Impact of renewables in 2015 revealed by UN-backed study

Global renewables offset some 1.5 gigatonnes of CO2 last year, the study estimated. [NH53/Flickr]

Renewable energy sources added more generation capacity than all other technologies combined in 2015, with a world record total of €361 billion invested in renewables across the globe, a major new UN-backed report has found. EURACTIV’s partner reports.

The 10th edition of UN Environment Programme’s (UNEP) annual ‘Global Trends in Renewable Energy Investment’ report reveals that 134GW of renewable power was added worldwide last year, compared to 106GW in 2014 and 87GW in 2013.

Without renewable energy, annual global CO2 emissions would have been an estimated 1.5 gigatonnes higher in 2015, the researchers claim.

Significantly, the annual global investment in new renewables capacity – which stood at $266 billion (€238 billion) in 2015 – was more than double the estimated $130 billion invested in coal and gas power stations.

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UNEP executive director Achim Steiner said: “Renewables are becoming ever more central to our low-carbon lifestyles, and the record-setting investments in 2015 are further proof of this trend. Importantly, for the first time in 2015, renewables in investments were higher in developing countries than developed.

“Access to clean, modern energy is of enormous value for all societies, but especially so in regions where reliable energy can offer profound improvements in quality of life, economic development and environmental sustainability. Continued and increased investment in renewables is not only good for people and planet, but will be a key element in achieving international targets on climate change and sustainable development.”

The report, compiled by the Frankfurt School-UNEP Collaborating Centre for Climate & Sustainable Energy Finance and Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF), also reveals that, for first time, developing world investments in renewables (up by 19% in 2015) topped developed nations’ (down by 8%).

Much of these record-breaking developing world investments took place in China – up 17% to $102.9 billion (€92 billion), which makes up 36% of the world total. India, South Africa, Mexico and Chile are among other developing countries showing increased renewable energy investment.

Among developed countries, investment in Europe was down 21%, from $62 billion in 2014 to $48.8 billion in 2015 – the continent’s lowest figure for nine years, despite record investments in offshore wind projects. The US was up 19% to $44.1 billion.

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The researchers believe this shift in investment towards developing countries and away from developed economies may be attributed to several factors: China’s dash for wind and solar; fast-rising electricity demand in emerging countries; the reduced cost of choosing renewables to meet that demand; sluggish economic growth in the developed world and cutbacks in subsidy support in Europe.

Renewables, excluding large hydro, still represent a small minority of the world’s total installed power capacity (16.2%), but that figure continues to climb (up from 15.2% in 2014).

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Despite the ambitious signals from COP21 in Paris and the growing capacity of new installed renewable energy, president of the Frankfurt School of Finance & Management, professor Udo Steffens, says “there is still a long way to go”.

“Coal-fired power stations and other conventional power plants have long lifetimes,” said Steffens. “Without further policy interventions, climate altering emissions of carbon dioxide will increase for at least another decade.”


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