Another record-breaking year for renewable energy: more capacity for less money
By Adam Woodhall — Just prior to the launch of their Renewables 2017 Global Status Report, which found there was a record of 161 GW added to global power capacity, for 23% less investment, I talked with the Executive Secretary of REN21, Christine Lins.
What can you tell us about REN21 and your stakeholders?
REN21 was created in 2004 as a ‘Coalition of the Willing’: all those in the private and the public sector that are keen on advancing renewable energy. Our members span from national governments to different international institutions such as the UN, European Commission, World Bank, industry associations, NGOs and actors in the field of science and academia.
We are a small secretariat based at the United Nations Environment Programme in Paris and we issue the Global Status Report every year. This tracks the latest developments in the field of policy, market, industry and technology developments in all renewable sectors with the help of over 800 contributors from all over around the world.
We see the success story of renewables over the last decade is really the success story of a very close co-operation between the private and the public sector. We are very proud to have been able to build up such a network of the best brains in renewable energy from all around the world, who are very inspired and very passionate to share this good news. It’s a very decentralised sector, so it’s necessary, in order to capture the whole market, to have people all around the world telling the story.
What are your thoughts on President Trump’s decision to take the US out of the Paris Agreement?
I would say that our report couldn’t be launched at a better moment than in the aftermath of this decision. For me, this decision, honestly, comes as a big surprise, because it comes at the moment when renewables are really showing that they’re competitive.
2016 was a year where more renewables capacity was added than ever before with investors getting more capacity for their money: investment went down and capacity increased. This is a clear demonstration that prices for renewable energy have fallen significantly, and so renewables in many parts of the world are cost competitive. For example, we recently had the announcement that five solar power plants in Italy were built without any subsidies.
It was also very encouraging to see that all the remaining G7 countries, including importantly China and India, state they are even more committed to the objectives of the Paris Agreement.
Can you see a time in the future when we’ll get countries that are powered 100% renewably?
I think so. We actually see it already happening now in some islands and regions in the world. I think what we are often lacking is imagination. These frontrunners are really demonstrating that this is feasible and we are spreading this news in the Global Status Report. We’re going to see consumption and production of energy on a much more decentralised basis and we’re going to see also a much stronger integration of sectors – electricity, heating, cooling and transport – so I think that we are just at the start of what’s feasible.
This was the third year in a row where global emissions from the energy sector remained stable while the global economy continued to grow 3%. So we actually achieved a decoupling of growth and emissions and this is largely due to renewable energy and energy efficiency investments and that is very, very positive because it actually shows that these solutions are really central to reducing CO2 and to combating climate change.
I believe therefore the renewables train has left the station. I think what we need to do right now is to increase its speed. I don’t think that the decision in the US has the potential to stop this train. It might delay development a bit, but all in all I think we are on an exciting path. Also there’s one thing that we must really realise is that through the decentralised nature of renewables, everybody can participate in this energy transition and have a stake.
There is a lot of good news, but what could be going better?
I think it’s important that we speed up developments. We need to increase investments. It’s not that we have enormous amounts of time ahead of us. Also in many cases we are not very consistent with our policy decisions because on the one hand we support clean technologies and on the other hand governments still spend four times more to subsidise fossil fuels than they use to support renewable energy. That is counterproductive because it artificially distorts energy prices and makes it harder for renewables to compete with fossil fuels.