BY Richard Summerfield
Global investment in renewable energy reached record levels in 2015, according to a new report from the United Nations.
Renewable energy investment climbed to $286bn last year, a 3 percent increase on the previous record set in 2011, and more than double the $130bn invested in coal and gas power stations over the same period.
The report – Global Trends in Renewable Energy Investment 2016 – is the tenth edition of the UN Environment Program’s annual publication and has been launched by the Frankfurt School-UNEP Collaborating Centre for Climate & Sustainable Energy Finance and Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF).
“Global investment in renewables capacity hit a new record in 2015, far outpacing that in fossil fuel generating capacity despite falling oil, gas and coal prices,” said Michael Liebreich, chairman of the advisory board at BNEF. “It has broadened out to a wider and wider array of developing countries, helped by sharply reduced costs and by the benefits of local power production over reliance on imported commodities.”
One of the most notable features of the of the UN backed report is that while global investment in solar, wind and other renewable sources of energy has climbed considerably, for the first time ever the developing world accounted for the majority of investments. According to UNEP’s data, renewable investment in developing countries climbed 19 percent to $156bn in 2015, $103bn of which was invested in China alone. “Renewables are becoming ever more central to our low-carbon lifestyles, and the record-setting investments in 2015 are further proof of this trend,” said UNEP Executive Director Achim Steiner.
However, the growth in developing economy investment contrasts with a fall in similar investment in the developed world. Though US investments rose 19 percent to $44bn, investments in developed countries fell 8 percent to $130bn. Investment in Europe was down 21 percent, from $62bn in 2014 to $48.8bn in 2015, the continent’s lowest figure for nine years, despite record investments in offshore wind projects. Japanese investment in renewable energy was much the same as the previous year, at $36.2bn.
There has been good progress made in renewable energy investment and it is clear that some structural changes to the energy space are underway; yet there is still a great deal of work to be done. Renewables still only accounted for one-tenth of global power generation, the majority of which comes from coal and natural gas.