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Energy security2016 was a record-breaking year for renewable energy

Published 12 June 2017

Additions in installed renewable power capacity set new records in 2016, with 161 gigawatts (GW) installed, increasing total global capacity by almost 9 percent over 2015, to nearly 2,017 GW. Solar PV accounted for around 47 percent of the capacity added, followed by wind power at 34 percent and hydropower at 15.5 percent, Global energy-related CO2 emissions from fossil fuels and industry remained stable for a third year in a row despite a 3 percent growth in the global economy and an increased demand for energy. This can be attributed primarily to the decline of coal, but also to the growth in renewable energy capacity and to improvements in energy efficiency.

Additions in installed renewable power capacity set new records in 2016, with 161 gigawatts (GW) installed, increasing total global capacity by almost 9 percent over 2015, to nearly 2,017 GW. Solar PV accounted for around 47 percent of the capacity added, followed by wind power at 34 percent and hydropower at 15.5 percent, according to the REN21 Renewables 2017 Global Status Report (GSR), which was released on 7 June.

“The annual REN21 status report is a must-read for all of those interested in energy developments and in particular the status of renewables in the world. Renewable energy has reached almost 20 percent of total global final energy after a steady increase in investments. In 2015 we saw an absolute high of investments while last year there was a decline. However, the long-term trends are toward more and more renewables as they also become cost-competitive in many applications. IIASA is proud to have a membership in REN21 representing science and academia,” says IIASA Deputy Director General Nebojsa Nakicenovic. Nakicenovic serves on the steering committee of REN21, which is composed of distinguished individuals from various geographical and institutional backgrounds. 

IIASA notes that renewables are becoming the least cost option. Recent deals in Denmark, Egypt, India, Mexico, Peru, and the United Arab Emirates saw renewable electricity being delivered at $0.05 per kilowatt-hour or less. This is well below equivalent costs for fossil fuel and nuclear generating capacity in each of these countries. Winners of two recent auctions for offshore wind in Germany have done so relying only on the wholesale price of power without the need for government support, demonstrating that renewables can be the least cost option.

The inherent need for “baseload” is a myth, the report shows. Integrating large shares of variable renewable generation can be done without fossil fuel and nuclear “baseload” with sufficient flexibility in the power system – through grid interconnections, sector coupling and enabling technologies such as ICT, storage systems electric vehicles and heat pumps. This sort of flexibility not only balances variable generation, it also optimizes the system and reduces generation costs overall It comes as no surprise, therefore that the number of countries successfully managing peaks approaching or exceeding 100 percent electricity generation from renewable sources are on the rise. In 2016, Denmark and Germany, for example, successfully managed peaks of renewables electricity of 140 percent and 86.3 percent, respectively.