The figures come from the latest Renewables Global Status Report from international policy group the Renewable Energy Policy Network for the 21st Century (REN21).

The growing reach of renewables meant that installed capacity in 2014, including large hydroelectric plants, stood at 1,712 GW, up 8.5% from last year and double the 800 GW reported 10 years earlier.

In 2014, renewables made up an estimated 59% of net additions to global power capacity, and by years-end, nearly 23% of the world’s electricity demands were being met by renewables.

Figure 1: Countries with renewable energy targets

Sector surges

Solar PV enjoyed the quickest growth of the clean technologies, with capacity increasing an incredible 68-fold between 2004 and 2014. Wind capacity also increased 8-fold in the last ten years.

Aside from electricity, biomass and other renewable technologies supplied more than 25% of energy used in the heating sector, which itself accounted for half of global energy use.

This renewable expansion helped the world achieve a sustainable development milestone, according to the report.

“In 2014, for the first time, the world economy and energy use grew without a parallel rise in carbon dioxide emissions.”

Despite a 1.5% increase in energy consumption and 3% GDP growth last year, CO2 emissions were unchanged from 2013 levels: 32.3bn metric tons. 

Level playing field

This success would have been even more pronounced, the report claims, without $550bn of Government subsidies for fossil fuel and nuclear energy, which created “artificially low energy prices from those sources, encouraging waste and impeding competition from renewables”.

REN21 executive secretary Christine Lins said: “Creating a level playing field would strengthen the development and use of energy efficiency and renewable energy technologies

“Removing fossil-fuel and hidden nuclear subsidies globally would make it evident that renewables are the cheapest energy option.”

Employment in the sector also grew to around 7.7 million people worldwide, while new investment in renewable power and fuels (not including hydropower >50 MW) increased worldwide by 17% to US$ 270bn.

Indeed, global new investment in renewable power was more than twice the investment in net fossil fuel power capacity, marking that fifth straight year that more was invested in renewable capacity than fossil fuels.

Figure 2: Global investment in renewables

The news comes after recent research from the Grantham Institute revealed that 53 countries now have emissions targets, covering three quarters of the world’s annual greenhouse gas output.

 Brad Allen

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