The year 2015 was an extraordinary year for renewable energy with more developing countries investing in renewables than developed world, according to the Renewables 2016 report by the Renewable Energy Policy Network for the 21st Century (Ren21).

Renewables are now cost competitive with fossil fuels in many markets and are established around the world as mainstream sources of energy.

“What is truly remarkable about these results is that they were achieved at a time when fossil fuel prices were at historic lows, and renewables remained at a significant disadvantage in terms of government subsidies,” she said. “For every dollar spent boosting renewables, nearly four dollars were spent to maintain our dependence on fossil fuels.”

Renewable energy investment in developed countries declined by eight percent, to US $130 billion, in 2015. Countries in the developing world (including China, Brazil and India) dedicated a grand total of US $156.9 billion to installing renewable capacity, with China accounting for 102.9 billion of the composite figure.

“Wind power was the leading source of new power generating capacity in Europe and the United States in 2015, and the second largest in China,” the report said.

“Bangladesh is the world’s largest market for solar home systems, and other developing countries (e.g., Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania in Africa; China, India and Nepal in Asia; Brazil and Guyana in Latin America) are seeing rapid expansion of small-scale renewable systems, including renewables-based mini-grids, to provide electricity for people living far from the grid.”

China, it said, had played a “dominant role” in the industry, increasing its investment by 17 per cent. This accounted for a staggering 36 per cent of the total global investment.

“Renewable energy investment also increased significantly in India, South Africa, Mexico and Chile. Other developing countries investing more than $500m (about £345m) in renewables in 2015 included Morocco, Uruguay, the Philippines, Pakistan and Honduras,” the REN21 report said.

“By contrast, renewable energy investment in developed countries as a group declined by eight per cent in 2015, to $130bn.

Guidance for Policymakers:

  • Systemic, cross-cutting approaches are needed for scaling up renewables. There is a clear link between environmental protection, poverty reduction, economic growth and technology development, and this work on cross-cutting issues cannot be done in silos.
  • Policy design should financially discourage investments in fossil fuels and nuclear, while also removing risk from investments in renewable energy.
  • To meet the target of limiting global temperature increase to below 2 degrees Celsius, while at the same time increasing energy access, remaining fossil fuel reserves will have to be kept in the ground, and both renewable energy and energy efficiency will have to be scaled up dramatically.
  • Fossil fuel subsidies have to be phased out, as they distort the true costs of energy and encourage wasteful spending and increased emissions.
  • Policy makers need to remove barriers that are preventing the increased share of renewables in heating and cooling and transport.
  • It is imperative to plan proactively for a future with a higher amount of distributed energy generation.
  • Comprehensive energy planning is needed to intensify research, development and deployment of enabling infrastructure for distributed resources.
Read the full report on the REN21 website.