(Image of rocketing wind power capacity growth since 1996. Source: Futurist)
A new report from the International Energy Agency reveals that total renewable energy sourced electricity generation is set to surge another 40% between now and 2018. This means that by 2016, renewables will have supplanted natural gas as the world’s second largest source of electrical power and that by 2018, renewables will generate fully one quarter of the world’s electricity.
Power generation from hydro, wind, solar and other renewable sources worldwide will exceed that from gas and be twice that from nuclear by 2016, the International Energy Agency (IEA) said today in its second annual Medium-Term Renewable Energy Market Report (MTRMR).
According to the MTRMR, despite a difficult economic context, renewable power is expected to increase by 40% in the next five years. Renewables are now the fastest-growing power generation sector and will make up almost a quarter of the global power mix by 2018, up from an estimated 20% in 2011. The share of non-hydro sources such as wind, solar, bioenergy and geothermal in total power generation will double, reaching 8% by 2018, up from 4% in 2011 and just 2% in 2006.
(Emphasis added to clarify the usual confusion between capacity and generation)
Et tu Brute?
Raging development of renewables has come on strong despite the fact that they receive just 1/6th the subsidy support (523 billion vs 80 billion in 2011) of fossil fuels and have been the whipping boy of carbon energy cheer leaders in blogs, the media, and in chat rooms for years.
Misinformation, a clear funding disadvantage, and a constant wave of negative press from vested interests, has been unsuccessful in keeping the pace of renewable energy growth from running rapidly ahead of any other set of fuels. Doubts about renewables’ energy return on energy invested (EROEI), intermittency, and the ever-arcane ‘lack of thermal capacity’ has been rendered moot by a vast and growing volume of electricity generated from these sources. Instead, IEA has found renewables to stand on their own merits:
“As their costs continue to fall, renewable power sources are increasingly standing on their own merits versus new fossil-fuel generation,” said IEA Executive Director Maria van der Hoeven as she presented the report at the Renewable Energy Finance Forum in New York. “This is good news for a global energy system that needs to become cleaner and more diversified, but it should not be an excuse for government complacency, especially among OECD countries.”
Further to this point, IEA noted:
in addition to the well-established competitiveness of hydropower, geothermal and bioenergy, renewables are becoming cost-competitive in a wider set of circumstances. For example, wind competes well with new fossil-fuel power plants in several markets, including Brazil, Turkey and New Zealand. Solar is attractive in markets with high peak prices for electricity, for instance, those resulting from oil-fired generation. Decentralised solar photovoltaic generation costs can be lower than retail electricity prices in a number of countries.
Impetus for this massive growth comes primarily from wind and solar power sources, which, as noted above, are set to double their capacity over the next five years.
It’s enough to make the fossil fuels, who still remained the funding babies of the world’s governments in 2011, feel a bit of betrayed consternation.
Et tu Brute?
Coal Funding to be Cut
Adding further insult to injury, funding of the most polluting fossil fuel source — coal — appears to be on the chopping block. In his recent Climate Action Plan announcement, Obama laid down a policy in which the United States would no longer support loan funding for coal-fired power plants overseas and where his administration would begin to strictly regulate carbon emissions from coal plants in the United States. Meanwhile, the World Bank has stated that it would drastically cut its funding for new coal plants, providing support for them only in the ‘most dire of economic circumstances.’
But it’s Not all Roses for Renewables Yet
Surging worldwide investment in renewables has, sadly, come at time of lagging renewables investment in Europe. Wide-ranging ‘austerity’ measures imposed by central banks and conservative governments in Europe have forced some countries in the Eurozone to cut funding for new renewable energy projects.
That said, despite government cut-backs, the pace of adoption in many countries remains high due to both public purchases and due to the fact that prices for new generation keep falling rapidly. So even though funding fell, these lower outlays were still able to purchase more renewable watts for each dollar (or in this case, Euro), spent.
Direct Replacement Necessary to Have any Hope of Mitigating Human Caused Climate Change
Policy measures to cut coal plant funding and regulate carbon emissions raise the possibility of a growing direct replacement of fossil fuel energy sources with renewable energy sources over the coming decade. A rapid pace of this kind of replacement will be necessary to deal with a growing set of difficulties imposed by human-caused climate change. What appears hopeful is that renewables seem poised to encompass ever-larger portions of the world’s energy mix. Let’s hope the pace at which this replacement occurs is fast enough and strong enough to avoid the worst impacts of climate change.
To wit, it is important to note that global carbon emissions are still rising. As of 2012, the world had emitted 31.6 gigatons of CO2 into the atmosphere. And though the rate of increase slowed substantially from 2011 to 2012, this massive volume of CO2 was enough to set a new record high. So the sense of urgency and impetus for change could not be higher.
From this point forward, we’re in a race between the rate of fossil fuel burning and the rate of renewables adoption. Allowing too much more to be burned before the last coal plant, oil well, and natural gas plant are shuttered (or, more dubiously, have their carbon sequestered) puts in place a situation where we were ‘too late’ to prevent a climate nightmare.
And this is one situation where we really, really don’t want to be too late.
To this thought, I’ll leave you with a recent interview of climate activist and, in my opinion, hero of social and environmental justice, Tim DeChristopher by late night entertainer David Letterman: