Irena renewable count sees solar soaring ahead

The International Renewable Energy Agency (Irena) has counted up all 2018 data and concluded that Renewable Energy now accounts for one third of Global Power Capacity, after a rise during the year of 171 GW.

It is just a long list of numbers, but by all means download it, and it appears to be definitive, taking in some 200 countries.

There is a summary table in the PDF edition have pieced together.

What this shows is that hydropower remains out in front in renewables on 52.3% of the total, but that Wind and Solar accounted for 84% of the growth during 2018 and a total of 42.5% of the total. Hydropower still seems to be growing, but only slowly and everything else seems to have stopped. 2018 saw 171 GW of renewable energy added, a rise of 7.9%.

You can see very clearly that China is dominant in Wind platforms, being responsible for about 41.3% of the total market growth last year, and we can see that China grew Wind by more than the other 9 countries listed here all put together.

The same is happening with China in Solar, with the major 9 countries we have picked out here installing around 30 GW of capacity last year, and China reaching 44 GW.

Irena claims that its Renewable Capacity Statistics 2019 are the most comprehensive, up-to-date and accessible figures on renewable energy capacity indicates  growth in all regions of the world. It says that Asia accounted for 61% of total new renewable energy installations and grew installed renewables capacity by 11.4%.

Total growth over 5 years is represented by this table

Total Renewables Growth over 5 years
Global 2014 2015 2016 2017 2018
Growth           130,132           154,903           159,839           171,452             171,307
Source: IRENA

It might be very tempting to believe that the amount of renewables growth has flattened out, and it may have been looking that way in 2016 when growth only grew mildly. At Rethink however we do not think so. The 2018 growth might be a fraction less than 2017, but we feel that both Wind and Solar are about to go through two separate accelerations.

Wind has very little of its installed base on the sea, but major experiments around the world look set to overturn this trend. The sea is usually owned by no-one other than the incumbent government, and there is no land cost associated with it, and while currently offshore wind only accounts for under 1% of total renewables globally, the availability in deeper waters of sites which are beyond the coastal horizon (20 kilometers out or more) which are stable in weather terms, and which are too deep to establish underwater foundations, are plentiful.

Once floating technology is established and can compete at parity, as onshore wind can, there will be a massive acceleration of investment in this area. This is also true of floating solar (especially on inland reservoirs collocated with hydro). But the largest segment is the emerging field of bifacial solar which absorbs light from two sides, above and below. This offers yields which are 25% higher, for more or less the same investment. If there is any slowdown in renewables investment, it is because margins for financial companies backing such deals are down, which means it has become a sellers’ market, where good solar installations with power purchase agreements in place, can pick and choose their financial partners.

The arrival of bifacial at scale will add a degree of excess margin and lower pricing into the equation, which opens up all parity situations to be swept up by solar and that will trigger a massive investment rise, and a fresh market acceleration replacing the existing renaissance enjoyed by some forms of non-renewable energy being brought online, especially in Asia – mostly coal. Bifacial solar will totally undermine it financially.

Meanwhile Irena points out that growth in hydropower has floundered, mostly due to high costs – except in China; and Wind is on the rise in both USA and China, but solar is king with solar energy capacity up 94 GW dominated by Asia – China, India, Japan, Australia and South Korea, with many onshore rates of install in Europe stagnant, perhaps due to resident resistance to effects on the landscape.