A Sustainable Energy Future is Within Our Grasp
Susanne Wong and Peter Bosshard
International Rivers, 06/25/2013
The staggering growth in renewable energy has the potential to
fundamentally change the way we generate and use power. Previously
dismissed as marginal technologies, renewables have become "increasingly
mainstream and competitive with conventional energy sources." This is
the conclusion of a new report on the global status of renewable
energies by the REN21 Network.
The new report finds that investment in renewable power (not including
large hydropower projects) and fuels reached $244 billion last year. If
only net investments (in projects which add rather than replace
generating capacity) are considered, global investment in renewables
surpassed investment in fossil fuels for the third year in a row.
Renewable energy technologies have also overtaken large hydropower
projects as a source of new power generating capacity. In 2012, a
whopping 45 gigawatts (GW) of new wind power plants came online. Solar
power added 30 GW - on par with large hydropower - and has now surpassed
the milestone of 100 GW.
The REN21 report finds that renewable energies can make up a much higher
share of electricity systems than was previously thought possible. In
2011, over 40% of Denmarkâ™s electricity came from renewables,
primarily wind and biomass. The country recently announced plans to
source 100% of its energy needs from renewables by 2050.
The report finds that "renewables can reduce electricity prices
considerably and thus alleviate energy costs for consumers." According
to financial experts, these technologies are "coming to be seen as among
the lowest-risk investments." Finally, renewable energy is creating a
lot of jobs. In 2012, the sector directly or indirectly employed an
estimated 5.7 million people around the world.
Renewable energy plants are not only cleaner than large dams and thermal
power plants; they are also more effective in improving energy access
for the rural poor. While investment in industrialized countries
actually dropped in 2012, investment in developing countries expanded
rapidly. Already, the REN21 network finds, renewables "have proven to be
both reliable and affordable means for achieving access to modern energy
services. And they are only growing more so as technological advances
and rapidly falling prices (particularly for solar PV and wind power)
enable renewables to spread to new markets."
China, South Africa, Morocco, Mexico, Chile and Kenya brought about
particularly sharp increases in renewable energy capacity. In Morocco,
over 3,600 villages were electrified using off-grid systems and
mini-grids based on renewables. The Economic Community of West African
States plans to use mini-grids to provide electricity to 104 million
people by 2030, according to its 2012 renewable energy policy. Over 170
million people lack energy access in the region.
While renewable energy capacity is expanding rapidly, the growth rate
was even higher in 2011 than 2012. The REN21 Network reports that
investment slumped by about 35 percent in Europe and the United States
due to uncertainty about the future of support policies. Stable and
reliable measures such as feed-in tariffs for renewable energy and
renewable portfolio standards are required to ensure the continued rapid
expansion of environmentally and socially beneficial renewable energy
Given the technological and commercial breakthrough of renewable energy
not least in developing countries, it is remarkable that the World Bank
continues to neglect these technologies, and has recently announced a
return to mega-dams for hydropower generation in Africa and other parts
of the world. The advances of renewable technologies are rendering
destructive large dams and fossil fuel plants obsolete. The choice
between renewables and these dinosaur technologies that are costly to
build and socially and environmentally destructive is clear. The last
hurdle to revolutionizing our energy systems is our political will.
"We stand on the cusp of renewables becoming a central part of the
world's energy mix. As technical constraints are overcome, most of the
alleged limitations to achieving higher shares of renewables are due to
a lack of political will to enact the necessary policies and measures.
It is time to address this remaining hurdle," ends the report.
REN21, the Renewable Energy Policy Network for the 21st Century, is a
policy network that shares knowledge and facilitates the growth of
renewable energies. Its participants and members include governments,
international associations, NGOs, the private sector, scientific
institutes and other interested parties. The network's latest Global
Status Report was produced with contributions from 500 experts,
including from International Rivers.
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