Renewables are now a mainstream option in the power sector in nearly all parts of the world. In 2018, over 90 countries had more than 1 GW of renewable power capacity installed, and 30 countries had more than 10 GW. Renewable power capacity grew 8% in 2018, led by wind energy and solar PV. For the fourth straight year, more renewable power capacity was installed than fossil fuel and nuclear power combined, and renewables now account for over one third of global power capacity.
Around 100 gigawatts (GW) of new solar PV capacity alone was installed in 2018, enough to meet more than 25% of electricity demand in France. Hydropower remains the main contributor to the renewable electricity sector and has grown consistently for many years, having played a fundamental role in the power sector for longer than any other renewable energy technology. Bio-power, geothermal power and concentrating solar thermal power (CSP) also are contributing to growth but to a lesser degree.
Growing experience with renewables around the world has shattered negative myths about their viability to meet global energy needs. Renewable energy technologies have been proven reliable and now provide the lowest-cost power generation options in many situations. Renewables also can be successfully integrated into grid operations: in 2018, at least nine countries generated more than 20% of their electricity with variable renewable energy (wind power and solar PV).
What about heating, cooling and transport?
Beyond the power sector, renewables currently play a much smaller role in heating, cooling and transport. This is a big issue, as these sectors are responsible for over 80% of global energy demand. Renewables today provide enough energy to meet over one quarter of electricity demand, but renewable energy options are only providing 10% and 3% of the energy needed in heating and transport, respectively.
Getting renewable energy into the heating, cooling and transport sectors is crucial for decarbonisation; they also represent a huge opportunity for further growth of the renewable energy sector. Technologies do exist to use much higher shares of renewables into these sectors, but inconsistent and ineffective policies coupled with a lack of ambition are slowing progress.
What is holding renewable energy back?
Renewable energy is not competing on a level playing field. Fossil fuel subsidies continued to exist in 112 countries in 2017, with at least 73 countries providing subsidies of over USD 100 million each. Estimated total global subsidies for fossil fuel consumption were USD 300 billion in 2017, an 11% increase from 2016.
A priority for climate-friendly technologies is needed. This can be done by putting a meaningful price on carbon emissions, across a wide spectrum of energy uses. As of 2018, only 44 national governments, 21 states/provinces and 7 cities had implemented carbon pricing policies, covering only 13% of global carbon dioxide emissions.
Ambitious policy and regulatory frameworks are critical to creating favourable and competitive conditions, allowing renewable energy to grow and displace more expensive and carbon-emitting fuels.
Is 100% renewables even possible? What action are cities taking?
100% renewables is possible! Plummeting costs of renewable technologies and opportunities through digitalisation to improve the integration between power, heating, cooling and transport sectors will enable a transition to a world based entirely on renewable energy.
In recent years, there has been a growing movement of cities and countries sourcing and pledging to source 100% of their electricity from renewables. Countries as diverse as Costa Rica, Djibouti and Sweden have set targets to become 100% renewable in their power sectors, among many other countries. Iceland and Norway already produce all their electricity from renewable energy.
On a sub-national level, at least 100 cities worldwide were reportedly sourcing 70% or more of their electricity from renewables by the end of 2018 – including Auckland (New Zealand), Dar es Salaam (Tanzania), Nairobi (Kenya) and Seattle (United States). More than 40 cities were already entirely powered by renewables, with the majority in Latin America, but also elsewhere such as the US cities of Burlington (Vermont), Georgetown (Texas) and Rock Port (Missouri), as well as Reykjavik (Iceland) and Shenzhen (China).
Since 2005, REN21 has tracked global developments to make renewable energy visible, inform decision-making and shape the global energy debate. With the increasing involvement of subnational and municipal governments, REN21 is currently producing the first edition of the Renewables in Cities Global Status Report.
To complement the annual reporting cycles on global developments, REN21 also produces regional status reports to better capture trends and opportunities in underreported regions of the world.
Thanks to this comprehensive tracking, REN21 can provide broad and detailed information on the progress of renewable energy around the world, demonstrating that a sustainable energy transition with renewables is possible.