The 2017 Edition of the REN21 Renewables Global Status Report reveals a global energy transition well underway, with record new additions of installed renewable energy capacity, rapidly falling costs, and the decoupling of economic growth and energy-related carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions. This year’s report continues REN21’s long-standing tradition of providing the most up-to-date data and informative infographics to detail renewable energy’s contribution to the energy transition.
Flexibility is at the core of the design and operation of all power systems, as supply and demand must be maintained in continuous balance. Power systems require increased flexibility when integrating high shares of variable renewable energy from wind power and solar PV. Improved electricity infrastructure, grid operation and market design all can provide such additional flexibility.
Renewable energy technologies increase their hold across developing and emerging economies throughout the year
The year 2016 saw several developments and ongoing trends that all have a bearing on renewable energy, including the continuation of comparatively low global fossil fuel prices; dramatic price declines of several renewable energy technologies; and a continued increase in attention to energy storage.
For the third consecutive year, global energy-related carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuels and industry were nearly flat in 2016, due largely to declining coal use worldwide but also due to improvements in energy efficiency and to increasing use of renewable energy.
As of 2015, renewable energy provided an estimated 19.3% of global final energy consumption, and growth in capacity and production continued in 2016. The power sector experienced the greatest increases in renewable energy capacity in 2016, whereas the growth of renewables in the heating and cooling and transport sectors was comparatively slow.
Most new renewable energy capacity is installed in developing countries, and largely in China, the single largest developer of renewable power and heat over the past eight years. In 2016, renewable energy spread to a growing number of developing and emerging economies, some of which have become important markets.
For the more than 1 billion people without access to electricity, distributed renewable energy projects, especially those in rural areas far from the centralised grid, offer important and often cost-effective options to provide such access.
The renewable energy sector employed 9.8 million people in 2016, an increase of 1.1% over 2015. By technology, solar PV and biofuels provided the largest numbers of jobs. Employment shifted further towards Asia, which accounted for 62% of all renewable energy jobs (not including large-scale hydropower), led by China.
The development of community renewable energy projects continued in 2016, but the pace of growth in some countries is in decline. In a new trend, such projects have begun to expand into energy retailing (supply), storage and demand-side management.
Government policy at all levels remained important for renewable energy developments. The 2015 Paris Agreement of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) formally entered into force at the 22nd Conference of the Parties (COP22) in November 2016. However, renewable energy markets were affected only indirectly during the year. A number of governments implemented new renewable energy targets, and several cities established new commitments to 100% renewable energy. Despite the importance of the heat and transport sectors to energy demand and global emissions, policy makers focused predominantly on the power sector.
Record numbers reached for newly installed renewable power generating capacity
Renewable power generating capacity saw its largest annual increase ever in 2016, with an estimated 161 gigawatts (GW) of capacity added. Total global capacity was up nearly 9% compared to 2015, to almost 2,017 GW at year’s end. The world continued to add more renewable power capacity annually than it added (net) capacity from all fossil fuels combined. In 2016, renewables accounted for an estimated nearly 62% of net additions to global power generating capacity.
Solar PV saw record additions and, for the first time, accounted for more additional capacity, net of decommissioning, than did any other power generating technology. Solar PV represented about 47% of newly installed renewable power capacity in 2016, and wind and hydropower accounted for most of the remainder, contributing 34% and 15.5%, respectively.
The ongoing growth and geographical expansion of renewable power capacity was driven by the continued decline in prices for renewable energy technologies; by rising power demand in some countries; and by targeted renewable energy support mechanisms. Some well-established renewable energy technologies, such as hydropower and geothermal energy, have long since become cost-competitive with fossil fuels where resources are plentiful. Solar PV and wind power are now joining in, challenging fossil fuels in a growing number of locations.
Plants owned by utilities or large investors dominated renewable electricity production in 2016, and the scale of renewable energy plants continued to grow. Major corporations and institutions around the world continued to make large commitments to purchase renewable electricity.