Renewables enjoy record 2015 in terms of investment and installations, REN21 report says

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Last year was a record 12 months for renewable energy investment and installations, with REN21 calculating in its latest global status report that the world boosted its clean power capacity by 147.2 GW in 2015.

The Renewables 2016 Global Status Report, published today, found that new installations of renewable power generation capacity reached 1,848.5 GW cumulatively at the end of last year, fuelled by record levels of spending.

In 2015, some $285.9 billion was spent on the clean energy sector worldwide, a figure that outstrips the $273 billion invested in 2014. If large hydropower projects are included in that calculation, the figure rises to $328.9 billion.

Paris-based REN21 said in its report that "several factors" were driving this growth, chief among them a desire among developing nations to embrace cleaner energy sources, secure their energy independence and reduce their reliance on fossil fuels.

In fact, the report states that, for the first time ever, total investment in renewable power and fuels in developing countries in 2015 exceeded that in developed economies.

"Countries are opting for renewables because they are not only the most environmentally sound, but also the cheapest option," said REN21 executive secretary, Christine Lins.

The cost-competitiveness of solar PV and wind power were cited in the report as a leading reason why the renewables sector has grown so much, and at a time of historically low fossil fuel prices and amid a culture – at least among certain nations – steeped in fossil fuel reliance.

"What is truly remarkable about these results," said Lins, "is that they were achieved at a time when fossil fuel prices were at historic lows, and renewables remained at a significant disadvantage in terms of government subsidies."

Lins added that for every dollar spent boosting renewables, nearly four dollars were spent last year to maintain our dependence on fossil fuels.

Turning tide

However, the spending trend is definitely shifting, aided by a growing acceptance among governments, leading multinationals and cities that embracing renewable energy is not only culturally, morally and environmentally sound practice, but it also makes economic sense.

At the beginning of this year, REN21 estimate that 173 countries now have renewable energy targets in place, with 146 countries boasting support policies designed to trigger investment in clean power.

This supportive environment is evidenced in employment, with more than 8.1 million people around the world now working in the renewable energy sector – and job numbers are increasing all the time, the report said.

According to REN21, the data analyzed in the report only encapsulated trends evident at the very beginning of 2016, and the report stressed that further positive impacts are likely to be forthcoming following the adoption of action plans drawn up at COP21 in Paris last December.

A few words of warning, though, were added as a caveat to the report, chief among them the need to effectively integrate growing renewable capacities into national grids; addressing political instability and regulatory and fiscal constraints, and placing even greater focus on renewable-driven transport, heating and cooling technologies.

REN21 chair Arthouros Zervos spoke of this two-speed clean energy revolution when he concluded: "The renewables train is barreling down the track, but it’s running on 20th century infrastructure – a system based on outdated thinking where conventional baseload is generated by fossil fuels and nuclear power."

Zervos said that to accelerate the transition to a healthier, more-secure and climate-safe future, the sector needs to integrate the equivalent of a high-speed rail network. "A smarter, more flexible system that maximizes the use of variable sources of renewable energy, and accommodates decentralized and community-based generation."