Riding the commitments and initiatives by the G7 and G20 nations in 2015, and the United Nations General Assembly’s adoption of a dedicated Sustainable Development Goal on Sustainable Energy for All (SDG 7), besides the commitments made by 195 countries to limit global warming to well below 2o C at the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change’s (UNFCCC) 21st Conference of the Parties (COP21) in Paris, with 147 countries referring to renewable energy, and 167 countries referring to energy efficiency, renewable energy continued to register a steady growth .
An additional 147 gigawatts (GW) of renewable power capacity which has been the largest annual increase ever, was recorded during the period, while renewable heat capacity increased by around 38 gigawatts-thermal (GWth). Total production of biofuels also rose during this period. Global investment climbed to a new record level, with renewables outpacing fossil fuels for net investment in power capacity additions.
Employment in the renewable energy sector (not including large-scale hydropower) increased in 2015 to an estimated 8.1 million jobs (direct and indirect). Solar PV and biofuels provided the largest numbers of renewable energy jobs, with India, China, Brazil and the USA registering as the leading employers .
By 2015 end, there was enough renewable capacity in place to supply 23.7 per cent of global electricity, with hydropower providing about 16.6 per cent. Small scale renewable systems, including renewable-based mini-grids saw rapid expansion in many developing countries, such as India, China and Nepal in Asia, Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania in Africa and Brazil and Guyana in Latin America.
Sector-wise, renewable energy supplied approximately 8 per cent of the energy for heating and cooling services worldwide in buildings and industry, of which most was provided by biomass, with smaller contributions from solar thermal and geothermal energy.
Renewable energy accounted for an estimated 4 per cent of global fuel for road transport in 2015. Liquid biofuels continued to represent the vast majority of the renewable energy contribution to the transport sector.
Notably, a vast majority of countries worldwide had renewable energy support policies in place by 2015 end. By 2015 end, at least 173 countries had renewable energy targets and an estimated 146 countries had renewable energy support policies at the national or state/provincial level. Nearly all policies adopted in the renewable transport sector in 2015, as in past years, were directed at road transport through support for biofuels production and use. By 2015 end, biofuel mandates were in place in 66 countries at the national or state/provincial level. Support has shifted increasingly towards the promotion of advanced biofuels in new policy development, although, globally, most policies focus on first-generation biofuels.
Bioenergy production continued to increase in 2015, helping to meet rising energy demand in some countries and contributing to environmental objectives. However, the sector also faced a number of challenges, in particular from low oil prices and policy uncertainty in some markets. Bio-heat production for buildings and industrial uses grew slowly in 2015, with modern uses of bio-heat rising by approximately 3 per cent from 2014 levels.
Geothermal power and heat
About 315 MW of new geothermal power capacity came on line in 2015, bringing the global total to 13,200 MW. Turkey led the market, commanding about half of new global capacity.
Approximately 28 GW of new hydropower capacity (excluding pumped storage) was commissioned in 2015, increasing total global capacity to about 1,064 GW. Global generation rose to about 3,940 TWh, although persistent droughts continued to adversely affect hydropower output in many regions. China’s domestic market continued to contract, but the country retained the global lead by a wide margin, adding 16 GW capacity. Significant capacity was also added by India, besides Brazil, Turkey, Vietnam, Malaysia, Canada, Colombia and Lao PDR.
Ocean energy capacity, mostly tidal power, remained at about 530 MW in 2015. As in most years, ocean energy technology deployments in 2015 were predominantly demonstration projects, with most activity concentrated in tidal energy technologies, followed by wave energy conversion devices.
The solar PV market was up 25 per cent over 2014 to a record 50 GW, lifting the global total to 227 GW. The annual market in 2015 was nearly ten times the world’s cumulative solar PV capacity a decade earlier. China, Japan and the USA again accounted for the majority of capacity added, but emerging markets on all continents contributed significantly to global growth. China achieved 100 per cent electrification, in part because of significant off-grid solar PV installed since 2012. The industry recovery of recent years strengthened further due to the rise of new markets and strong global demand. Record-low bids for large-scale solar PV projects were seen in tenders from Latin America to the Middle East to India.
Concentrating solar thermal power (CSP)
Morocco (160 MW), South Africa (150 MW) and the USA (110 MW) all brought new CSP facilities online in 2015, raising total global capacity by about 10 per cent to nearly 4.8 GW.
By 2015 end, additional CSP capacity was under construction in Morocco (350 MW), South Africa (200 MW), Israel (121 MW), Chile (110 MW), Saudi Arabia (100 MW), China (50 MW) and India (25 MW), reflecting a shift from traditional markets (Spain and the USA) to developing regions with high direct normal irradiation (DNI) levels. Industrial capacity continued to expand in developing regions, supported in part by local content requirements associated with CSP procurement programmes.
Solar thermal heating and cooling
Global capacity of glazed and unglazed solar thermal collectors rose by more than 6 per cent in 2015, despite a market slowdown due to continued contraction of markets in China and Europe. China accounted for about 77 per cent of newly installed solar water heater capacity, followed by Turkey, Brazil, India and the USA. Cumulative capacity of water collectors reached an estimated 435 GWth by 2015 end (with air collectors adding another 1.6 GWth), with enough capacity to provide approximately 357 TWh of heat annually.
Wind power was the leading source of new power generating capacity in Europe and the USA in 2015, and the second largest in China. Globally, a record 63 GW was added for a total of about 433 GW. Non-OECD countries were responsible for the majority of installations, led by China, and new markets emerged across Africa, Asia and Latin America. Corporations and other private entities continued turning to wind energy for reliable and low-cost power, while many large investors were drawn by its stable returns.
Distributed renewable energy for energy access
Positive market trends, innovative business models, increased investment. Approximately 1.2 billion people, constituting 17 per cent of the global population, live without electricity, with the vast majority in the Asia-Pacific region and sub-Saharan Africa. Distributed renewable energy (DRE) systems continue to play an increasing role in providing energy services to these populations. Advances in technology, increased awareness of deforestation and enhanced government support enabled the expansion of DRE in the cooking and heating sector in 2015. By year’s end, approximately 28 million households worldwide were using clean cook stoves. DRE solar PV markets also continued to flourish. Roughly 44 million off-grid pico-solar products had been sold globally by mid 2015, representing an annual market of 300 million USD. About 70 countries worldwide either had some off-grid solar PV capacity installed or had programmes in place to support off- grid solar PV applications by the end of 2015. In addition, several thousand renewables-based mini-grids were in operation, with primary markets in Bangladesh, Cambodia, China, India, Mali and Morocco. The year saw positive market trends and increased investment, with the emergence of innovative business models.
Meanwhile, global new investment in renewable power and fuels climbed to a record 285.9 billion USD in 2015 (not including hydropower projects). This was a 5 per cent rise over 2014 and exceeded the previous record (278.5 billion USD) achieved in 2011. In 2015, global investment in new renewable power capacity, at 265.8 billion USD, was more than double the 130 billion USD allocated to new coal- and natural gas-fired power generation.
For the first time in history, total investment in renewable power and fuels in developing countries in 2015 exceeded that in developed economies. The developing world, including China, India and Brazil, committed a total of 156 billion USD (up 19 per cent compared to 2014). China played a dominant role, increasing its investment by 17 per cent to 102.9 billion USD, accounting for 36 per cent of the global total. Renewable energy investment also increased significantly in India, South Africa, Mexico and Chile. Other developing countries investing more than USD 500 million in renewables are Morocco, Uruguay, the Philippines, Pakistan and Honduras.
The report, while commending the progress made, has gone on to recommend some measures to mainstream renewable. Among these are, notably, the phasing out of fossil fuel subsidies, strengthening political will for switching to renewable sources, and distributing the focus among sectors besides power/electricity. It has also gone on to recommend policy designs that discourage investment in nuclear and fossil fuels, besides focusing more on the use of renewables in the heating/cooling and transport sectors.
1 Countries considered include only those covered by Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF); GDP (at purchasers’ prices) data for 2014 from World Bank. BNEF data include the following: all biomass, geothermal and wind generation projects of more than 1 MW; all hydropower projects of between 1 and 50 MW; all solar power projects, with those less than 1 MW estimated separately and referred to as small-scale projects or small distributed capacity; all ocean energy projects; and all biofuel projects with an annual production capacity of 1 million litres or more. Small-scale capacity data used to help calculate investment per unit of GDP cover only those countries investing 200 million USD or more.
2 Only three countries brought concentrating solar thermal power (CSP) plants online in 2015, which is why no countries are listed in places 4 and 5.
3 Per capita renewable power capacity ranking considers only those countries that place among the top 20 worldwide for total installed renewable power capacity, not including hydropower. Several other countries including Austria, Finland, Ireland and New Zealand also have high per capita levels of non-hydro renewable power capacity, with Iceland likely the leader among all countries. Population data are for 2014 and are from the World Bank.
4 Country rankings for hydropower capacity and generation dier because some countries rely on hydropower for baseload supply whereas others use it more to follow the electric load and to match peaks in demand.
5 Solar water heating collector rankings for total capacity and per capita are for year-end 2014 and are based on capacity of water (glazed and unglazed) collectors only. Data from IEA SHC. Total capacity rankings are estimated to remain unchanged for year-end 2015.
6 Not including heat pumps.
Note: Most rankings are based on absolute amounts of investment, power generation capacity or output, or biofuels production; if done on a per capita, national GDP or other basis, the rankings would be different for many categories (as seen with per capita rankings for renewable power, solar PV, wind power and solar water collector capacity).