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Source: Cmglee / CC BY-SA 3.0

Renewable energy shined in 2015. According to the Renewables 2016 Global Status Report, which accounted for an estimated 92 percent of global GDP and 95 percent of the total population, last year marked the biggest increase in new renewable energy generation capacity in history.

In 2015, Earth added the capacity to generate roughly 147 gigawatts of electricity and 38 gigawatts of heat from renewable sources (combined that’s more power than 92 Hoover Dams). Total investment in renewables (excluding large-scale hydro power) reached an unprecedented $285.9 billion, more than double the amount invested in new coal and natural gas power generation.

Solar troughs in the Negev desert, Israel. (Photo Credit: David Shankbone)

Solar troughs in the Negev desert, Israel. (Photo Credit: David Shankbone)

China led the pack, with the most installed capacity and the largest investment (over $100 billion), with the U.S.A, Japan, the UK and India also contributing substantial assets to clean power.

Somewhat surprisingly, last year marked the first year that developing countries invested more than developed nations in renewable energy, with a 19 percent influx since 2014. Investment in the developed world as a whole actually decreased by eight percent compared to 2014, however the United States increased investment by 19 percent in that time period.

The majority of investments were in solar and wind energy, comprising roughly 56 percent and 38 percent of the global total, respectively. Large-scale power producers generated the majority of renewable energy in 2015. Home systems and micro-grids also played a significant roll, especially in developing countries like Bangladesh, which is the biggest market for individual solar systems, the report states.

London's Strata SE1 is one of the first buildings in the world to incorporate wind turbines as part of its structure. © User:Colin / Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA 4.0

London’s Strata SE1 is one of the first buildings in the world to incorporate wind turbines as part of its structure. © User:Colin / Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA 4.0

There were several significant policy factors that fanned the sector’s fire. Although the report analysis utilized data largely collected before the accord, the COP21 Paris Agreement set an unprecedented push towards clean power with 147 countries publicly committing to some form of renewable energy. Also of note was the G7’s Declaration on Climate Change, which aims for “a transformation of the energy sectors by 2050”; and the Paris City Hall Declaration in which almost 1,000 mayors agreed to strive for 100 percent renewable energy or 80 percent greenhouse gas emissions reduction by 2050.

Although the sector has a bright outlook, modern renewable energy (excluding traditional biomass) still only accounts for just over 10 percent of total energy generation. Of note, there is a paucity of renewable fuels being used in the transportation, heating and cooling sectors, which, according to the report, make up about two-thirds of total energy use and over 50 percent global greenhouse gas emissions. Regulatory uncertainty and fossil fuel subsidies, approximated at $490 billion annually compared to $135 billion for renewables, pose barriers to market expansion. However, emissions reductions commitments from governments and businesses, technological advancements and investment trends, indicate continued surges in clean energy for years to come.

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