Renewables will provide almost a third (30%) of the world’s electricity in five years’ time, a report from the International Energy Agency (IEA) said.
Overall the share of energy used across power, heating and transport that comes from renewables will rise by a fifth over five years to 12.4% in 2023, with progress speeding up compared to the previous five years.
That puts renewables on track to account for 18% of energy by 2040, not fast enough to help the world limit global warming to 1.5C to 2C above pre-industrial levels, which would need to see 28% of energy from the clean tech.
Renewables use expands far more slowly in transport, including biofuels and electric vehicles charged with clean energy, and heating, where burning plant or waste based “bioenergy” or using heat pumps can warm buildings and water, than in electricity.
That is because of weaker policy support and additional barriers to deployment in those areas, the IEA report said.
The report from the IEA also says “bioenergy”, using biological material such as wood pellets or sugar cane ethanol, is the “overlooked giant”, leading the growth in renewables consumption across energy as a whole.
The IEA assessment comes as the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) new report warns of the need for unprecedented changes to power, heating, transport and industry to keep temperature rises to 1.5C.
The IEA, which has underestimated renewable growth in the past, said 2017 was another record year for electricity, with two thirds of the extra power capacity added worldwide coming from renewables.
More than half of that came from solar panels and half of the new solar installations were in China.
A lot of the solar power being added is small scale or local projects with homes, businesses and industrial sites set to generate 2% of world electricity by 2023.
In transport, biofuel production is set to increase but will only meet 4% of total transport energy demand in 2023.
Renewables expansion in both biofuels and the electricity sector could be 25% higher with more favourable market and policy conditions.
Bioenergy growth in the heat, transport and electricity sectors combined could be as considerable as that of other renewables in the electricity sector, with much of the potential coming from waste products.
Only bioenergy which reduces greenhouse gas emissions and does not cause problems such as deforestation and taking away land for growing food can help cut carbon from the energy system, the report said.
Dr Fatih Birol, the IEA’s executive director said: “Modern bioenergy is the overlooked giant of the renewable energy field.
“Its share in the world’s total renewables consumption is about 50% today, in other words as much as hydro, wind, solar and all other renewables combined.
“We expect modern bioenergy will continue to lead the field, and has huge prospects for further growth.
“But the right policies and rigorous sustainability regulations will be essential to meet its full potential.”