UNEP says global transition to renewable energy accelerating

Record investments, technological advancement, supportive policies and increased political goodwill have powered a dramatic transition to cleaner sources of fuel in many countries globally.

According to UNEP’s Global Renewables Status Report 2012 released on Monday, investments in clean energy hit 257 billion U. S. dollars by December 2011.

"Renewable energy markets and policy frameworks have evolved rapidly in recent years. Renewable energy sources have grown to supply an estimated 16-17 percent of global final energy consumption in 2010," said the report.

It was compiled by the UNEP and Renewable Energy Policy Network for the 21st Century (REN21).

The flagship report shed light on renewable energy market trends, investments and policy development globally by relying on updated data provided by a network of 400 researchers.

Experts stressed that this report dovetails with global aspirations to accelerate the transition to cleaner and greener energy sources.

"There may be multiple reasons driving investments in renewables, from climate, energy security and the urgency to electrify rural and urban areas in the developing world as one pathway towards eradicating poverty-whatever the drivers the strong and sustained growth in renewable energy sector is a major factor that is assisting many economies towards a transition to a low carbon, resource efficient green economy," UNEP Executive Director Achim Steiner said.

The UN has designated 2012 as the International Year of Sustainable Energy for All and intends to galvanize actions that catalyze the attainment of this goal.

"This sends yet another strong signal of opportunity to world leaders and delegates meeting later in June at the Rio+20 summit, namely that transforming sustainable development from patchy progress to a reality for seven billion people is achievable when existing technologies are combined with inspiring policies and decisive leadership," Steiner said.

During 2011, modern renewable energy sources recorded significant growth across all end use sectors including power, transport, heating and cooling.

"In the power sector, renewables accounted for almost half of the estimated 208 gigawatts (GW) of electric capacity added globally in 2011.Wind energy and solar power accounted for almost 40 percent and 30 percent of new renewable capacity respectively. They were followed by hydropower at 25 percent," the Status report said.

It stressed that there exist untapped yet immense potential for renewable energy deployment offered by heating and cooling sectors. Solar was the fastest growing renewable energy source across the globe.

According to Global Renewables Report, solar energy (photovoltaic and concentrated solar power) attracted double investments ahead of wind power and its operating capacity increased by 58 percent annually.

Overall investments in solar power surged by 52 percent to reach 147 billion dollars and manifested in a booming photovoltaic (PV) installations in Italy and Germany alongside rapid spread of small scale PV in China and Britain.

Besides solar energy, investments in wind turbines, geothermal energy, biomass and biofuels have maintained an upward trajectory. The report says that hydro and geothermal power is growing at an average rate of 2- 3 percent annually.

"Demand is also growing rapidly for solid biomass fuels such as wood pellets," said the report. It noted that biofuels are providing 3 percent of global road transport fuels in 2011.

Currently, renewable represent a rapidly growing share of energy supply in many countries across the globe.

"In the European Union, renewables accounted for more than 71 percent of total electric capacity in 2011.Solar alone represented 47 percent of new capacity," the report discloses.

Germany leads globally in renewable energy consumption and by 2011, they provided 12.2 percent of the country’s final energy consumption. In the United States, cleaner fuels comprised an estimated 39 percent of national electric capacity.

"China ended 2011 with more renewable power capacity than any other nation, with an estimated 282 gigawatts and a quarter of this total was non-hydro," noted the report.

It clarified that by region, the European Union was home to nearly 44 percent of global renewable capacity in 2011 while the emerging economies accounted for 26 percent.

"Even so, renewables are expanding into new markets. In 2011, around 50 countries installed new wind power systems and solar PV capacity is moving rapidly into new regions and countries," the report said.

It revealed that top seven countries that have attained threshold in renewable energy transition are China, USA, Germany, Spain, Italy, India and Japan.

"Interest in geothermal power has also taken hold in East Africa’s Rift valley and elsewhere. Solar hot water collectors are used by more than 200 million households," adds the report.

It credits rapid growth in equipment manufacturing, sales and installation as driving force behind a renewable energy shift.

"Solar PV and onshore wind power experienced dramatic price reductions resulting from declining costs due to economies of scale and technology advances," noted the report.

It hailed renewable energy targets set by countries for powering a green transformation. An estimated 118 countries, more than half in developing world, had renewable energy targets in place by 2012.

"Renewable energy targets and supportive policies continued to be a driving force behind increasing markets for renewable energy, " said the report.