Renewable energy is now an established competitive mainstream source of energy with record levels of capacity growth last year, according to research.
A report by REN21 said 2015 was a record year for installations with renewable power generating capacity having its largest increase ever – up by an estimated 147 gigawatts.
The Renewables 2016 Global Status Report said modern renewable heat capacity also continued to rise, and use of renewables expanded in the transport sector.
A combination of more competitive costs of renewable energy compared with fossil fuels, and government leadership, especially in the wind an solar power sectors, had helped drive renewable energy growth, the study concluded. It said that 173 countries had renewable energy targets and 146 countries had support policies, as of early this year. There are now 8.1m people working in the renewable energy sector.
Better access to financing, concerns about energy security and the environment and the growing demand for modern energy services in developing and emerging economies, was also a factor in growth.
REN21 executive secretary Christine Lins said it was remarkable the growth happened while fossil fuel prices were at historic lows.
“For every dollar spent boosting renewables, nearly four dollars were spent to maintain our dependence on fossil fuels,” she said.
Investment in renewable power reached $286bn worldwide last year, but the total is higher if investment in large hydropower and in heating and cooling is taken into account, REN21 said.
The report also noted that developing countries surpassed developed countries in total renewable energy investments for the first time. China accounted for more than one third of the global total, it said.
However, the research said while trends were generally positive there were still challenges to achieving a global transition away from fossil fuels.
Effective integration of high shares of renewables into the grid, addressing policy and political instability, regulatory barriers, and fiscal constraints, were still hindrances to further renewable energy growth, the study noted. A lower policy focus on transport and, particularly, heating and cooling, meant that these sectors were progressing much more slowly, it added.
REN21 chair Arthouros Zervos said: “The renewables train is barreling down the tracks, but it’s running on 20th century infrastructure – a system based on outdated thinking where conventional baseload is generated by fossil fuels and nuclear power.
“To accelerate the transition to a healthier, more-secure and climate-safe future, we need to build the equivalent of a high-speed rail network – a smarter, more flexible system that maximises the use of variable sources of renewable energy, and accommodates decentralised and community-based generation.”