In 1931, Thomas Edison told his friends Henry Ford and Harvey Firestone: “I’d put my money on the sun and solar energy. What a source of power! I hope we don’t have to wait until oil and coal run out before we tackle that.”
Eight decades later, the energy industry has started to shift from fossil fuels to renewables.
Mr. Edison’s futuristic vision is finally starting to become a sustainable reality.
In signing the Paris Agreement, most of the world showed their commitment to tackle climate change. To meet the ambitious goals of holding the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5 °C above pre-industrial levels required immediate action to accelerate the shift from fossil fuels to green energy.
In the meantime, the price of renewable energy has also fallen to below that of fossil fuels. For instance, since 2010 the cost of new solar photovoltaics (PV) has fallen by 70%, batteries by 40%, and wind by 25%.
A remarkable expansion
Policy support and this sharp decline in costs has quickened the rise of renewables across the globe. In 2016, renewable energy set new records, accounting for about two-thirds of the additional global power generating capacity.
This remarkable expansion was largely driven by the solar boom in China, which represented almost half of the solar panels installed worldwide. For the very first time, solar PV installations also outpaced the growth of all other forms of power generation with a 50 per cent growth.
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The rapid deployment of renewables seems unlikely to slow. On the contrary, the International Energy Agency predicts an increase of 43 per cent in global renewable electricity capacity from 2017 to 2022.
The world’s green leaders
China is the unquestioned global leader in the renewable energy industry today, representing 40 per cent of the global renewable capacity growth. The country is already ahead of its solar PV target set in the 13th five-year plan and is confident in reaching its 2020 wind target a year early.
China has emerged as the world’s leader in hydropower, electric vehicles and bioenergy for electricity.
The USA follows China as the second-biggest growth market for renewables, although the uncertainties regarding global trade policy, federal tax initiatives and energy policy raise concerns over the future growth.
A slowdown in the EU
Remarkably, India is expected to double its renewable capacity by 2022, which would surpass the European Union. In the EU, the renewable growth is expected to be 40 per cent lower than the previous five-year period.
Read more: Passing the green point of no return
Nevertheless, the outlook for some European countries looks promising. Denmark is predicted to become a world leader as it moves towards its target of generating around 70% of its power from renewable sources by 2022.
No longer a dream
The pace of growth of renewables caught the world by surprise, but there is still a long road ahead if we are to achieve the ambitions set out in the Paris climate agreement. Today, more than 80 per cent of global energy still comes from fossil fuels, but green energy is fast become a reality. It is happening now, and we are only just beginning!
International Energy Agency, World Energy Outlook, 2017
International Energy Agency, Renewables, 2017
The Big Green Bang: how renewable energy became unstoppable, Financial Times