Renewables just surpassed coal as the largest source of new electricity

It’s been a long and crazy ride, but coal’s time seems to be finally fading away. According to data released by the International Energy Agency (IEA), renewables have become the largest supplier of new electricity, growing much more than expected and surpassing coal.

Renewable energy in the California Desert. Image credits: Bureau of Land Management.

The shift actually occurred in 2015, but the data analysis was completed just recently. About half a million solar panels were installed every day around the world in 2015. In China, the biggest driver of new renewables, two wind turbines were installed every hour in 2015.

“We are witnessing a transformation of global power markets led by renewables and, as is the case with other fields, the center of gravity for renewable growth is moving to emerging markets,” said Dr Fatih Birol, the IEA’s executive director.

Indeed, 2015 was a turning point for renewables. Led by wind and solar, renewables represented more than half the new power capacity around the world, reaching a record 153 Gigawatt (GW), 15% more than the previous year. The landmark Paris Agreement, in which countries agreed to curb greenhouse gas emissions, also helped push forth and set a good field for following years.

But the main reasons for this are purely economic. Renewables have simply become a good investment, and in many places, they’re already cheaper than fossil fuels – especially coal. The IEA estimates that both solar and wind will continue to become significantly cheaper in the next five years, by 25 and 15 percent respectively. The IEA writes:

“Renewables are expected to cover more than 60% of the increase in world electricity generation over the medium term, rapidly closing the gap with coal. Generation from renewables is expected to exceed 7600 TWh by 2021 — equivalent to the total electricity generation of the United States and the European Union put together today.”

Infographic by IEA.

But not all is rosy. There is still ground for caution, especially on the political side. Political instability is a great deterrent to renewable investments, as is lousy policy. Donald Trump’s statements to “bring back coal” have brought a shadow of doubt over the future of renewable investments. It’s also worth remembering that we’re still just starting to scratch the surface of renewable energy generation – the world has much more potential than we’re using.

“I am pleased to see that last year was one of records for renewables and that our projections for growth over the next five years are more optimistic,” said Dr. Birol. “However, even these higher expectations remain modest compared with the huge untapped potential of renewables. The IEA will be working with governments around the world to maximize the deployment of renewables in coming years.”

6 thoughts on “Renewables just surpassed coal as the largest source of new electricity

  1. Dr.K.SParthasarathy

    The growth of renewable sources of power worldwide is impressive. It will be worthwhile to find out how many units (kWh) of power renewables produced last year. Under typical conditions the plant load factor for solar in India is just 20%; on shore wind has comparable PLF offsore double that under best of conditions. Frailties of renewables will continue to bedevil users till massive , less expensive storage facilities spring up every where We have to keep coal, nuclear or such other reliable sources to kick in when the need arises. Newer materials with improved efficiency may be expected in the near future.

  2. Airis Damon

    This reads very much like an advertisement. Of course, I am already sold on the efficacy of renewable energy. I just hope this does not spell disaster for people who have spent generations working in mines. Some government sponsored training and employment may be in order, because I seriously doubt private companies in the renewable energy market will do anything at all to absorb unemployed coal miners.

  3. Brian

    Solar and wind are 60% or more of all new power installs, and have doubled total installed every 1.8 and 3.5 years in the past ten years. `In 5 years installed solar pv will be about 7 times this last year. Wind will be 2.7 times last year.

    The IEA is not a reputable source, the were formed to protect oil reserves. They are an industry political groups that has shafted renewable every years with bogus projection and reports.×413.jpg

    Solar pv doubling of installed base years.
    from 2005 to 2015 went from 5.3 to 237 GWp installed. that's 44 times in ten years. that's 1.83 years per doubling of installed solar pv.

    USA wind doubling time. from 2005 to 2015 wind increase from 9GW to 74 GW. That's 8 times per decade. That's about 3.3 years wind installed doulbing time.
    Our History
    The IEA was founded in 1974 to help countries co-ordinate a collective response to major disruptions in the supply of oil.

  4. Brian

    Solar and wind are robust, not frail. They are backed with the very same reserve generators baseload needs. Solar and wind need zero technical improvements, they are already the available the lowest cost of all energy sources and have no material limits. The fuel for the reserve generators will come from wastes converted to fuel.
    Utility solar and wind are available cheaper than fossils and 4 times cheaper than nuclear before gov breaks. shows investments are in solar and wind, not nuclear. good report, now TWH per and how solar and wind reaplce fossils and nuclear contracty to anti renwable claims.

    "The average levelized long-term price from a sample of wind power sales agreements signed in 2014 (and admittedly concentrated in the lowest-priced central region of the country) fell to just 2.35¢/kWh. 2.91 cents per KWH.
    "Chile just signed the cheapest unsubsidized power in the world at ¢2.91/kWh. Of course, it’s solar energy" 648MWp 678M$ 8 months

  5. Brian

    The mines spell disaster fro the people working in them. Black lung is still a huge problem but the gov takes care of them not the profiteers. More jobs are needed for solar and wind work and they are not nearly as deadly. Solar already employs more people than coal.

    Some might question if the solar industry would welcome workers from a historical rival. Tom Kimbis, the interim president of the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA), puts that question to rest. He says “We welcome them with open arms. Every day, we’re seeing talented men and women joining our ranks from every sector of the American workforce, including the coal industry.”

    Christopher Turek, a Director at Solar Energy International (SEI) agrees, “we welcome them with open arms to come get re-trained in the growing solar energy sector. The solar energy tent is a big tent approach and we welcome everyone.“

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *