Consumer Energy Report is now Energy Trends Insider -- Read More »

By Robert Rapier on Jun 8, 2016 with 9 responses

2015 Was A Record Year For Renewables


Had I realized the Renewables 2016 Global Status Report (GSR) was about to be released by the Renewable Energy Policy Network for the 21st Century (REN21), I would have held off on my previous article The Solar Story Is Just Getting Started. The reason is that the two key graphics I used in that article were updated for 2015 in the new report. In any case, I have included the updated version of the graphics in today’s story.

Each year I especially look forward to the release of two reports, which are generally released in June. The first is the GSR, which I believe is the most comprehensive report available when it comes to the global renewable energy picture. Full disclosure, I have been a contributor to and reviewer of the report for the past seven years. Each year when it is released, I like to provide an overview article, with follow-up articles delving into particular sectors.

Global Renewables Overview

2015 saw record additions of renewable energy around the world, as well as high-profile agreements and announcements related to renewable energy. An estimated 147 gigawatts (GW) of renewable power capacity was added in 2015 – the largest annual increase ever - and in spite of continued low prices for fossil fuels. Wind and solar photovoltaics (PV) had record additions for the second consecutive year. In the power sector global capacity reached 1,849 gigawatts (GW), up 8.7% over 2014. Hydropower rose by a modest 2.7% to 1,064 GW, and other renewables collectively grew by 18% to reach 785 GW.

2015 saw commitments by both the G7 (finance ministers and central bank governors of seven major economies) and the G20 (governments and central bank governors from 20 major economies) to accelerate access to renewable energy and to advance energy efficiency. But the biggest commitment of the year took place in December at the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change’s (UNFCCC) 21st Conference of the Parties (COP21) in Paris, where 195 countries agreed to limit global warming to below 2 degrees Celsius. A majority of countries committed to scaling up renewable energy and energy efficiency.

Solar photovoltaics (PV) continued to lead the rest of the renewable energy pack, with growth in global capacity averaging 42% annually over the past five years. Concentration solar power (CSP) continues to show strong growth as well, with an average annual growth rate of 35% over the past five years. Both, however, grew at a slower pace in 2015 than the five-year average (28% for solar PV and 9.7% for CSP).


Solar PV capacity increased by 50 GW to a record 227 GW. China added the most PV capacity with an increase of 15.2 GW over 2014. Solar PV continues to grow at a faster rate than wind power, but wind power still has nearly twice the global capacity of solar PV, with 433 GW at the end of 2015.


Renewables made up 19.2% of overall global energy consumption in 2015. This is relatively unchanged in recent years despite the rapid growth rates. Modern renewables like wind, solar, biomass, and geothermal power cumulatively made up 1.4% of global energy consumption. For perspective, the number was 1.2% in 2012.

This illustrates one of the challenges renewables face in rapidly displacing large amounts of fossil fuel. In recent years overall global growth in energy consumption has been greater than the additions from renewables. Hence because renewables are such a small part of the overall energy picture, even with their rapid growth rates they struggle to keep pace with overall demand growth. As a result they displace fossil fuels much more slowly than some have projected.

In fact, today the 2016 BP Statistical Review of World Energy was released (which is the other annual report that I especially look forward to reading). It confirms the findings of the GSR that global renewable energy consumption has never been higher, but it also shows that global fossil fuel consumption has never been higher. A decline in coal consumption last year was more than offset by increases in petroleum and natural gas consumption. The net impact was that for the 6th year in a row the world set an all-time high for carbon dioxide emissions.

In upcoming articles, I will delve deeper into the specific segments of both the GSR and the 2016 BP Statistical Review, looking at both different categories of energy production, as well as country-specific data.

Link to Original Article: 2015 Was A Record Year For Renewables

Follow Robert Rapier on Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, or at Forbes.

  1. By Forrest on June 9, 2016 at 6:21 am

    Well, there is no financial incentive not to burn fossil fuel. It’s presently cheap and requires minimal capital investment or costly change in infrastructure. Fossil fuel is more than meeting the present day needs of energy supply. Will the math change if fossil fuel hiccups in the supply chain? I think so, at least for the U.S. I believe we have enough renewable energy within the pipeline to minimize the disruption and upon need we could ramp up supplies. Energy is fungible and has the economics of an elastic market. Consumption will vary upon cost and consumers will chose best value. Oil and even natural gas has proven and long track record of vicious price spikes and loss of supply. Our consumers will not let the country go back to the glory days of single supply. I do think we are currently foolishly minimizing or hamstringing the ethanol supplies. There is ample need to push production of the fuel for health, clean air, lower costs, more efficient engines, and to establish an alternative fuel competitor. I will say the same for coal as the supply chain is separate from oil and again the same for biomass solutions. We need to diversify the energy sector and keep competition in the marketplace as we have a critical need to base our economy upon. We do know why the Saudis are pumping more than supply. One reason is to regain control of the market place. This is not for the benefit of consumers. Renewable energy suppliers will need consistent push or incentive to develop more supplies. It will be a slow slog, despite the high rates of growth within very low production. The challenge of investing within energy production supplies to the benefit of good value is indeed a tough one. The improvements and rate of growth will steadily improve for renewables as will intelligent use of energy. Emissions such as GW concerns just another layer upon the complexity for problem solving.

    I do think your post is proving that the international community needs cost effective practical solutions to energy supply. To that extent we should be working on less esoteric expensive solutions and realize the most good accomplished with low tech and minimum investment. Biofuel and biomass fits that requirement and puts many of their citizens to work. Coal fits that requirement and we best be working on best in class low emission equipment for their use as well.

    • By robert on June 11, 2016 at 8:11 am

      Natural gas might be presently cheap but the fuel cost for wind and solar is zero. California is shutting down natural gas generators as they cannot make their operating costs. Renewables are driving down the prices to consumers. Although I wonder if anybody is earning back their capital. This is in a drought year where hydroelectric is half its normal value.

      • By Forrest on June 11, 2016 at 9:04 am

        Well, that is it in a nutshell. Fuel is but a one line in the operating expenses column and often not the biggest concern. Sure, if you already have wind and solar a utility best use them from the standpoint of low operating cost, but if we calculate or do a cost study on building addition power, well that is a complicated analysis and wind and solar not always a winner. If capital costs were to fall back to normal, if tax investment incentives were level loaded across the power production spectrum; solar would not shine. In fact most of the cost justifications will pull into the analysis some factors for regulation cost for low carbon power demand and how to achieve. Then the bottom line cost of solar, for example, looks artificially better than coal or natural gas. Same for wind. In essence the study is just an indicator that the cost doesn’t matter since it’s low carbon source. Well, if there is to be a justification like that, then the public better receive honest cost for the endeavor. Same for listing all of the effective remedies to GW emissions and their expenses. Meaning to put solutions to the test of cost of taxpayer and ratepayer pocketbooks. For example could more good come from investing in poor nations energy solutions? May the U.S. be spiraling into ever more expensive solutions with less and less return? Would natural solutions be cheaper such as forestry and farming practices and investment. Or just utilizing charcoal upon planting fields. Maximize use of waste material to prevent them forming methane and CO2. Or the simplest solution to off load as much as possible the energy from the number one polluter, the power grid.

        • By robert on June 11, 2016 at 2:21 pm

          I do not know the best way to regulate carbon but I disagree with your assessment that this is an artificial cost. There are very real costs to mucking up the one atmosphere on the one planet we all live on. We can ask rate payers whether they prefer to pay more money for electricity or less money for electricity but the tragedy of the commons still looms. Is this liberals knowing yet again what is best for you? Looking forward, I expect wind and solar to continue to decline in cost and no regulatory support necessary to support them.

  2. By Doggydogworld on June 10, 2016 at 4:09 pm

    BP says primary energy consumption grew 127 MTOE last year. Fossil was ~60 of that so non-fossil supplied more than half the growth. With high PV and wind growth rates, we’re perhaps 4-5 years from renewables supplying more than total consumption growth. After that tipping point fossil will decline. Peak fossil, if you will. Not the supply-crunch peak the doomsters predicted, but still a peak.

    • By Robert Rapier on June 11, 2016 at 10:43 am

      Here was the breakdown: modern renewables were 48, hydropower was nearly 9, and nuclear was nearly 8.

  3. By Russ Finley on June 11, 2016 at 2:09 am

    Hence because renewables are such a small part of the overall energy
    picture, even with their rapid growth rates they struggle to keep pace
    with overall demand growth.

    This is why most studies that show renewables making up a large percent of energy use in the future, also assume a huge decrease in overall energy use and that decrease has to come from fossil fuels. The researchers realize that you can’t get there from here if fossil fuel consumption continues to grow.

    Also, it’s good that you always do a reality check after showing the rapid growth rates for renewables. Most articles of this nature don’t do one, which leaves readers with the false impression that renewables are growing faster than fossil fuels but if that were the case, we would see a decline in emissions instead of a steady upward growth.

  4. By Forrest on June 11, 2016 at 6:07 am

    Isn’t this just a definition problem? Capacity is the peak power a generator can produce under ideal conditions. Power generation is what the generator actually produced. So, both solar and wind are non-dispatchable intermittent power generators that, as a result, produce power that is very difficult to utilize. Their capacity to generate power is indeed minimal. A nuclear plant running almost continuously generates a heck of a lot of power compared to same capacity rating wind farm. May the reality check be just noting the difference upon capacity and generation numbers? Very high rates of solar and wind growth doesn’t affect the production numbers as much as one would think. Hydro, biofuel, biomass, and geothermal do. Also, these studies omit biomass heating that internationally a very important energy contributor. I think they just don’t have good numbers as very difficult to obtain.

    Another aspect of the grid power generation. The grid system within power generation, distribution, and finally utilization has very poor efficiency. Society needs energy to run on and we waste a lot of energy producing power. It’s not very efficient system for raw energy, but efficient devices can improve the math. Using a gas mantel light may be efficient for indoor winter time use, but it’s not a popular option. LEDs are just so efficient, but what is the life cycle cost? It may not be as good as thought? Utilizing power for resistance heating of food, water, and space is horribly inefficient. This is a large load on the grid and environmentalist should attack that use of energy when natural gas or better yet biomass can achieve 3x the efficiency and at a cost savings. Often times waste wood heat will offer more environmental good than roof top solar for households. For example, when displacing oil heat. Running a hybrid auto probably more environmentally friendly than a EV in your area and a bunch more practical. Fueling the vehicle up with higher percentages of ethanol and especially cellulosic will hit the ball out of the park.

  5. By Benjamin Cole on June 13, 2016 at 1:35 am

    Nice blogging, per usual. I am holding out hope for battery cars, which will start to cut into fossil consumption. CNG and LPG vehicles are already popular in Thailand and other nations but that is fossil fuel consumption of course. The larger point is that oil will recede in relative importance going forward, unless producers can hold the price down.

    Due to cheap natural gas, it looks like fossils get another leg.

Register or log in now to save your comments and get priority moderation!