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New Solar Capacity Exceeded All Other Fuel Sources Combined in 2017, Study Finds

In 2017, the world invested more in solar power than it did in any other energy technology and installed more new solar capacity than all other energy sources combined, including fossil fuels.

Those are the bright findings of a UN-backed report Global Trends in Renewable Energy Investment 2018, published Thursday.

The report, a collaboration between the United Nations Environment Programme, Bloomberg New Energy Finance, and the Frankfurt School of Finance and Management, found that investors committed $279.8 billion to renewable energy overall, excluding large dams, and $160.8 billion to solar specifically.

“The extraordinary surge in solar investment shows how the global energy map is changing and, more importantly, what the economic benefits are of such a shift,” UNEP head Erik Solheim said in a UN press release about the report.

Solheim added that those benefits included the creation of more better paying, higher quality jobs.

China was the decided leader in solar and renewable investment. It was responsible for more than half of the 98 gigawatts of solar capacity added last year and 45 percent of the dollars invested in renewables over all.

The U.S. followed China as No. 2 in the top 10 list of renewable-investing countries, but it lagged far behind. It invested $40.5 billion in renewable energy, down six percent from 2016. China, on the other hand, upped its investments by 30 percent to $126.1 billion.

Overall, 2017 continued a trend begun in 2015 of developing countries investing more in renewable energy than developed countries. Developing countries increased their investments by 20 percent to $177 billion, accounting for 63 percent of total investments, while developed countries decreased their investments by 19 percent to $103 billion.

Renewable energy investment in the UK, Germany and Japan all took major hits, falling by 65 percent, 35 percent and 28 percent, respectively. The countries still ranked seventh, fifth and third for overall investments.

Mexico, Australia and Sweden, meanwhile, increased their commitments by substantial amounts: 810 percent, 147 percent and 127 percent, in order. They were ranked ninth, tenth and sixth overall.

Rounding out the top 10 list were India at No. 4 and Brazil at No. 8. Together with China, the three emerging economies accounted for just over half of global renewable investments.

While they didn’t make it onto the top ten, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates made impressive strides, increasing their renewable investments by six times and 29 times, respectively.

As solar investments rose, costs fell. The cost per megawatt-hour for a solar installation dropped by 15 percent to $86.

However, while the reported investments bode good things for the future, the report found that present energy use shows we still have a ways to go. The proportion of energy generated by renewable sources in 2017 was 12.1 percent, up from 11 percent the year before.

Climate change is moving faster than we are,” Solheim, UN Framework Convention on Climate Change Executive Secretary Patricia Espinosa, and Frankfurt School President Nils Stieglitz wrote in the report’s foreword. “Last year was the second hottest on record and carbon dioxide levels continue to rise. In electricity generation, new renewables still have a long way to go. While renewable generating costs have declined, and governments are phasing-out fossil fuel subsidies — they amounted to a total US$260 billion in 2016 — the transition needs to accelerate and be complemented by strong private finance that can make sure this global momentum continues,” they wrote.

By Olivia Rosane, EcoWatch. Reposted with permission from EcoWatch.

Main image: China is leading solar investments globally. Credit: WiNGCC BYSA 3.0

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Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on April 19, 2018

Olivia, today the New York Times reports ”Damage to the Great Barrier Reef Is Irreversible, Scientists Say”. You report, “New Solar Capacity Exceeded All Other Sources Combined in 2017, Study Finds”. Maybe the tiny increase in solar generation being hyped here and the death of the Great Barrier Reef are coincidental. Maybe not.

After $trillions spend on “renewable” solar and wind sources of energy, they have yet to provide more than 2% of global energy needs. Maybe we need to throw even more money at inconsequential, intermittent, feelgood sources of energy, ones which keep us dependent on the fossil fuels killing our oceans. Maybe not.

Bas Gresnigt's picture
Bas Gresnigt on April 20, 2018

Bob, Why so negative?
Once the costs of nuclear were less than fossil. Partly thanks to in hindsight rather unsafe reactors, partly because fossil then was more expensive.
Now it’s opposite; nuclear more than 2 times more expensive.

Don’t see how such far more expensive source can oust fossil. For that continued public support is needed for surcharges at least 3 times higher than the German public is now paying. Worse, those surcharges will continue 50years or so, while the German public knows that their surcharges decrease after 2022 towards near zero in a few decades.
Then we don’t talk about the shown genetic and health damage nuclear creates.

Climate; nuclear vs renewable
New nuclear cost now 2 to 6 times more than the new kids in town; solar and wind.
So for the climate it’s far more beneficial to invest in more wind & solar as those oust 2 to 6 times more fossil generation per dollar.
And money is the restricting factor regarding limiting emissions in order to help the climate.

Stronger: As wind, solar and storage (batteries + PtG for seasonal) are on a long term cost decrease path, they become cheaper than fossil generation. Hence they will become capable to compete traditional fossil power plants off the market.

While with nuclear only dreamers hope on price decreases towards 2-4cent/KWh levels (no real scenario for that exists), solar and wind are widely expected to move further downwards towards the 1.5cnt/KWh level.*)

So going nuclear implies far less climate mitigation.
So I can only conclude that you are not interested in the climate at all, but only in pushing nuclear at all costs?
*) 2-4cent/KWh being the level needed to compete fossil off the market.
**) Even in Germany with its poor insolation the results of technology neutral renewable auctions in this spring showed that PV-solar is now cheaper than onshore wind; they were all won by solar bids.

Only offshore wind may stay cheaper than solar for some years. Though not long as the speed and potential for further cost decrease of solar will out-compete offshore wind too in the next 5-10? years

Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on April 20, 2018

Bas, I’m sorry my comments sounds negative to you. I can only respond with a favorite quote attributed to U.S. President Harry Truman:

“I never give the Republicans hell. I just tell the truth and they think it’s hell.”

Jarmo Mikkonen's picture
Jarmo Mikkonen on April 21, 2018

This article puts things into perspective….for example that in 2015 US nuclear plants produced as much electricity as all the wind turbines on the planet.

Some argue that continuing to operate nuclear power plants is more expensive than building new renewable energy, so we should let these large sources of zero-carbon electricity retire and just build more wind or solar. The reality is more complex. First, in nearly all cases, keeping a nuclear power plant operating requires less public policy support than it does to build new wind or solar. Second, much of the zero-carbon generation we lose from nuclear retirements will invariably be replaced by fossil fuels like natural gas, and emissions will rise as a result. And finally, even if we were able to replace retired nuclear solely with renewables, it’s still a setback in the climate fight. The only way we win is if we grow the amount of zero-carbon energy we’re producing. As nuclear plants get shut down, new renewables will have to pay-off that zero-carbon debt before they actually start increasing our totals again. That’s a big waste of renewable energy and, most importantly, time.

Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on April 22, 2018

Jarmo , why so negative? /: -]

Bas Gresnigt's picture
Bas Gresnigt on April 23, 2018

When all costs are accounted for, only the operating costs of nuclear power plants ($/MWh produced) are already much higher than the integral costs of wind, solar and storage.

One should not forget to include:
1- the insurance premium which is socialized to govt & the citizens, as nuclear laws limit liability of nuclear plants towards near zero compared to the real costs at accidents.

E.g. While the wind blew 97% of the radio-activity directly to the ocean, Fukushima suffers from an huge exclusion zone. Costs are increasing towards >$500B.

2- the genetic & health costs nuclear accidents cause to many millions living up to ~2000km away as shown here, and at prefectures 500km away from Fukushima, etc.

3- the real costs of nuclear waste storage which are mainly socialized to our next generations as nuclear laws limit those also to an surrealistic short period.

4- the costs of the genetic harm (hence health & intelligence) created by normal operating nuclear facilities and nuclear power plants to inhabitants up to 40km away.

German govt closed its prime nuclear waste store Gorleben (picture below) for that reason, while the huge building was still for 70% empty. Note the many radiation measurement stations at and around the site.

5- the much higher GHG emissions of nuclear compared to present new wind & sun.

You can easily realize it yourself:
For non-fossil burning methods the costs per KWh are the important indication.
Higher costs is more labor, more investment, more steel, etc. which all imply more CO² emissions:
– Investors and workers spend the money they get to CO² emitting products and services
– steel is in the end also mainly labor
– even license costs deliver CO² emissions as govt will spend it to its workers, etc.

For nuclear uranium mining, cleaning, enrichment, etc. is an important factor (apart from the large work force NPP’s need).

6- the major new heat nuclear power plants inject into the atmosphere. A 1GW NPP injects at least 3GW new heat…

So it’s beneficial for health, next generations (genetic damage), climate (less CO²), and costs to replace existing nuclear asap.

Jarmo Mikkonen's picture
Jarmo Mikkonen on April 23, 2018

Bas, just to mention a couple of things, a power system based on wind, solar and storage exists in Fantasyland. Where costs probably don’t matter.

Mark Heslep's picture
Mark Heslep on April 23, 2018

More Scherb (x4 this time), more reference free nonsense narative.