Last year saw record investment and installation of renewables such as solar and wind power worldwide, a report has said.
An estimated 147 gigawatts (GW) of new renewable power generation was added globally in 2015, the biggest annual increase ever, with the world now adding more renewable power annually than it adds fossil fuel capacity.
Investment reached 286 billion US dollars (£196 billion) in renewable power and fuels, not including funding for large hydropower schemes and heating and cooling technologies which would take the total much higher, the REN21 report said.
Last year’s growth in renewables came despite fossil fuel prices falling to historic lows, and before a new global agreement on cutting greenhouse gas emissions was agreed in Paris in December.
The report showed the UK came fourth for investment in renewable power and fuels, and for adding solar power capacity in 2015, behind China, the US and Japan – although the Government announced major cuts to solar subsidies late last year.
Renewables were Europe’s largest source of electricity, with green power making up 44% of total capacity by 2015, although clean energy markets are slowing across the bloc.
In Scotland, renewables met more than half of power demand and across the UK output hit a record high, outstripping coal for the first time in the last three months of 2015.
The UK has also increased biomass capacity and generation – despite concerns by environmentalists about the impacts on overall carbon emissions and wildlife of burning wood pellets – and is the six largest user of biomass for electricity worldwide.
Biogas, renewable gas made from organic material such as food or farming waste, also grew strongly in the UK, but concerns have been raised about recent Government proposals to cut subsidies for the green energy source.
The latest study by REN21, an international body backed by the UN, showed that by early 2016, 173 countries had renewable energy targets and 146 countries had policies to support clean energy, although many areas have weakened their support for renewables.
Worldwide there are 8.1 million people working in the renewable energy sector, it said.
Christine Lins, executive secretary of REN21, said: “What is truly remarkable about these results is that they were achieved at a time when fossil fuel prices were at historic lows, and renewables remained at a significant disadvantage in terms of government subsidies.
“For every dollar spent boosting renewables, nearly four dollars were spent to maintain our dependence on fossil fuels.”
Challenges that need to be addressed to shift the world away from fossil fuels include integrating large amounts of renewables into the grid, policy and political instability, barriers in regulation and financial constraints, the study said.
Arthouros Zervos, chairman of REN21, said: “The renewables train is barrelling down the tracks, but it’s running on 20th century infrastructure – a system based on outdated thinking where conventional baseload is generated by fossil fuels and nuclear power.
“To accelerate the transition to a healthier, more secure and climate-safe future, we need to build the equivalent of a high-speed rail network – a smarter, more flexible system that maximises the use of variable sources of renewable energy, and accommodates decentralised and community-based generation.”