Global renewable additions overtake ‘dirty’ fuels

The world is now adding more clean energy capacity than oil, gas and coal combined, according to new research from Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF).

The switch occurred in 2013, when 143GW of clean electricity generation was brought online, compared to 141GW of fossil-fuel plants.

BNEF now expects the gap to widen and by 2030, four times as much renewable capacity will be added.

Speaking at the BNEF annual summit in New York, founder Michel Liebrich said: “The electricity system is shifting to clean. Despite the change in oil and gas prices there is going to be a substantial buildout of renewable energy that is likely to be an order of magnitude larger than the buildout of coal and gas.”

System upgrades

The growing uptake is driven by falling installation costs and maturing technology; recent research from IRENA found that certain renewable energy systems can now compete with fossil fuels on price.

Solar energy is often credited with driving these falling costs and increasing installations. One third of all US solar came online in 2014, while in the UK, as much new capacity was installed in the first three months of this year as in the whole of 2014.


However some analysts were quick to pour cold water on the idea that “fossil fuels have lost the war“.

Robert Wilson, who works in computational ecology, contributed to a Vox article arguing that BNEF had overstated its findings.

Firstly the BNEF chart only considers electricity, which accounts for around 42% of global emissions from burning fuel. The transport industry, for example, is still overwhelmingly powered by oil, despite recent gains.

Wilson also points out that 1 GW of solar is not equal to 1 GW of coal. Capacity is defined as the maximum output a power plant can produce under specific conditions. It is not same as how much electricity a power plant will actually generate in its lifetime.

So while a coal plant could run around the clock and produce around 50-80% of its stated capacity, solar panels usully produce around 20% of their maximum ouput.

Regardless of whether renewables have yet ‘won the war’, that outcome that looks inevitable as costs continue to fall and new record are broken for installations every year.

Brad Allen

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