With 80% of total production, solar and wind power plants promote rapid expansion of renewable sources. Former pioneer, Europe lags behind in the growth of this form of energy.
The director general of the International Renewable Energy Agency (Irena), Adnan Z. Amin, rejoices: “We are witnessing a global transformation of energy. This is reflected again in a new record year in renewable energy generation. “The statement was made during the presentation of the Renewable Capacity Statistic 2017 report in Abu Dhabi, the capital of the United Arab Emirates.
The document lists how renewable energies have developed since 2007 in more than 200 countries and how many hydropower, solar, wind and biomass power plants have been built, with what capacity.
Solar energy surpasses wind power
Worldwide, 2016 clean energy plants with a total capacity of 161 gigawatts (GW) were built in 2016, according to Irena data. This corresponds to the installed capacity of about 161 nuclear or coal-fired power plants.
In terms of power generation, solar installations are for the first time ahead of wind farms, and solar plants with a total capacity of 71 GW, almost 50% more than in 2015, have been built around the world. (51 GW), hydropower (30 GW), biomass (9 GW) and geothermal (1 GW).
Thus, by the end of 2016, the world’s renewable energy generation capacity was 2,006 GW, more than double that of 10 years ago. The transformation of the world energy matrix is mainly driven by the currently low cost of wind and solar production. In the last decade, about 80% of the renewable energy generated falls on these two sources.
Renewables bring more jobs and prosperity
Since 2009, the price of electricity generated by wind farms has fallen by about a third, and by solar power plants, approximately 80%. The electricity generated by the new facilities is generally cheaper than conventional power plants for diesel, coal, gas and nuclear.
According to data from Irena, the strong growth of renewable energy also has other positive effects. “They are very profitable and generate some socio-economic benefits, such as the creation of new jobs. In addition, there is an improvement in the well-being of people and the environment, “says Amin.
He adds, however, that in order to meet the global climate targets agreed in Paris, the pace of expansion should be accelerated. “This dynamic requires additional investments to decarbonise the energy sector. The new data is an encouraging sign that we are on the right track, but there is still a lot to be done. ”
Asia grows and Europe lags behind
In recent years, the main driver of global renewable energy expansion has been Asia, with China decisively in the lead. According to data from Irena, the Asian country built 2016 wind power plants with a total capacity of 19 GW, followed by the USA (9 GW), Germany (5 GW) and India (4 GW).
In relation to solar energy, the pace in Asia is even higher. With the construction of mills with capacity of 50 GW last year, the continent accounted for about 70% of world growth. Solar panels with 34 GW capacity were installed in China, 8 GW in Japan, 8 GW in the USA, and 4 GW in India.
As precursors in the expansion of renewables, Europe and, in particular, the pioneer Germany continue to fall in the expansion of these types of energy. In the Old Continent only 5 GW of solar energy were installed, in Germany only 1 GW. As a reason for the decrease, experts see, above all, the pressure of conventional energy companies in the sector policy.
“There is a strong movement against renewable energy. The fossil and nuclear sectors are trying to stop their expansion, which undermines their business model, “says Stefan Gsänger, secretary general of the World Wind Energy Association (WWEA), in an interview with DW.
Electricity for over 300 million human beings
For the first time, Irena’s statistics report also released special data on so-called off-grid systems – isolated systems, not connected to the grid and self-sustaining by batteries or generators.
More than 1 billion of the planet’s inhabitants do not have access to electricity grids, especially in remote regions. In these places a strong dynamics has developed in the last years, mainly in relation to the photovoltaic energy.
By the end of 2016, off-grid solar capacity in these regions was 1.4 GW, five times more than in 2011. These are generally very small systems with batteries that supply power to a village or home During the night, allowing many access to electricity. These systems are particularly successful in Africa and Asia, with India, Bangladesh, Algeria and South Africa on the front line, according to Irena data.
In India there is still a boom in bioenergy expansion for local power supply. The village-built facilities in 2016 amount to almost 1 GW, 200 times more than in the previous year. According to Irena estimates, up to 60 million families or 300 million people have access to energy through off-grid systems.