It’s Not All Gloom: Renewable Energy Investment Hits a High

The United Nations offers some good news this month. A new study shows that investment in renewable energy has increased significantly in the last year.

The finding, which comes as part of the Global Trends in Renewable Energy Investment report, tells us that global investment in renewable energy hit an all time high in 2015, with $285.9 billion spent on greener energy. This beats the previous high of $278.5 billion that was set in 2011.

In addition, the $130 billion investment in fossil fuel coal and gas-fired electricity composed less than half the $266 billion investment made in solar energy, wind energy and other renewables.

While the transition to more sustainable energy sources has been ongoing for some time, last year’s data demonstrates a definite shift — and suggests that world governments are taking renewable energy seriously.

The report, published by the Frankfurt School-Unep Collaborating Centre for Climate and Sustainable Energy Finance and Bloomberg New Energy Finance, says that these figures were helped by the declining cost of renewable energy at the per megawatt-hour level.

In fact, 2015 marked the first time that newly installed renewables were able to top conventional energy technologies in their overall capacities. 

The report also draws attention to the fact that, without this investment in renewables — and excluding large hydropower — 2015′s global CO2 emissions would have been around 1.5 gigatons higher.

This shows that a large scale structural change is occurring in how governments utilize energy technologies.

But what’s responsible for this specific rise in green energy investment? 

The figures were helped by several developing nations that invested large amounts of money in renewable energies. Chief among them? China.

While China has received criticism for its slow approach to establish firm peak carbon emissions caps, 2015 saw China invest the equivalent of $102.9 billion US dollars — 36 percent of the world total annual investment — in renewable energy initiatives. India, among others, also significantly upped its investment.

These examples show that while developing economies may refuse to phase out fossil fuel use entirely, they are open to — and currently utilizing — green energy alternatives. 

Following December’s Paris climate talks, these encouraging figures show that real progress can be made — especially now that world governments have adopted the Sustainable Development Goals.

Writing in the foreword for the report, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon says:

We have entered a new era of clean energy growth that can fuel a future of opportunity and greater prosperity for every person on the planet.  Governments, businesses and investors around the world are realising that the progression to low-emission, climate-resilient growth is inevitable, beneficial and already under way.

[...]

In 2015, significant strides were made in the financing of renewable energy technologies. Global Trends in Renewable Energy Investment 2016 increases our confidence that a low-carbon world is attainable and that we are on the right path to reach our objectives, including those under the Sustainable Development Goals.

However, as the Secretary General goes on to warn, there remain significant areas for concern.

If the world is to keep global temperature rise to below 2ºC on pre-industrial levels — considered the absolute maximum temperature rise we can withstand before large-scale destructive climate change — more will need to be done.

Particularly disappointing is Europe’s level of investment. While Chile, South Africa and other nations continue to up their investments, overall investment in green energy technologies was down 21 percent in Europe.

That’s a reduction from about $62 billion in 2014 to $48.8 billion in 2015 – despite a groundbreaking new off-shore wind farm project.

While the United States was able to increase its investment by 19 percent, critics point out that at just $44.1 billion, the overall investment figure could stand to be higher.

That said, the amount is still substantial — and a move in the right direction. Under a Republican presidency, the figure could fall dramatically given the current GOP candidates’ hostility toward climate change.

Despite the positive trends, renewable energy still only makes up about 10 percent of all energy production methods — again, excluding large hydro productions.

That figure must climb sharply in the next few years if we wish to stay on track for the below 2ºC target. The effort will involve sticking to major policy interventions to curb fossil fuel use — and that burden needs to fall on developed economies that can withstand the transition.

In related news, world representatives are preparing for the April 22 signing of the climate agreement made at COP21.

While it is unclear precisely how many nations will sign on to the goals and — in some cases — binding accords, hopefully an unprecedented number will agree to dramatic action on reducing CO2 and fighting climate change.

Photo credit: Thinkstock.

66 comments

william Miller
william Mabout a year ago

thanks

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Siyus Copetallus
Siyus Copetallus1 years ago

Thank you for sharing.

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Grace Adams
Grace Adams1 years ago

We need to replace fossil fuel with renewable energy AND we need to support our too big to fail fossil fuel firms in the style to which they are accustomed. Only way I can think of to do both at same time is to first phase in a tax on greenhouse gas emissions with all the revenue from that tax used to buy fossil fuel as mineral rights at the "Social Cost of Carbon" (federal government's estimate of how much damage to others fossil fuel industry does) from ONLY our too big to fail fossil fuel firms to keep it in the ground. Second, when emissions tax is halfway to Social Cost of Carbon, phase in another tax on energy regardless of carbon footprint, and again use all the revenue from that tax to buy fossil fuel as mineral rights again from our too big to fail fossil fuel firms. Huge expense to consumers. But since we really need to do BOTH replace fossil fuel with renewable energy AND support our too big to fail fossil fuel firms, it is very much NECESSARY.

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Grace Adams
Grace Adams1 years ago

Republicans are NOT opposed to climate change. They believe it is just fine the way it is. They are opposed to doing anything to mitigate or adapt to climate change. They are capitalists with a product to PUSH. Recognizing that climate change is a problem would interfere with pushing that product.

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Charles Brexel Sr.

Good article. Please do more articles like this one.

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Marie W.
Marie W1 years ago

Thanks

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Dave C.
David C1 years ago

yeah!

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Cathy B.
Cathy B1 years ago

Thank you for sharing!

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Frances Bell
Frances Bell1 years ago

More needs to be done, more quickly. The time is long past for round table discussions on what we need to do and who's going to be first to do it. JUST DO IT.

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S Gardner
sandy Gardner1 years ago

SOUNDS LIKE A GOOD STEP!

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