NAIROBI – Renewable energy capacity quadrupled in the world from 2009 to 2019, with total investment reaching $2.6 trillion as solar energy led the way, the United Nations said Thursday.
In early 2010, renewable energy sources, excluding hydroelectric power plants, accounted for just 4 percent of world energy capacity.
By the end of 2019, solar and wind energy are expected to account for 18 percent of the electricity consumed on the Earth.
The 2019 Global Trends in Renewable Energy Investment report, prepared by the UN Environment Program, the Frankfurt School-UNEP Collaborating Center for Climate & Sustainable Energy Finance and Bloomberg New Energy Finance, found that renewable energy capacity, excluding hydroelectric sources, rose from 414 GW at the end of 2009 to a projected 1,650 GW by the end of this year.
Solar energy capacity led the way, soaring from 25 GW in early 2010 to 638 GW by the end of 2019, or almost enough “to produce all the electricity needed each year by about 100 million average homes in the USA,” the report said, adding that solar power will have drawn half, or some $1.3 trillion, of the $2.6 trillion “in renewable energy capacity investments made over the decade.”
“Investing in renewable energy is investing in a sustainable and profitable future, as the last decade of incredible growth in renewables has shown,” the new UN Environment Program executive director, Inger Andersen, said in a statement released at the agency’s headquarters in Nairobi.
Global investment in renewables totaled $272.9 billion last year, down 12 percent from 2017 but still triple the amount of money going into coal- and gas-fired power plants.
“The global share of electricity generation accounted for by renewables reached 12.9 percent in 2018, up from 11.6 percent in 2017. This avoided an estimated 2 billion tons of carbon dioxide emissions last year alone – a substantial saving given global power sector emissions of 13.7 billion tons in 2018,” the report said.
Some $133.5 billion was invested in solar energy, down 22 percent from 2017 but still the top segment attracting capital among renewables.
Investment in wind power rose 3 percent to $129.7 billion last year.
China continues to be the No. 1 investor in solar energy, pumping $88.5 billion into the sector in 2018, although investment fell 38 percent, compared to the previous year, while Europe ranked second, with $59.9 billion invested, and the United States was No. 3, with $42.8 billion invested in solar, a drop of 6 percent.
“China has been by far the biggest investor in renewables capacity over this decade, having committed $758 billion between 2010 and the first half of 2019, with the US second on $356 billion and Japan third on $202 billion,” the report said.
Europe as a whole invested $698 billion in renewables over the 10-year period studied.
While some countries cut investment in clean energy projects, others, such as Spain, Vietnam, Ukraine and South Africa, quadrupled their investment capacity in 2018.
“We cannot afford to be complacent. Global power sector emissions have risen about 10 percent over this period. It is clear that we need to rapidly step up the pace of the global switch to renewables if we are to meet international climate and development goals,” Andersen said.
Investment in renewables has soared because the cost of these energy sources has dropped.
“The technologies to use wind, sun or geothermal energy are available, they are competitive and clean. Within 10 years, Germany will produce two-thirds of its power based on renewables. We are demonstrating that an industrial country can phase out coal and, at the same time, nuclear energy without putting its economy at risk,” German Federal Minister for the Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety Svenja Schulze said.
Bloomberg New Energy Finance CEO Jon Moore said the drop in the cost of renewables has prompted a change in energy policies that previously focused on coal.
“Sharp falls in the cost of electricity from wind and solar over recent years have transformed the choice facing policy makers,” Moore said. “Now, in many countries around the world, either wind or solar is the cheapest option for electricity generation.”