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Renewable energy overtakes coal in electricity generation

Staff Writer | October 31, 2016
The International Energy Agency said that last year the world's capacity to generate electricity from renewable sources has now overtaken coal, and renewable accounted for more than half of the increase in power capacity.
Greenhouse gases
Green energy   Half a million solar panels were installed every day
The report says half a million solar panels were installed every day last year around the world and in China, there were two wind turbines set up every hour.

Renewable energy sources, such as wind, solar and hydro are seen as a key element in international efforts to combat climate change. At this stage, it is the capacity to generate power that has overtaken coal, rather than the amount of electricity actually produced.

Renewable energy is intermittent - it depends on the sun shining or the wind blowing, for example, unlike coal which can generate electricity 24 hours a day all year round. So renewable technologies inevitably generate a lot less than their capacity.

IEA's Executive Director Fatih Birol said “We are witnessing a transformation of global power markets led by renewables” The expansion of renewable capacity reflects cost reductions for onshore wind and solar panels that the report describes as impressive; reductions that would have been “unthinkable just five years ago”.

The IEA expects the trend of declining costs to continue and those two technologies are likely to account for three quarters of future growth in renewables. Hydropower will continue growing, the report says, but it is likely to do so more slowly than before.

Declining costs are also one reason the agency has increased its forecast for renewable capacity in the future. Another factor mentioned by the report is government policies that provide financial incentives for using renewable power sources.

The United States, for example, has extended tax credits. The report says policy changes in China, India and Mexico have also been important forces behind the increased forecast for the growth of the sector.

The IEA says the centre of gravity for renewable growth is moving to emerging markets. China, the report says, “remains the undisputable global leader of renewable energy expansion, representing close to 40% of growth”.

However, “even these higher expectations remain modest compared with the huge untapped potential of renewables”, said Birol.

And in other areas of energy use, beyond electricity, renewables have made less impressive inroads. In transport and heating “progress in renewables penetration… remains slow”, the report says.