Renewables make up 70% of new power capacity, but lag in heating and transport

Renewable power made up 70% of net additions to global power generating capacity last year, according to REN21’s Renewables 2018 Global Status Report (GSR). But the report emphasises the progress still to be made to integrate renewables into the heating, cooling and transport sectors – which together account for around four-fifths of global final energy demand, and which continue to lag far behind the power sector.

A key sector in the renewables boom is solar photovoltaics (PV), which saw capacity rise 29% in 2017 to a record 98 GW, according to the GSR. Indeed more solar PV generating capacity was added to the electricity system in 2017 than net capacity additions of coal, natural gas and nuclear power combined. Wind power also drove the uptake of renewables, with 52 GW added globally in 2017.

Despite ongoing subsidies for fossil fuel generation, investment in new renewable power capacity was more than twice that of new fossil fuel and nuclear power capacity combined, says the report. In 2017, more than two-thirds of investments in power generation were in renewables, thanks to their increasing cost-competitiveness.

Geographically, investment in new renewable power capacity was mainly concentrated in China, Europe and the US, which together accounted for nearly 75% of global investment in renewables in 2017. However, when measured per unit of GDP, the report showed that developing countries – including the Marshall Islands, Rwanda, the Solomon Islands and Guinea-Bissau – are investing as much or more in renewables than developed or emerging economies.

However, and despite this progress, energy demand and energy-related carbon dioxide emissions rose ‘substantially’ for the first time in four years, highlights the report, with energy-related carbon emissions rising by 1.4%. Global energy demand rose by an estimated 2.1% in 2017, due to economic growth in emerging economies as well as population growth. However, renewable energy uptake is not keeping pace with this increasing energy demand, adds the report.

The heating, cooling and transport sectors will need to follow the example of the power sector – and fast – if progress is to be made in achieving the Paris Agreement 2°C target, warns the report. The heating and cooling sectors have seen little uptake in renewables, with modern renewable energy supplying only 10% of global heat production in 2016.

The GSR also looks at national targets for renewable energy in heating and cooling, which currently exist in 48 countries worldwide – compared to 146 countries which have renewable energy targets in the power sector. In India, for example, installations of solar thermal collectors rose by approximately 25% from 2016 to 2017. By 2020, China aims to source 2% of the cooling loads from its buildings from solar energy.

In the transport sector, increasing electrification is offering possibilities for renewable energy uptake despite the current dominance of fossil fuels. Each year, more than 30mn two and three-wheeled electric vehicles are being added to the world’s roads, and a reported 1.2mn passenger electric cars were sold in 2017; up about 57% from 2016. Electricity supplies 1.3% of transport energy needs – of which about 25% is renewable, while on-board biofuels provide 2.9%. Overall, however, 92% of transport energy needs continue to be met by oil.

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