In 2009, for the second year in a row, both Europe and the US added more power capacity from renewable sources such as wind and solar than conventional sources such as coal, gas and nuclear.
This is the message from twin reports launched by the United Nations Environment Programme and the Renewable Energy Policy Network for the 21st Century (REN21).
Renewables accounted for 60% of newly installed capacity in Europe and more than 50% in the US in 2009. Globally, renewables accounted for 18% of electricity generation.
This year or next, experts predict, the world will, overall, add more capacity to the electricity supply from renewable than non-renewable sources.
However, investment in core clean energy (new renewables, biofuels and energy efficiency) dropped by 7% in 2009, to $162billion, hit by the global financial crisis and recession, especially in Europe and the US. Large (utility)-scale solar power and biofuels were particularly hit. But there was record investment in wind power.
New private and public-sector investments in core clean energy jumped a massive 53% in China last year. The world’s most populous nation added 37gigawatts (GW) of renewable power capacity, more than any other country.
Indeed, China overtook the US in 2009 as the country with the greatest investment in clean energy. China’s windfarm development was the strongest investment feature of the year by far, although there were other areas of strength worldwide in 2009, notably North Sea offshore wind investment and the financing of power-storage and electric-vehicle technology companies.
Globally, nearly 80GW of renewable power capacity was added, including 31GW of hydro and 48GW of non-hydro capacity.
Wind power and solar PV additions reached a record high of 38GW and 7GW, respectively.
The reports also indicate that about 100 countries now encourage renewables/sustainable energy, compared with 55 in 2005. Half of the new recruits are in the developing world.
Launching the twin reports, UN Under-Secretary-General Achim Steiner said more needed to be done to encourage sustainable energy.
“The sustainable energy investment story of 2009 was one of resilience, frustration and determination,” said Steiner.
“Resilience to the financial downturn that was hitting all sectors of the global economy and frustration that, while the UN climate convention meeting in Copenhagen was not the big breakdown that might have occurred, neither was it the big breakthrough so many had hoped for.
“Yet there was determination on the part of many industry actors and governments, especially in rapidly developing economies, to transform the financial and economic crisis into an opportunity for greener growth.
“There remains, however, a serious gap between the ambition and the science in terms of where the world needs to be in 2020 to avoid dangerous climate change.
“But what this five years of research underlines is that this gap is not unbridgeable.
“Indeed, renewable energy is consistently, and persistently, bucking the trends and can play its part in realising a low-carbon, resource-efficient green economy if government policy sends ever-harder market signals to investors.”