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Investment

Growth in renewable energy capacity didn’t increase in 2018

Lack of steady ramp-up in investment raises concerns over climate goals

by Melody M. Bomgardner
May 8, 2019 | APPEARED IN VOLUME 97, ISSUE 19

Last year, for the first time since 2001, the world did not increase its rate of growth for new capacity to produce renewable energy, according to an analysis from the International Energy Agency. That’s a problem because meeting the goals of the Paris Agreement to curb greenhouse gas emissions will require 300 gigawatts (GW) of new capacity every year until 2030. In both 2017 and 2018, new capacity grew by only 177 GW.

Not only that, but energy-related emissions of CO2 went up last year by 1.7%, reaching 33 gigatons, a historic high.

No acceleration

Last year broke a 17-year trend of expanding growth in renewables capacity.
Source: International Energy Agency.

“The world cannot afford to press ‘pause’ on the expansion of renewables, and governments need to act quickly to correct this situation and enable a faster flow of new projects,” says Dr Fatih Birol, the IEA’s executive director.

From 2015 to 2017, renewable capacity grew rapidly thanks to new solar photovoltaic installations, particularly large-scale farms that sell power to utilities. They more than made up for decelerating investments in wind and hydroelectric power.

The solar projects benefited from both government subsidies and sharply falling prices for solar cells, at least for a while. Growth in solar flattened in 2018 after the Chinese government made a sudden move to cap incentives to curb its own costs and slowed the construction of new projects and to catch up on infrastructure to tie solar projects to the electric grid.

The changes caused new installations in China to fall to 44 GW in 2018 from 53 GW in 2017. The difference was offset by solar spending in the European Union, Mexico, the Middle East, and Africa.

The IEA report doesn’t guess how long the pause in the growth rate for renewables might last. According to an outlook from oil giant BP, renewable energy will be the fastest growing source of energy through 2040. Between now and then, BP projects the sector will contribute at least half of the growth in energy supply. By 2040, renewables will be the largest source of power.

And while China has slowed growth of solar for the near-term, it is preparing for another round of expansion. BP says costs for both solar and wind energy will continue to fall sharply. That drop will aid adoption in China, India, and the rest of Asia, which BP says will dominate renewables growth by 2040.

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