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Renewable energy now makes up a third of global power capacity

Strong gains in solar and wind energy last year have pushed renewable energy to now account for a third of global power capacity, according to the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA).

IRENA released its Renewable Capacity Statistics 2019 report, which says the world added 171 gigawatts of overall renewable energy capacity in 2018. Global renewable capacity reached 2,351 GW in total by the end of 2018, with hydropower still accounting for half of that. But the vast majority of the gains in 2018 came from solar and wind installations, which accounted for 84% of last year’s growth.

Global wind capacity is now at 564 GW, with solar capacity right behind at 480 GW and rising fast. Whereas wind capacity increased by 49 GW, led by China and the U.S., solar added 94 GW of capacity in 2018 — a 24% increase globally.

Other technologies accounted for in IRENA’s report include hydropower, bioenergy, and geothermal energy — all increased at much lower rates than wind and solar.

Asia alone accounted for 61% of total new renewable energy installations in 2018, with a growth rate of 11.4%. But Oceania had the fastest growth rate at 17.7%, mainly driven by a huge spike in Australian solar capacity.

Almost two-thirds of global new power generation capacity added in 2018 came from renewables. IRENA Director-General Adnan Z. Amin said,

“Through its compelling business case, renewable energy has established itself as the technology of choice for new power generation capacity. The strong growth in 2018 continues the remarkable trend of the last five years, which reflects an ongoing shift towards renewable power as the driver of global energy transformation. Renewable energy deployment needs to grow even faster, however, to ensure that we can achieve the global climate objectives and Sustainable Development Goals. Countries taking full advantage of their renewables potential will benefit from a host of socioeconomic benefits in addition to decarbonising their economies.”

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While renewable capacity has increased significantly, non-renewable generation capacity has increased over the past few decades, as well. Since 2000, non-renewables have expanded about 115 GW per year on average “with no discernible trend upwards or downwards.”

Since 2010, non-renewable capacity decreases in Europe, North America, and Oceania have been offset globally by equivalent gains in Asia and the Middle East. IRENA notes that:

“While the growth of renewables has been impressive, the transition to low-carbon energy production will require that more countries and regions not only switch to expanding renewable capacity but also start to retire or convert more of their existing fossil fuel power plants.”

A recent report from the International Energy Agency noted that worldwide energy demand increased 2.3% in 2018, and emissions reached a record high along with that fast pace. Demand for all fuels increased globally, with natural gas accounting for 45% of the rise in energy consumption.

The World Economic Forum recently stressed a “need for speed in energy transition,” arguing that renewable growth is still not happening fast enough.

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