Friday, April 06, 2018

Global Solar Capacity Grew Faster Than Fossil Fuels in 2017, Says Report

Global solar capacity grew faster than fossil fuels in 2017, says report

A Chinese female farmer works in the field near a Photovoltaic Solar Power Plant in Xuzhou, Jiangsu province, China. 16-Feb-2013 (Credit: Lou Linwei / Alamy Stock Photo) Click to Enlarge.
For the first time in 2017, global solar capacity grew faster than all fossil fuels combined, including coal, oil, and gas-fired power stations.

That’s one finding of the latest annual report on global trends in renewable energy finance, from the UN Environment Program (UNEP) and Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF).

It shows renewables, excluding large hydro, made up three-fifths of net power capacity growth in 2017 and supplied a record 12% share of global electricity generation.

Global renewable investment held steady, with falling costs ensuring the same money bought record levels of new capacity.  Within that, developing nations, led by China, claimed an ever-larger share of the total as investment fell steeply in several European countries.

Solar record
One of the most striking findings in Thursday’s report is that global solar capacity grew faster in 2017 than the combined total for all fossil fuels – coal, oil, gas – as the chart at left shows.

Utility-Scale wind, solar, and storage operating capacity (Credit: GTM) Click to Enlarge.
Note that this chart shows net capacity growth, after accounting for power plants that have retired.  This is particularly significant for coal, where 32 gigawatts (GW) closed in 2017 and for gas, which lost 16GW.

Global net nuclear capacity shrank during 2010-2012.  Fossil fuels includes coal, oil and gas.  Other renewables includes biomass, geothermal, waste-to-energy and small hydro below 50 megawatts capacity. 

Note that the figures reported in each year’s ‘Global Trends’ report are preliminary.  Carbon Brief will update this chart if final figures become available.

The milestone reflects rising investment and falling costs for solar (see below for more on this).  Significantly, it also reflects the decline in the growth of new coal and gas capacity, as well as an increase in retirements.

The global pipeline of new coal-fired power stations is shrinking fast and ageing plants in the US and Europe are closing down.  The outlook for new gas-fired power stations is also fading, according to the world’s largest gas turbine manufacturers.

The record 98 gigawatts (GW) of new solar built in 2017 increased the world’s cumulative capacity by a third, to 399GW.  Solar capacity also grew by a third in 2016 – and the amount added in the last year alone was larger than all the solar ever built before 2013.

Even the International Energy Agency (IEA), which has long been seen as downplaying the growth potential for renewables, expects global solar capacity to reach 740GW by 2022.  Others say solar growth is still consistently underestimated.
Falling costs
Levelised cost of electricity, by renewable technology, 2007-2017, $ per megawatt hour. (Source: UNEP/BNEF Global Trends in Renewable Energy Finance 2018) Click to Enlarge.
The rise of new renewable capacity is largely down to solar growth, as the first chart showed.  This, in turn, is due to rapidly falling costs.  Between 2009 and 2017, the global average cost of generating a megawatt hour (MWh) of electricity from solar fell by 72%, as the chart at right shows.  Onshore wind has also seen significant declines, of 27% over the same period.

Read more at Global Solar Capacity Grew Faster Than Fossil Fuels in 2017, Says Report

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