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The (slow) growth of renewables

 By Eniday Staff

There was no step backwards, no stagnation. It was just the same growth pattern as the previous year. The International Energy Agency (IEA), has sounded the alarm: if growth doesn’t increase, the goals to reduce climate-altering gas emissions won’t be reached in the time frame established at the 2015 Paris conference…

By way of example: an olive grower harvests 20 quintals of olives the first year, 21 the second, 23 the third, 26 the fourth, 30 the fifth, and so on, registering consistent growth year after year. However, in the tenth year, instead of harvesting 74 quintals as one would expect following this growth pattern, he has to settle for harvesting 72 quintals because the growth pattern in this tenth year did not rise. Instead, it stayed the same as the one recorded the previous year. What does the farmer do in this case? He may not rejoice, but he can still feel quite satisfied because his harvest nearly quadrupled over a single decade. However, if his goal was to exceed 100 quintals over the next three years, then he would be disappointed. This is what is happening right now on a global level in the field of renewable energy sources, minus the coarseness of the example we gave.

Let’s look at the finer details. In 2018, new power plants fuelled by renewable sources were installed (and existing plants were upgraded) for an overall net capacity of 180 GW (billion watts). This is exactly the same value recorded in 2017. Aren’t we satisfied? No, because to reach the target set in Paris, the IEA explains that we have to increase the power capacity of renewable plants (photovoltaic, wind, hydro, bioenergy) on average by 300 GW per year, from now to 2030. This scenario is set against that of climate-altering gas emissions attributed to the energy sector in 2018 going up by 1.7% globally, reaching a peak of 33 billion tonnes of CO2 equivalent despite an increase of 7% in the production of electricity from renewable sources over 2017. Even though the building of new plants did not incur costs that were significantly greater than those of traditional energy sources, financial incentives were not asked for as they had been in the past.
Agency technicians say we need to look at the role photovoltaics have played in recent years to understand why growth has slowed down. On a world-wide scale, solar plants rose steadily from 2006 to 2012 and then exploded between 2015 and 2018, which compensated for the minimal rise in wind and hydropower, as everyone waited for the entire renewable department to develop further. But in 2018, new photovoltaic power was just 97 GW. We have to look East to figure out why. China decided to change its incentive policies regarding renewables, especially for solar power. This was done to manage its available financial resources better and to take into account the challenges the country was experiencing in its electricity transmission and distribution grid system due to the inconsistent energy production of the photovoltaic system. Therefore, in 2017 there were new solar plants constructed in China for a power capacity of 53 GW. To maintain the growth trend of the two previous decades, the country needed to reach 60 GW in 2018. Instead it flattened at 44 GW.

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Floating solar plant built in China, the largest in the world (Gezinnen Van Stroom, AFP)

In Europe, the second global renewable market after China, the opposite took place. Solar power grew as expected and the rate of growth for wind and hydropower went down. The situation was similar in the United States, the third global market, where solar power growth was stagnant and there was only a slight increase in wind power. Fatih Birol, IEA Executive Director, said, “The 2018 data are worrisome. We need intelligent and decisive policies to ensure that the new generation capacity from renewable sources is given fresh impetus. Long-term programs and effort are necessary to improve the integration of renewable sources into the systems and the various energy markets”.

READ MORE: China leads the world in renewables by Peter Ward

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Eniday Staff