15 May 2017 2017 08:15 AM GMT

Overall Investment Down But Global Renewable Capacity Surges To Record Levels

As the cost of clean technology continues to fall, the world added record levels of renewable energy capacity in 2016, at an investment level 23 percent lower than the previous year, according to new research published by UN Environment, the Frankfurt School-UNEP Collaborating Centre, and Bloomberg New Energy Finance.

Global Trends in Renewable Energy Investment 2017 finds that wind, solar, biomass and waste-to-energy, geothermal, small hydro and marine sources added 138.5 gigawatts to global power capacity in 2016, up 8 percent from the 127.5 gigawatts added the year before. The added generating capacity roughly equals that of the world’s 16 largest existing power producing facilities combined. Investment in renewables capacity was roughly double that in fossil fuel generation; the corresponding new capacity from renewables was equivalent to 55 percent of all new power, the highest to date. The proportion of electricity coming from renewables excluding large hydro rose from 10.3 per cent to 11.3 per cent. This prevented the emission of an estimated 1.7 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide.

The total investment was $241.6 billion (excluding large hydro), the lowest since 2013. This was in large part a result of falling costs: the average dollar capital expenditure per megawatt for solar photovoltaics and wind dropped by over 10 per cent. “Ever-cheaper clean tech provides a real opportunity for investors to get more for less,” said Erik Solheim, Executive Director of UN Environment. “This is exactly the kind of situation, where the needs of profit and people meet, that will drive the shift to a better world for all.”

New investment in solar totalled $113.7 billion, down 34 percent from the record high in 2015. Solar capacity additions, however, rose to an all-time high of 75 gigawatts. Wind made up $112.5 billion of investment globally, down 9 percent; wind capacity additions fell to 54 gigawatts from the previous year’s high of 63 gigawatts. “The investor hunger for existing wind and solar farms is a strong signal for the world to move to renewables,” said Prof. Dr Udo Steffens, President of Frankfurt School of Finance & Management, commenting on record acquisition activity in the clean power sector, which rose 17 percent to $110.2 billion.

While much of the drop in financing was due to reduced technology costs, the report documented a slowdown in China, Japan, and some emerging markets, for a variety of reasons. Renewable energy investment in developing countries fell 30 percent to $117 billion, while that in developed economies dropped 14 percent to $125 billion. China saw investment drop 32 percent to $78.3 billion, breaking an 11-year rising trend. Mexico, Chile, Uruguay, South Africa and Morocco all saw falls of 60 per cent or more, due to slower than expected growth in electricity demand, and delays to auctions and financings. Jordan was one of the few new markets to buck the trend, investment there rising 148 percent to $1.2 billion.

The US saw commitments slip 10 percent to $46.4 billion, as developers took their time to build out projects to benefit from the five-year extension of the tax credit system. Japan slumped 56 percent to $14.4 billion. “The question always used to be ‘will renewables ever be grid competitive?’,” said Michael Liebreich, Chairman of the Advisory Board at BNEF. “Well, after the dramatic cost reductions of the past few years, unsubsidised wind and solar can provide the lowest cost new electrical power in an increasing number of countries, even in the developing world – sometimes by a factor of two.” “It’s a whole new world: even though investment is down, annual installations are still up; instead of having to subsidise renewables, now authorities may have to subsidise natural gas plants to help them provide grid reliability.”

Recent figures from the International Energy Agency cited the switch to renewables as one of the main reasons for greenhouse gas emissions staying flat in 2016, for the third year running, even though output in the global economy rose by 3.1 per cent. Investment in renewables did not drop across the board. Europe enjoyed a 3 per cent increase to $59.8 billion, led by the UK ($24 billion) and Germany ($13.2 billion). Offshore wind ($25.9 billion) dominated Europe’s investment, up 53 per cent thanks to mega-arrays such as the 1.2 gigawatt Hornsea project in the North Sea, estimated to cost $5.7 billion. China also invested $4.1 billion in offshore wind, its highest figure to date.

Another positive sign came in winning bids for solar and wind in auctions around the world, at tariffs that would have seemed inconceivably low a few years ago. The records set last year were $29.10 per megawatt hour for solar in Chile and $30 per megawatt hour for onshore wind in Morocco. Additional highlights included purchases of assets such as wind farms and solar parks reached a new high, $72.7 billion and corporate takeovers reached $27.6 billion, 58 per cent more than 2015. The smaller sectors had mixed fortunes in terms of new investment. Biofuels fell 37 percent to $2.2 billion, the lowest for at least 13 years; biomass and waste held steady at $6.8 billion and small hydro at $3.5 billion. Geothermal rallied 17 percent to $2.7 billion. Marine edged down 7 percent to $194 million.

Sitting two different technologies in the same location – to make use of shared land, grid connections, and maintenance, and to reduce intermittency – is growing. Some 5.6 gigawatts of these ‘hybrid’ projects have been built or are under development worldwide. The Ramanathapuram solar complex in India, billed as the world’s largest ever solar voltaic project (648 megawatts), was constructed. The report in full can be downloaded at fs-unep-centre.org.

June 23rd 2017
Wind Power Can Provide Energy On Coldest Days: Met Office, Imperial College

A new study by climate scientists has advanced the understanding of the potential for wind power to provide energy during the coldest spells of winter weather. The team, which involved scientists from the Met Office Hadley Centre, Imperial College London and the University of Reading, compared wind power availability with electricity demand in winter and they found an interesting result. The team found that during the highest 5% of energy demand days, one-third produce more wind power than the winter average. “The very coldest days are associated with a mix of different weather patterns, some of which produce high winds in parts of the UK.

June 23rd 2017
Indian Firm Wins 1.8GW Sweihan Order; The Largest Solar PV Project In The World

Indian company Sterling and Wilson has won the contract for the world’s largest single location solar PV project. The Sweihan project in Abu Dhabi is for turnkey EPC as well as O&M; and is jointly developed by Japanese investment firm Marubeni, Chinese solar company Jinko Solar, and Abu Dhabi Water and Electricity Authority (ADWEA). It will deliver a capacity of 1177 MWp, surpassing the current largest 850 MWp single location plant in China. In March 2017, Marubeni and Jinko had signed a 25-year PPA with ADWEA on a tariff of $0.0242/kWh, making Sweihan also the plant with the lowest electricity price so far.

June 20th 2017
EDF, Canadian Solar Join Forces For One Of The Largest Solar Projects In LATAM

EDF Energies Nouvelles has acquired an 80% interest in the Pirapora II PV project (115 MWp) from Canadian Solar Inc., which is retaining a 20% stake and manufacturing the PV panels locally. It marks the latest step by EDF in Brazil’s renewable energy sector. With this addition, it now has 489 MW under construction, consisting of 183 MW (wind) and 306 MWp (solar). The project is located close to Pirapora I (191 MWp), also jointly owned by both companies. With a total installed capacity of over 300 MWp, the energy generated by both projects will cover the annual electricity consumption of 323,000 Brazilian homes.

June 16th 2017
New BNEF Report Highlights A Massive Shift to Wind And Solar, While Coal Fades

A new independent report from Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF) states that clean energy such as wind and solar will account for almost 75% of investment in power generation worldwide, between now and 2014. New Energy Outlook 2017 estimates that overall $10.2 trillion will be spent on power generation technology in the next 22 years, with $7.4 trillion being spent on renewables. This year’s forecast sees solar energy costs dropping a further 66% by 2040, and onshore wind by 47%, with renewables undercutting the majority of existing fossil power stations by 2030.