A new global status report released by REN21, a global renewable energy policy network, states that 2015 surpassed a range of previous records in terms of global use of renewable energy. This included a surge in new wind, solar, and hydro plants. Renewable electricity use increased by roughly 147 Gigawatts, making 2015 the largest annual increase to date.
REN21’s chief, Christine Lins, noted that this renewable energy surge surprisingly came at a time when fossil fuel prices were low, and government subsidies still weighed heavily in favor of fossil fuels. Four times as much was spent maintaining the use of fossil fuels than was spent to promote the use of renewable energy.
Also of note, developing economies outspent wealthier nations on renewables for the first time ever. One third of the total was spent by China, while Jamaica, Honduras, Uruguay, and Mauritania had the highest rates of investment relative to GDP. In the US, renewables accounted for two thirds of new generating capacity. Green energy investments in the UK rose by a quarter, but progress there is in peril of not surviving cuts to solar power investment in early 2016. The EU’s investment levels dropped by 21 percent, a direct result of policy changes such as withdrawal of clean energy subsidies.
8.1 million people worldwide were employed in renewable energy, with nearly half that number employed in China alone. In the US, more people are now employed in solar power than in oil or gas industries. Jobs in the clean energy industry grew by 6 percent, while employment in the oil industry was down by 18 percent there, according to the International Renewable Energy Agency.
The status report also noted, however, that storage and infrastructure limitations are still a hindrance to a growing renewables sector. The chair of REN21, Arthouros Zervos, noted that decentralized and community based power generation would be needed to accelerate further growth in green energy. Future renewable energy growth will also depend heavily on the continued support of governmental policies throughout the world.
The news of progress comes after many years of increased use of renewable energy around the world. Another 2014 report by REN21 notes the progress made between 2004 and 2013. Overall primary energy supplied from renewables increased by 30 percent in those years, providing about 19 percent of the world’s energy in 2013. Total renewable energy growth in those years was highest in China and the EU.