The latest Renewable energy global status report is out, which reveals that 147 GW’s of new renewable generating capacity was added last year. I haven’t had a chance to crunch the numbers, but that’s probably a enough capacity to generate a good 600 TWh/yr worth of energy generating capacity.
This includes 50 GW’s of new solar panels and 62 GW’s of wind turbines. Solar thermal has also continued to grow strongly, with 26 GW’s added. Biofuels production is now at a level of 120 billion litres of fuel produced a year, equivalent to roughly 2.5 million bbl/day of oil production (i.e. a fairly large oil field!).
In short, what the report is saying is that long term trends that I pointed to in a prior post are not some one off fluke. If anything the rate of renewable’s roll out is accelerating. Overall more renewables capacity was added this year than fossil fuel capacity. So overall we are starting to turn the corner, the ship is starting to respond to the helm, the question is did we turn the wheel hard a starboard too late.
Indeed its the other trends in this report that are really of interest. Firstly, renewables is no longer the business of hippies (not that this was ever true anyway!). Its a $286 billion industry that employ’s over 8 million people worldwide. The solar power industry alone employ’s 2.7m people, with a further million employed in solar thermal.
Also developing countries are becoming the major purchaser and producers of renewables. This is both good news and bad news. It suggests that developing nations are taking climate change seriously and are trying as hard as they can to avoid copying our wasteful polluting habits. It means that many people in developing countries who have previously been denied access to electricity by economic circumstances are now gaining the benefits.
However the downside is that all of the jobs will flow to these countries longer term and countries with anti-renewable governments in charge (such as the UK) could be about to miss out on the biggest industrial change in our planet’s history. This will probably lead to longer term entrenchment (i.e. we oppose renewables because it means more jobs to China…even though the US led the world in renewables production before Bush came to power).
And nuclear? Well the latest IEA report say’s its generating about 2,478 TWh/yr of electricity, but still stuck in the doldrums with little sign of anything that could be called “growth”. In the last 4 years the renewables industry has added a similar scale of generating capacity (measured in TWh/yr so this accounts for the intermittent nature of certain renewable systems), as the nuclear industry has added over the last 50 years. So next time someone one tells you nuclear is essential and that we should prioritise it over renewables, tell him to go away read some statistics.
However, all is of course not rosy in the garden. There is of course the fact that cuts in tariffs means that while renewables is still growing in European countries, the rate of installation is slowing. I also worry that a lack of joined up thinking (e.g. a failure to plan in energy storage projects, develop renewable heat and transport) might cause things to stall further down the line.
Indeed, the head of Vitol, a major energy trading company recently commented that yes renewables are now a serious business, which nobody in the real world of energy would want to ignore, but there’s still limitations as to what we can achieve with renewables at a time of low oil prices. He commented:
“But we see the power sector moving to gas and renewables, the growth in electric cars. Yes, they are likely to come in but will they make sufficient dents in our business so that it is no longer viable? I think, hopefully not.”
“But in some ways I am very encouraged we are seeing renewables and electric cars because it reduces the likelihood of a nasty spike in the price of oil, which is incredibly damaging to developing countries.”
In short, what he’s saying is that renewables are now mainstream and only a fool (speaking of Trump!) would ignore that but some level of support is still needed. I would argue that subsidies are probably not the best idea, but some sort of a carbon tax. Also he’s saying that renewables are now a means of insulating us from any interruptions to oil production (e.g. war in the middle east, ensuring a soft landing from peak oil) and helping to keep prices down. But of course lower oil prices makes renewables less competitive.
So we are getting there, but we ain’t out of the woods yet.