IRENA: Solar Outpaced Wind During Banner Year For Renewables


Adding to the list of studies highlighting the immense growth of renewables last year, the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) has released a new report that finds global renewable energy generation capacity increased by 161 GW in 2016, making it the strongest year ever for new capacity additions. Perhaps most notably, though, the report also says solar growth outpaced wind energy for the first time since 2013.

IRENA’s Renewable Energy Capacity Statistics 2017 report estimates that by the end of last year, the world’s renewable generation capacity reached 2,006 GW, with solar energy showing particularly strong growth.

“We are witnessing an energy transformation taking hold around the world, and this is reflected in another year of record-breaking additions in new renewable energy capacity,” says IRENA Director-General Adnan Z. Amin. “This growth in deployment emphasizes the increasingly strong business case for renewables, which also have multiple socio-economic benefits in terms of fueling economic growth, creating jobs and improving human welfare and the environment.

“But accelerating this momentum will require additional investment in order to move decisively toward decarbonizing the energy sector and meet climate objectives. This new data is an encouraging sign that, though there is much yet to do, we are on the right path,” adds Amin.

IRENA says its new data shows that last year’s additions grew the world’s renewable energy capacity by 8.7%, with a record 71 GW of new solar energy leading the growth. Wind energy increased by 51 GW, while hydropower and bioenergy capacities increased 30 GW and 9 GW, respectively – the best-ever year for growth in bioenergy capacity. Geothermal energy capacity increased by just under 1 GW.

According to IRENA, Asia accounted for 58% of new renewable additions in 2016, giving it a total of 812 GW or roughly 41% of the global capacity. Asia was also the fastest-growing region, with a 13.1% increase in renewable capacity. Africa installed 4.1 GW of new capacity in 2016, twice as much as in 2015.

This year’s edition of Renewable Energy Capacity Statistics contains for the first time data specifically for off-grid renewables. IRENA says that off-grid renewable electricity capacity reached 2.8 GW at the end of 2016. Roughly 40% of off-grid electricity was provided by solar energy and 10% from hydropower. The majority of the remainder came from bioenergy. IRENA estimates that as many as 60 million households, or 300 million people, are served with and benefit from off-grid renewable electricity globally.

Highlights of the report include the following:

Solar energy: Asia saw the most growth in solar capacity last year, with capacity of 139 GW (+50 GW). Almost half of all new solar capacity was installed in China in 2016 (+34 GW). Other countries with significant expansion included the U.S. (+11 GW); Japan (+8 GW) and India (+4 GW). Capacity in Europe expanded by 5 GW to reach 104 GW, with most expansion occurring in Germany and the U.K.

Wind energy: Almost three-quarters of new wind energy capacity was installed last year in just four countries: China (+19 GW), the U.S. (+9 GW), Germany (+5 GW), and India (+4 GW). Brazil continued to show strong growth, with an increase of 2 GW in 2016.

Hydropower: In 2016, about half of new hydro capacity was installed in Brazil and China (14.6 GW in total). Other countries with major hydro expansion (over 1 GW) included Canada, Ecuador, Ethiopia and India.

Bioenergy: The majority of bioenergy capacity expansion occurred in Asia last year (+5.9 GW), and Asia is fast approaching Europe in terms of its share of global bioenergy capacity (32% compared to 34% in Europe). Europe (+1.3 GW) and South America (+0.9 GW) were the other two regions where bioenergy capacity expanded significantly.

Geothermal energy: Geothermal power capacity increased by 780 MW in 2016, with expansions in Kenya (+485 MW), Turkey (+150 MW), Indonesia (+95 MW) and Italy (+55 MW).

IRENA’s Renewable Energy Capacity Statistics 2017 report is available here.

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