Renewable Energies Status Report

Introduction

The Renewables 2019 Global Status Report (GSR 2019) is in its 15th year. This report by the coalition called REN21 supports the objective to accelerate the development of renewable energy and decrease fossil fuel use globally. REN21 gathers large bodies of renewable energy data to give a clear picture of what the industries are doing, where they are headed, and what policies guide them. The full report linked above is lengthy and comprehensive with numerous supporting charts and data. My shorter summary follows.


Renewable power generation is here to stay. Solar photovoltaics (PV) and wind are now major contributors in the power sector. A growing number of countries generate over 20% of their electricity with PV and wind. Bolder energy policies are needed to make these systems sustainable.

The heating, cooling, and transport sectors need stronger policies to supply cleaner air and energy security for users. Globally, these sectors historically rely on fossil fuels which are heavily subsidized in many countries. In addition, policy efforts focused on these sectors has been insufficient compared to the power sector. The report shows the need to create fairer competition, letting renewable energies thrive in their markets. Only on a level playing field can renewables displace carbon-emitting fossil fuels.

Many cities have adopted the most ambitious goals for renewables around the world. In many instances they exceed national and state/provincial goals. It is a growing trend.


Overview

Power generation is where most of the growth took place for renewable energy. By the end of 2018, renewable sources grew to make up 26% of global capacity. Goals, good policies, and investment were behind this trend. There was less growth by renewables in the heating, cooling and transport sectors. Lack of strong policies and slow developments in new technologies were the causes.

Private sector investment is a strong driver of implementation stimulating growth and employment. There was growth in the areas of battery storage, heat pumps and electric vehicles. Globally, fossil fuel subsidies increased 11% from 2017. Fossil fuel companies continued to lobby against climate change policies spending millions to influence public opinion in their favor. The world is not on track to meet the targets of the Paris Agreement or of Sustainable Development Goal 7.

Power generation by renewables grew in 2018 by 181 Gigawatts from 2197 to 2378  GW. A Watt is a power unit describing energy per second. Lifting 1 apple from the floor to a table top in 1 second requires about 1 Watt of power. A GW is a giga-Watt = 1 billion Watts. That is a lot of apples per second. For an average person to walk up a typical flight of stairs in 10 seconds demands about 200 Watts of power from your legs. Do those stairs in 2 or 3 seconds and you are at about 1000 Watts. That is more than a horsepower. Most of the units for this table are GW giga-Watts.

 

The renewable energy share of new power producing installations for 2018 was over 60% as shown in yellow. It is garnering a larger share away from new fossil fuel installations. At this time, more than 33% of the worlds generating capacity is from renewables and the share is growing.

Renewable energy is still a small part of the transport sector. Biofuels makes up most of that share. The market for electric vehicles (EVs) is growing. Efforts to reduce air pollution in cities drove most of the EV market growth. Globally, the number of EVs grew 63% compared with 2017.

 

Market & Industry Trends

Globally, bioenergy contributes most to the renewable energy supply in the forms of power production, heating, and transportation via ethanol and bio-diesel. But, that contribution is not large compared to the fossil fuel sector. In 2017, it was about 5% with most of that coming in the heating and cooling sectors, followed by transport, and electricity generation at 2.1%. The EU leads in using bioenergy for heating. China leads in bio-electricity generation ahead of the United States, Brazil, India and Germany. The United States and Brazil made 69% of all biofuels in 2018.

Growth of geothermal energy is slow and a small share of the 13.3 GW total capacity. The 0.5 GW of new production came mostly in Turkey and Indonesia.

Hydropower contributes a large amount of energy production. But, growth is small since most of the rivers are already dammed and generating electricity. Pumped storage of water is an increasing practice. More than half of the older hydro facilities are in need of costly upgrades and repairs.

Ocean dynamics due to wave motion and currents involves a huge potential source of renewable energy. But, they are the smallest share of renewables. The enormous challenges of developing and installing the technologies is daunting and does not make growth look promising at this time.

Solar photovoltaics (PV) is a strong contributor to renewable energy capacity. Growth continues the trend as seen in the next chart. The second chart shows investment into new capacity in 2018 with China leading the way.

Wind power generation capacity is slightly larger than solar. It has stable installations and falling prices due to competition. Offshore wind power successes in Europe have stimulated interest.

 

Investment

What new power investments get the most dollars? What countries invested the most? Two charts help answer those questions. The first shows renewables got the largest share of new power dollars. The second shows the distribution of investments by type for the top five countries.

 

Efficiency

Energy efficiency and the growth of renewable energies need to mature within an integrated approach. Government policies, especially those of cities, are important in improving efficiency in buildings, transport, and industry.

Energy demand grows with population and thriving economies. Efficiency helps to lower the amount of energy needed to meet those increased demands. There have been continuing gains in efficiency. But, the total demand for energy is still outpacing the efficiency gains due largely to demand for more AC cooling, transport for more vehicles, and increased industrial activity.

Incorporation of renewable generating capacity such as PV and wind help to offset the rising demand for fossil fuels as the source for those additional energy quantities. The renewables reduce the release of greenhouse gases.

 

Cities

Cities call for 65% of global energy and house more than half the world’s people. Cities often try to link environmental, economic and social goals, reduce air pollution, create jobs, and improve energy access for citizens. Renewables help reach these objectives as they provide services of electricity, heating and cooling, and transport. Some cities use waste/recyclables to produce biogas, bio-methane and other renewable energy sources.

At the end of 2018, over 230 cities of the world adopted targets for 100% renewable energy in at least one sector of electricity generation, heating and cooling, or transport. Over 50 cities had set targets to achieve 100% in more than one of those sectors. The efforts by these cities contributed to national commitments, if they exist, to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and slow or reverse the trends toward climate change and global warming.


 

Quoting Perspectives from the Report…

The REN21 Renewables 2019 Global Status Report provides strong evidence that renewable energy is now a fully mainstream element in the global electricity mix. Alongside energy efficiency, renewables are playing a critical role in reducing emissions in the energy sector and in end-use sectors. In many locations, new renewable energy is now the lowest-cost way to provide electricity services and can be brought online the fastest. Around the world, renewable electricity has spread thanks to both transferable and reliable technologies and effective policy frameworks.

Despite these significant advances, the deployment of renewable energy needs to be accelerated now, more than ever, if renewables are to play their full part in securing a sustainable future. More ambitious targets and comprehensive, predictable policies are necessary to further mainstream renewable electricity and, especially, to meet rising heating and cooling needs as well as energy demand in the rapidly growing transport sector.

With a higher level of ambition backed by continuous policy support, renewables can play a major role in responding to both the climate emergency and the global development imperative, delivering affordable energy services and increasing energy security. The success of renewables in the power sector has shown clearly that an energy transition is possible.

6 thoughts on “Renewable Energies Status Report

  1. From my perspective it appears that market forces, driven by business and lower tiers of government, are leading the change to renewables. This is despite the general lack of strong top tier national government leadership with – in many cases – blatant obstructionism.

    Here in Oz we have the entire State of South Australia going 100% renewable in ten years. Cities like Sydney have declared a climate emergency. Yet at the same time we have a Federal government – with no energy policy – facilitating a massive new coal mine in Queensland.

    Of course, none of them want to talk about over-population.

    • You are so right. We tinker with every species on the planet, but refuse to consider the effects of our own rampant growth in population. If we don’t get a handle on birth rate, it won’t matter much what else we do.

  2. I agree with you. The Paris Accord was a move in the right direction. I’m angered that the current U.S. gov. fails to support it and we fail to even acknowledge the serious problem of climate changes. Surveys here show around 70% of the population believes climate change is a problem. Yet, the administration keeps a blind eye and obstructs efforts nationally. Inexcusable.

  3. The growing trends in PV and wind are very encouraging. I think we can all agree that our current “leader” is an idiot. But what concerns me is the recurring statement that we require policy to effect change. I believe it is that thinking that led us to where we are today, politically. The current administration is in power because a very large portion of our population strenuously objects to government interference in industry. We saw Obama get elected from grass-roots efforts, and I believe that is how we will change the way our country gets its power~from the bottom up. This post is so important, and I’d like to see it spread all over the place to educate as many people as possible.

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