Record year for re­new­ables, but heat, trans­port stay fos­sil


The growth of re­new­able energy out­paced that of fos­sil fu­els in the elec­tric­ity sec­tor last year, with a record 135 gi­gawatts of ca­pac­ity added from wind, so­lar, hy­dropower and other nat­u­ral sources, a new study shows.

That’s more than the gen­er­at­ing ca­pac­ity of all nu­clear re­ac­tors in the United States and slightly less than Ger­many’s in­stalled ca­pac­ity from all power sources.

The an­nual re­port re­leased early Thurs­day in Europe by Paris- based REN21, a non­profit group that pro­motes re­new­able energy, un­der­scored how China, the world’s top con­sumer of coal, has be­come a global leader in clean energy, too.

It also high­lighted that while re­new­ables now ac­count for 28 per­cent of the world’s elec­tric­i­ty­gen­er­at­ing ca­pac­ity, they still ac­count for only a tiny share of how we heat and cool build­ings and fuel our means of trans­porta­tion.

Re­new­able energy’s share in all forms of energy con­sump­tion — cur­rently about 10 per­cent — will have to in­crease dra­mat­i­cally to ful­fill the vi­sion that Pres­i­dent Barack Obama and other lead­ers of the Group of Seven wealthy economies en­dorsed last week. To fight cli­mate change, they called for deep cuts in heat­trap­ping car­bon emis­sions and all but elim­i­nat­ing them by the end of the cen­tury.

Mean­while, global energy pro­duc­tion must surge to meet the de­mands of de­vel­op­ing economies and a grow­ing world pop­u­la­tion. The fos­sil fuel in­dus­try and many energy ex­perts say that can’t hap­pen with­out fos­sil fu­els, even in the elec­tric­ity sec­tor, where coal re­mains the top fuel.

Sup­port­ers of re­new­able energy say the world is al­ready “de­cou­pling” car­bon emis­sions from eco­nomic growth, point­ing to pre­lim­i­nary data from the In­ter­na­tional Energy Agency show­ing that car­bon emis­sions from the energy sec­tor didn’t rise last year even though the global econ­omy grew by 3 per­cent.

How­ever, ear­lier this week the IEA said that, among other mea- sures, in­vest­ments in re­new­ables need to in­crease from US$ 270 bil­lion last year to US$ 400 bil­lion in 2030 to sup­port a tran­si­tion to a low- car­bon econ­omy.

Paolo Frankl, the head of IEA’s Re­new­able Energy Di­vi­sion, said REN21’ s fig­ures matched re­search by his own agency, con­firm­ing a clear up­ward trend in re­new­ables.

The REN21 re­port said re­new­ables ac­counted for al­most 60 per­cent of the global power ca­pac­ity added in 2014. Wind power made the big­gest jump among the re­new­ables in 2014, with 51GW of new ca­pac­ity, al­most half of it in China.

So­lar power also ex­panded, but from a low level; it ac­counts for only 1 per­cent of global elec­tric­ity pro­duc­tion.

Geo­ther­mal power added just 700MW of ca­pac­ity, half of it in Kenya. Other re­new­able sources, such as ocean energy from tidal forces, are not yet hav­ing any sig­nif­i­cant im­pact.

In heat­ing and cool­ing of build­ings and in­dus­try, which ac­counts for about half of global energy con­sump­tion, t here was lit­tle change from the year be­fore, with re­new­ables rep­re­sent­ing about 8 per­cent, mostly biomass.

In the trans­port sec­tor, dom­i­nated by oil- based fu­els, the im­pact of re­new­ables re­mained small de­spite growth in bio­fu­els. In road trans­port their share was only 3.5 per­cent in 2014, up from 2 per­cent in 2007. As fuel for jets, re­new­ables are still in the ex­per­i­men­tal stage.

The re­port said at least 164 coun­tries have set tar­gets for re­new­able energy and about 145 had poli­cies in place to sup­port it. The au­thors called for gov­ern­ments to in­crease sup­port for re­new­able energy, par­tic­u­larly in the heat­ing and cool­ing sec­tor.


(Above) This May 6, 2013 file photo shows a wind tur­bine farm near Glen­rock, Wy­oming. (Right) In this April 3 file photo, Amer­i­can Pres­i­dent Barack Obama walks through a so­lar ar­ray at Hill Air Force Base, Utah, to speak about clean energy.

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