Photographer: Akos Stiller/Bloomberg

Record Green Power Installations Beat Fossil Fuel for First Time

  • International Energy Agency increases renewable forecasts
  • China, U.S. and India seen leading growth; EU expansion stalls

Renewable energy reached an important turning point last year with record new installations of emissions-free power surpassing sources that burn fossil fuel, according the International Energy Agency.

New installations of renewable energy overtook conventional power for the first time in 2015, the Paris-based agency said Tuesday in its Medium-Term Renewable Energy Market Report. Global green power rose by a record 153 gigawatts, equivalent to 55 percent of newly installed capacity last year. Total installed capacity exceeded coal for the first time, the IEA said.

“We are witnessing a transformation of global power markets led by renewables and, as is the case with other fields, the center of gravity for renewable growth is moving to emerging markets,” IEA Executive Director Fatih Birol said.

The report shows the acceleration toward clean-power generation was already picking up pace before governments agreed in Paris in December to reduce carbon dioxide emissions. Renewables will be the world’s fastest-growing source of electricity over the next five years, according to the report.

The IEA raised its estimate of the amount of green energy on power grids by 13 percent, revising its forecast to 42 percent by 2021. About 500,000 solar panels were installed each day across the globe in 2015, according to the report.

Renewables capacity will be supported by falling costs, according to the agency. Solar panels are projected to be a quarter cheaper over the five year forecast period ending in 2021. Onshore wind-turbine prices may drop 15 percent.

Much of the growth will be driven by four countries, the IEA said, identifying China, the U.S., India and Mexico as clean-energy hotspots over the next five years. Growth rates in the European Union, an early policy supporter and adopter of clean-energy technologies, may decline.

The IEA’s regional conclusions include:

CHINA

  • The nation is seen as the “undisputed global leader” and is expected to account for 40 percent of the growth going forward, according to the IEA. Public pressure stoked by rampant urban air pollution has prompted the government to accelerate policies favorable to clean energy.
  • Last year, China’s installation “corresponds to two wind turbines every hour,” said Paolo Frankl, head of the IEA’s renewable energy division, in a conference call.

U.S.

  • The U.S. government’s solar and onshore wind tax-credit extension in December also supported the industry. That decision was responsible for about 43 percent of the IEA’s forecast revision.
  • Even as the U.S. market initially slowed, with developers no longer rushing to close projects in time for the subsidy, the IEA expects it to have the second-largest global growth rate with a 50 percent increase in capacity over the forecast period ending in 2021.

INDIA

  • Renewables in India are projected to expand by 76 gigawatts by 2021, led by solar power which is seen growing eightfold. Prime Minister Narendra Modi has set a target to install 175 gigawatts by 2022, up from 45 gigawatts presently. 
  • India has plans to bolster its solar manufacturing industry with $3.1 billion of state aid. Weak grid infrastructure and distribution risks may limit deployment, the IEA said.

MEXICO

  • Mexico’s clean energy capacity is forecast to nearly double by 2021, adding 15 gigawatts. A recent reform of the power industry and the implementation of an auction system has resulted in some of the lowest prices for electricity generated from solar and wind on record.

EUROPE

  • The EU is expected to increase its installed renewables by 21 percent in the medium-term, down from 62 percent over the past six years. The IEA points to weak growth in electricity demand, as well as policy uncertainty.
  • Brexit, Germany’s measures to lower the cost of renewables on consumers and Poland’s limits on wind and solar projects are seen as potential downside risks affecting growth. The trade bloc has a target to generate 27 percent of its energy consumption from clean sources by 2030.
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