In the big picture, renewable energy is doing pretty well. It’s our continued addiction to dirty energy that is the problem, and lack of interest towards energy efficiency. This can be concluded from the many reports published today, on the first day of the Clean Energy Ministerial, by IEA
(International Energy Agency) and others.
Despite policy uncertainties and setbacks in many countries, renewable energy continues to grow and break new records globally.
Last year solar PV capacity grew globally by an amazing 42%, and wind by 19%. In the United States, almost half of all new power generation capacity was renewable energy. Europe did even better. More than 70% of its new capacity was renewables!
The most exciting trend is that renewable energy is now being installed around the world, with new markets opening up rapidly. It is no wonder, given how fast the costs of renewables have been declining – solar and wind in particular. They are now competitive with conventional energy in an increasing number of countries – despite the massive distorting subsidies fossil fuel industries are still enjoying.
While China has established itself as the clear leader in renewable energy investments, South Africa has become the fastest growing market. In Japan, clean energy investments, mostly solar, increased by 75% last year.
In the near future, the global wind industry sees strong markets for wind power in China, India and Brazil, as well as in new markets in Latin America, Africa and the rest of Asia. Also the
believe that in the emerging economies the future for renewables looks promising
Despite the rapid growth of renewables, our whole energy mix is not getting cleaner fast enough. We are failing to capture all that potential that exists for massive energy savings, while King Coal keeps still growing faster than renewables, in absolute terms. As a result, the IEA finds, we are emitting as much carbon dioxide per unit of energy globally than we did in 1990. That’s where we’re stalling.
In 2011 China’s coal consumption represented 46% of global coal demand, while India’s share was 11%. Also Europe is turning to more coal now – thanks to its low climate goals and broken emission trading system. Last year coal’s share in Europe’s power generation mix increased at the expense of natural gas.
Moreover, policy uncertainties are threatening future renewable energy investments particularly in the US, the EU and other OECD countries. Today the European wind industry warned that by making policy changes that undermine investor confidence, European governments are driving up the cost of meeting their 2020 renewable energy targets. Yesterday the
fixing Europe’s emission trading system, which isn’t helping either.
So our work is certainly not done yet, and we need to speed up big time. Let’s focus on three essentials.
1) Technology and costs are no longer a problem. It’s the policy uncertainty.
The renewables industry has done their homework in reducing technology costs faster than anticipated. The main investment risk is no longer in technology or costs, but policy. It’s time for governments to do their fair share, in creating secure investment conditions that encourage rapid uptake of renewables and energy efficiency and discourage investments into fossil fuels and nuclear. This means policies such as legally-binding targets, feed-in tariffs and priority access to the grid for renewables, combined with emission caps, efficiency standards, carbon pricing and subsidy reforms.
2) Eye on energy efficiency.
Renewable energy alone won’t solve our energy challenges. Improved energy efficiency in buildings, appliances, transport and industry is fundamental. These have potential to cut our energy needs by more than 40% by 2050. Yet, energy efficiency potential continues to be neglected, as shown by the IEA. This has got to change.
3) Confront the laggards.
Renewable energy and energy efficiency make economic sense, and come with huge benefits for our health, energy security and employment. But this doesn’t mean they will be deployed. There are powerful players who have invested in the centralized dirty energy infrastructure, and are benefiting from status quo. To challenge this, we need the clean energy revolution, where people are challenging – and winning – the dirty energy producers and even becoming renewable energy producers themselves in the modern decentralized energy system we will be transitioning to.