morocco will have added more capacity in three years (580MW) than in the previous six years, thanks to the new plant.

Matt Mace & Luke Nicholls

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