Developing countries outpacing leading industrial nations in global renewable energy capacity

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The number of emerging economy nations with policies in place to support the expansion of renewable energy has surged more than six-fold in just eight years, from 15 developing countries in 2005 to 95 early this year, according to REN21’s Renewables 2014 Global Status Report.

Those 95 developing nations now make up the vast majority of the 144 countries with renewable energy support policies and targets in place, the report says, adding that the rise of developing world support contrasts with declining support and renewables policy uncertainty and even retroactive support reductions in some European countries and the United States.

Launched at the UN-hosted Sustainable Energy for All in New York, the 2014 report credits support policies with a central role in driving global renewable energy capacity to a new record level last year — more than 1,560 GW, up more than 8% from 2012. More than 22% of the world’s power production now comes from renewable sources.

"Markets, manufacturing, and investment expanded further across the developing world, clearly illustrating that renewables are no longer dependent upon a small handful of countries," REN21 reports.

In 2013, an estimated 6.5 million people worldwide worked directly or indirectly in the renewable energy sector. In addition, renewables accounted for more than 56% of net additions to global power capacity last year. Renewable energy provided 19% of global final energy consumption in 2012, and continued to grow in 2013. Of this total share in 2012, modern renewables accounted for 10%, with the remaining 9% coming from traditional biomass, the share of which is declining.

Record year for PV

For the first time, more solar PV than wind power capacity was added worldwide, accounting for about one-third of renewable power capacity added during the year, according to REN21. While global investment in solar PV declined nearly 22% relative to 2012, new capacity installations increased by more than 32%. The solar PV market had a record year, adding more than 39 GW in 2013 for a total of approximately 139 GW, the report adds. China saw spectacular growth, accounting for nearly one third of global capacity added, followed by Japan and the United States.

China, the United States, Brazil, Canada, and Germany remained the top countries for total installed renewable power capacity. China’s new renewable power capacity surpassed new fossil fuel and nuclear capacity for the first time, according to the report.

In the European Union, REN21 says 2013 marked the sixth consecutive year in which renewables represented the majority of new electricity generating capacity. The 72% share in 2013 is in stark contrast to a decade earlier, when conventional fossil generation accounted for 80% of new capacity in the EU-27 plus Norway and Switzerland.

REN21 found that renewables are achieving high levels of penetration in several countries. Throughout 2013, wind power met 33.2% and 20.9% of electricity demand in Denmark and Spain, respectively; in Italy, solar PV met 7.8% of total annual electricity demand. A growing numbers of cities, states, and regions are seeking to transition to 100% renewable energy in either individual sectors or economy-wide. Scotland, the African nation of Djibouti and the Polynesian island nation of Tuvalu aim to derive 100% of their electricity from renewable sources by 2020. In Germany, some 20 million Germans now live in so-called 100% renewable energy regions.

Costa Rica, Uruguay and Mauritius were among the top countries for investment in new renewable power and fuels relative to annual GDP.

"Robust policies coupled with continuing technological advances, falling prices and innovations in financing have made renewables increasingly affordable for a broader range of consumers worldwide," the report adds. New global investment in renewable power and fuels was at least US$249.4 billion in 2013, down from its record level in 2011.

REN21’s 2014 report says policy mechanisms continue to evolve. In 2013, feed-in policies in many countries shifted towards premium payments in the power sector and continued to be adapted for use in the heating sector. New policies advanced or managed the integration of high shares of renewable electricity into existing power systems, including support for energy storage, demand-side management, and smart grid technologies.

"Global perceptions of renewable energy have shifted considerably," says Arthouros Zervos, REN21 chair.

"Over the last 10 years, continuing technology advances and rapid deployment of many renewable energy technologies have demonstrated that the question is no longer whether renewables have a role to play in the provision of energy services, but rather how we can best increase the current pace to achieve a 100% renewables future with full energy access for all.

"For this to be become reality, current thinking needs to change: continuing the status quo of a patchwork of policies and actions is no longer sufficient. Instead, technology developments, finance models as well as stable and predictable renewable energy policies need to be systematically linked across the public and private sectors in order to support and drive the transition process."

Christine Lins, REN21’s executive secretary, adds: "The past decade has set the wheels in motion for a global transition to renewables, but a concerted and sustained effort is needed to achieve it. With increasingly ambitious targets and innovative policies, renewables can continue to surpass expectations and create a clean energy future."