Renewable energy capacity grew 8.5 percent in 2014, and 164 countries now have renewable energy targets and other policies, according REN21’s Renewables Global Status Report.
In 2014, 135 gigawatts of total renewable energy power capacity was added, including hydroelectric plants, bringing the total to 1,712 GW, up 8.5 percent from the year before and double the capacity of REN21’s first report in 2005.
In part due to the added capacity, 2014 also marked the first time in four decades that the world economy grew without a similar rise in carbon dioxide emissions. Emissions in 2014 were unchanged from 2013, at 32.3 billion metric tons, despite a 1.5 percent increase in energy consumption and a 3 percent increase in GDP. This can be attributed in part to a shift to more renewable energy, particularly in China, as well as more energy efficiency.
“Renewable energy and improved energy efficiency are key to limiting global warming to two degrees Celsius and avoiding dangerous climate change,” REN21 chair Arthouros Zervos, who released the new report at the Vienna Energy Forum, said in a statement.
Renewable energy should continue to grow if the world’s leading economies take a recent pledge by German Chancellor Angela Merkel seriously. Earlier this month, Merkel announced that the G7 would phase out fossil fuels by the end of the century, following recommendations of the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
Despite the progress, the current growth in renewable energy is not enough to reach Sustainable Energy 4 All’s goals of doubling renewable energy and energy efficiency and providing universal access by 2030. Currently, more than one billion people, or 15 percent of the world’s population, lack access to electricity.
Wind capacity in particular saw a huge boost in 2014, with 51 GW added, a 44 percent increase over 2013, bringing the world total to 370 GW. China accounted for 45 percent of added capacity. Wind is playing a large role to countries’ energy make up, comprising over 20 percent of electricity demand in Denmark, Nicaragua, Portugal and Spain.
A record 40 GW of solar photovoltaic capacity was added in 2014, bringing total capacity to 177 GW. China, Japan and the US accounted for the majority of the new capacity although Latin America is the fastest growing market.
Global investment in renewable energy, not including large hydropower, increased 17 percent to $270.2 billion and was twice as high as investment in fossil fuel power capacity. That finding is consistent with other recent reports that renewable energy is now growing faster than fossil fuels.
Developing countries increased their investments by 36 percent to $131.3 billion in 2014, with China accounting for 63 percent of that amount.
While China, the US, Japan, the UK and Germany invested the most dollar-wise, Burundi, Kenya, Honduras, Jordan and Uruguay had the highest investment relative to per-capita GDP.
Nonetheless, governments are still shelling out more than $550 billion in annual subsidies for fossil fuel and nuclear energy, according to the report.
“Creating a level playing field would strengthen the development and use of energy efficiency and renewable energy technologies,” Christine Lins, executive secretary of REN21 said in a statement. “Removing fossil-fuel and hidden nuclear subsidies globally would make it evident that renewables are the cheapest energy option.”