A new UN Environment report shows that more renewable energy capacity was added globally last year than ever before, and importantly, costs were one quarter lower than last year. The report also noted that renewable energy saw twice as much investment as fossil fuels.
The report comes after news that the price of offshore wind power has fallen by a third since 2012, much faster than was expected.
The report’s authors warn however, that several major nations are investing less in renewables, seriously endangering the world’s chance of meeting the targets set in the 2015 Paris climate accord.
The report was published as a collaboration with Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF) and Frankfurt School-UNEP Collaborating Centre.
One of the co-authors of the report, Ulf Moslener said:
“Things are heading the right way, and the learning and technical costs of renewables have done a large part of their job. But investments are not yet there to meet the structural change agreed in Paris.”
According to the report, 138.5 gigawatts were added to global renewable energy capacity in 2016, up from 8 percent the year before. The report states that the added capacity Is roughly equivalent to that of the world’s 16 largest power plants combined.
After greenhouse gas emissions in 2016 stayed flat, despite 3.1 percent growth in the global economy, the International Energy Agency cited increases in renewable energy use.
The most significant increase in renewables investments was in Europe, where the UK invested 24 billion and Germany spent 13.2 billion. India also ramped up investment, starting a project that has been heralded as the world’s largest solar farm.
However, global investment in solar and wind fell from 2015. This was partially due to the decrease in costs, but other developments have also led to less demand for electricity in general – such as a shift toward service based economies, increased use of LEDs, and new standards calling for more efficient refrigerators and air conditioners.
According to Michael Liebreich from BNEF, the numbers still represent a victory for renewables.
“The question always used to be ‘will renewables ever be grid competitive?’ he said.
“Well, after the dramatic cost reductions of the past few years, unsubsidised wind and solar can provide the lowest cost new electrical power in an increasing number of countries, even in the developing world – sometimes by a factor of two.”
Meanwhile, a statement from Moslener was directed squarely at US president Donald Trump:
“These technologies are there because they are competitive. We see wind – and in some cases solar – are the cheapest alternatives. Subsidies play less of a role. That’s where the markets are going, and it’s probably a bad idea to work against markets.”