The renewables revolution rolls on: 2016 in charts

New figures from the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) have revealed that 2016 was the strongest year yet for renewable energy. Here, edie digs deep into the data to bring you 10 key statistics that chart a record-breaking year for the world's clean energy transformation.

The Renewable Capacity Statistics 2017 report, released by the UN-backed clean energy agency today (30 March), reveals that 2016 was a monumental year for new renewable energy system installations. More than 161GW of new clean energy capacity was added across the globe in the 12-month period, equating to an 8.7% year-or-year growth.

“We are witnessing an energy transformation taking hold around the world, and this is reflected in another year of record breaking additions in new renewable energy capacity,” IRENA’s director-general Adnan Z. Amin said. “This growth in deployment emphasises the increasingly strong business case for renewables which also have multiple socio-economic benefits in terms of fuelling economic growth, creating jobs and improving human welfare and the environment.”

The world’s renewable generation capacity surged past the 2,000GW threshold last year, largely driven by strong solar energy growth. In fact, 2016 marked the first time since 2013 that solar growth outpaced that of wind energy.

And the renewables revolution shows no sign of slowing down. Hidden within the report are some eye-catching statistics. So, edie has analysed this latest batch of data to bring you 10 insights that you probably didn’t know about global renewable energy capacity.

(Note: The renewable energy capacity data shown in the below charts and tables represents 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) Global renewables capacity has doubled in less than a decade

In 2007, global renewable generation capacity sat at just under 1000GW. Butm as the threats of global warming became more severe and renewables entered the market aided by financial support, the uptake has been accelerated. The world crossed the 2000GW threshold for the first time in 2016, adding 161GW – a slight increase on 2015’s 155GW of new capacity.


2) The tide refuses to change on Hydro energy’s domination

Hydropower continues to account for more than half of the global renewable capacity, jumping from 1,207MW in 2015 to 1,242MW in 2016. It’s worth noting that this includes pumped storage and mixed plants capacity, which IRENA doesn’t consider a source of renewable generation due to the fuel that can be used to power them. Around half of new hydro capacity was installed in Brazil and China (14.6 GW in total).


3) Europe’s continental solar drift allows Asia’s powerhouses to catch-up

Europe, excluding Eurasia nations such as Turkey, crossed the 100GW threshold for solar capacity for the first time in 2016, adding more than 5GW last year. However, the continent was dwarfed by both Japan and China – the latter of which added a staggering 34GW of solar capacity last year, bringing total capacity to 77GW. Japan added 8GW, while India almost match Europe’s new capacity additions, recording a 4.3GW increase.

4) The UK is slipping down the list of the top 20 renewable energy nations

Unsurprisingly, China and the US dominate the world when it comes to total renewable energy capacity. Last year’s iteration of IRENA’s report found that the UK had the fifth largest European capacity and 12th globally. This year, the UK has slipped down the table to 13th, having been leapfrogged by Turkey.

The below interactive map pinpoints all of the top 20 nations, detailing the total installed capacity of each. 

5) The number of annual renewable energy additions in the UK has plummeted

Various reports have warned that the UK’s attractiveness as a destination for investment in renewable energy has been on the decline due to policy changes, and the latest IRENA data seems to be evidence of this notion.

In 2016, the number of new capacity additions reached its lowest level since 2012, with 3,289MW brought online, compared with 5,765MW in 2015. Clearly, the UK Government’s shift of financial support away from clean technologies is having an impact on investors and developers.


6) Hinkley Point C’s expected capacity would beat 20 European nations

The criticism aimed towards the UK’s recent decline in renewable energy support has been extended to the controversial approval of the Hinkley Point C nuclear plant. While IRENA doesn’t consider nuclear a ‘renewable’ energy in its report, the UK Government considers it the go-to low-carbon energy source, and the 3,200MW plant actually has a greater capacity than 20 European countries when it comes to renewable energy generation.

7) If China’s 2016 renewable energy additions were a country, it would rank 8th for overall installed capacity

In what looks set to be a predictable absence from the clean energy table by the US, China has been quick to establish itself as a leader of the renewables revolution. Accountable for more than a quarter of global capacity (545GW), the nation added an additional 64.12GW of new capacity in 2016. This new capacity alone would rank above Russia’s total as the 8th largest capacity in the world.


8) Ethiopia’s renewables success story

A staggering growth in capacity has seen Ethiopia usurp Egypt, which has also been leapfrogged by South Africa, as Africa’s largest source of renewables capacity. With 99 million inhabitants, Ethiopia remains one of the poorest nations in the world, but total renewable energy capacity in the country jumped from 2,307MW in 2015 to 4,188 MW in 2016 with the nation accounting for more than 10% of the continents total generation capacity. 

Ethiopia was among the most daring signatories of the Paris Agreement, committing to cut carbon emissions by 64% by 2030. The country is already 100% powered by renewable energy, but the Government continues to position clean technology and green innovation as key economic drivers – it has already ploughed billions into hydropower megaprojects and is now gearing up to become the wind power capital of Africa, with its second Growth and Transformation Plan – a five-year strategy to reduce poverty and spur national development – pursuing an increase of wind energy output from 324MW in 2015 to more than 17GW by 2020. 

9) Bioenergy growth has been facilitated by five countries

Bioenergy capacities increased by 9GW in 2016 – the best ever year for growth in bioenergy capacity. However, the 109GW capacity isn’t exactly evenly spread. In total, five nations have amassed a 52% share of the bioenergy market: Germany, India, the US, Brazil and, of course, China.


10) Winds of change are sweeping across Romania

In 2007, Romania had just 3MW of wind capacity capabilities. Fast-forward to 2014 and the country had achieved a tenfold increase. In fact, 2012 saw a 94% increase in the total wind capacity for Romania, which is unlikely to be equalled. This continued growth, coupled with new legislative support for solar PV has seen the country post a 24.8% share of renewables, 0.8% above its target for the Europe 2020 strategy set by the European Commission.

Matt Mace & Luke Nicholls

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