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Renewable energy accounts for a third of global power capacity

The decade-long trend of strong growth in renewable energy capacity continued in 2018 with global additions of 171 GW, according to new data released by the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA). The annual increase of 7.9 percent was bolstered by new additions from solar and wind energy, which accounted for 84 percent of the growth. According to IRENA, one-third of global power capacity is now based on renewables.  

The decade-long trend of strong growth in renewable energy capacity continued in 2018 with global additions of 171 GW, according to new data released by the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA). The annual increase of 7.9 percent was bolstered by new additions from solar and wind energy, which accounted for 84 percent of the growth. According to IRENA, one-third of global power capacity is now based on renewable energy (graphic courtesy IRENA).

IRENA’s annual Renewable Capacity Statistics 2019, the most comprehensive, up-to-date and accessible figures on renewable energy capacity indicates growth in all regions of the world, although at varying speeds. Since 2000, non-renewable generation capacity has expanded by about 115 GW per year (on average), with no discernible trend upwards or downwards.

In contrast, renewable generation capacity has expanded by increasing amounts, from less than 20 GW per year in 2001 to about 160 GW per year or more in the last four years. Consequently, the share of renewables in the growth of electricity generation capacity has increased from about 25 percent in 2001, passing 50 percent in 2012 to reach 63 percent in 2018.

The share of renewables in total generation capacity has also increased from 22 percent to 33 percent over the same period.

Through its compelling business case, renewable energy has established itself as the technology of choice for new power generation capacity. The strong growth in 2018 continues the remarkable trend of the last five years, which reflects an ongoing shift towards renewable power as the driver of global energy transformation, said Adnan Z. Amin, outgoing IRENA Director-General.

Regional differences

The expansion of non-renewable generation capacity has continued unabated and shows little sign of slowing down, but the report also points out that these global figures mask some important regional differences.

While Asia accounted for 61 percent of total new renewable energy installations and grew installed renewables capacity by 11.4 percent, growth was fastest in Oceania that witnessed a 17.7 percent rise in 2018. Africa’s 8.4 percent growth put it in third place just behind Asia. Nearly two-thirds of all new power generation capacity added in 2018 was from renewables, led by emerging and developing economies.

IRENA’s analysis also compared the growth in generation capacity of renewables versus non-renewable energy, mainly fossil-fuels and nuclear. While non-renewable generation capacity has decreased in Europe, North America, and Oceania by about 85 GW since 2010, it has increased in both Asia and the Middle East over the same period.

Renewable energy deployment needs to grow even faster, however, to ensure that we can achieve the global climate objectives and Sustainable Development Goals. Countries taking full advantage of their renewables potential will benefit from a host of socioeconomic benefits in addition to decarbonising their economies, said Amin.

Highlights by technology:

  • Hydropower: Growth in hydro continued to slow in 2018, with only China adding a significant amount of new capacity in 2018 (+8.5 GW).
  • Wind energy: Global wind energy capacity increased by 49 GW in 2018. China and the USA continued to account for the greatest share of wind energy expansion, with increases of 20 GW and 7 GW respectively. Other countries expanding by more than 1 GW were: Brazil, France, Germany, India, and the UK.
  • Bioenergy: Three countries accounted for over half of the relatively low level of bioenergy capacity expansion in 2018. China increased capacity by 2 GW and India by 700 MW. Capacity also increased in the UK by 900 MW.
  • Solar energy: Solar energy capacity increased by 94 GW last year (+ 24 percent). Asia continued to dominate global growth with a 64 GW increase (about 70 percent of the global expansion in 2018). Maintaining the trend from last year, China, India, Japan and the Republic of Korea accounted for most of this. Other major increases were in the USA (+8.4 GW), Australia (+3.8 GW) and Germany (+3.6 GW). Other countries with significant expansions in 2018 included: Brazil, Egypt, Pakistan, Mexico, Turkey, and the Netherlands.
  • Geothermal energy: Geothermal energy increased by 539 MW in 2018, with most of the expansion taking place in Turkey (+219 MW) and Indonesia (+137 MW), followed by the USA, Mexico and New Zealand.

Globally, total renewable energy generation capacity reached 2.351 TW at the end of last year – around a third of total installed electricity capacity. Hydropower, excluding 121 GW of pure pumped storage capacity, accounts for the largest share with an installed capacity of 1.172 TW – around half of the total.

Wind and solar energy account for most of the remainder with capacities of 564 GW and 480 GW respectively. Other renewables included 121 GW of bioenergy, 13 GW of geothermal energy and 500 MW of marine energy (tide, wave, and ocean energy).

Renewable generation capacity (left) increased by about the same amount as last year (171 GW or +7.9%). Renewable capacity expansion continues (right) to be driven mostly by new installations of solar and wind energy. These accounted for 84% of all new capacity installed in 2018, pushing the overall share of hydro to just under 50% (graphic courtesy IRENA).

Renewable generation capacity (left) increased by about the same amount as last year (171 GW or +7.9%). Renewable capacity expansion continues (right) to be driven mostly by new installations of solar and wind energy. These accounted for 84% of all new capacity installed in 2018, pushing the overall share of hydro to just under 50% (graphic courtesy IRENA).

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