How Wind and Solar PV Fared in 2017

Overall it was a pretty good year for renewables and the clean power agenda, despite the obvious set back of America pulling out of the Paris climate change agreement. China continues to become a powerful mover and shaker in the renewables arena and will probably lead the way for some time to come.

Here in the UK, records were broken over the last 12 months and enthusiasm for renewable energy, particularly solar and wind, among the general public continues to grow and has never been higher.

Here are just some of the highlights from the last year.

Solar and Wind: The Latest Figures

According to REN21’s latest status reports we are experiencing a:

“…global  energy  transition  well under  way,  with  record  new  additions  of  installed  renewable  energy capacity, rapidly falling costs, particularly for solar PV and wind power,  and  the  decoupling  of  economic  growth  and  energy-related carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions for the third year running.”

Total global capacity for solar stood at 303 GW by the end of 2016, up 75GW on the previous year. The biggest mover here was undoubtedly China which added nearly 35 GW in the rapidly expanding market. That represents about 46% of all the added capacity, with the USA coming in second at 20% and Japan at 11.5% added, something which highlights Asia’s growing dominance.

Wind power has grown a little more slowly, with capacity reaching 487 GW around the world. China again leads the way, adding over 20% of capacity by the end of 2016 with the USA and Germany following some way behind with 8.2 and 5% added.

There has also been an sea change in countries, as well as regions and cities, committing to 100% renewable energy targets over the next few years. That comes on top of rapidly lowering costs for both solar and wind installations as well as the realisation that climate change is an urgent problem that needs to be solved through taking action.

Nowhere is the change to renewables such as solar and wind more dramatic than in the developing countries where billions of people live without access to stable power solutions. The growth of mini-grids and stand-alone systems is beginning to transform remote areas. By the end of 2016, the mini-grid market was worth $200 billion a year.

The Trump Conundrum

Donald J Trump became president of the United States in January of 2017 and green enthusiasts were more than a little dismayed. Trump, unfortunately, doesn’t seem to understand the difference between climate and weather and had threatened to leave the Paris climate change agreement during his campaign. Just a few months into office, he decided to do just that.

According to NBC news, there were a couple of reasons for his decision – first Trump is a climate sceptic despite the overwhelming scientific evidence that seems to be piling up and secondly he’s no big fan of international agreements or regulations, particularly if they impact on the economy of the US.

While there was a groan of consternation in renewable sectors and around the world, the good news was that it led to almost every other country recommitting to the Paris deal in the wake of the Trump announcement. States within the US, including California, also stood up to confirm they would continue to meet their obligations under the agreement despite what their president was saying.

While this may be better news, there’s no doubt that the US has, in some way, damaged it’s reputation and ceded the lead to other countries, particularly China, when it comes to investment in renewables.

China Leading the Way

China’s change from fossil fuel guzzling behemoth to the world leader for renewables has been dramatic and swift and it continued to gather pace over 2017.

By 2020, the country is expected to invest nearly £300 billion and create over 13 million jobs in a blueprint that includes solar, wind and hydro projects over the next five years. China is now the world’s leading solar energy producer with more and more investment going in and the cost of installations dropping rapidly. That doesn’t mean China isn’t without its problems – while the change to renewables has been strong, coal still remains it’s biggest source of energy and its biggest polluter.

Renewables in the UK

According to Green Energy, the UK broke no less than 13 renewable energy records in 2017. In June, we managed to produce 20 GW of power from renewables, more than the combined efforts of coal and gas – the biggest output so far seen in a nation that has stumbled recently when it comes to green energy solutions. We also had our first full day of energy production that didn’t involve the need for coal power – the longest period when we didn’t have to call on coal for our electricity was in October and lasted over 40 hours.

In one day in December, wind power produced a monumental 281 GWh of power while solar hit 8.9 GWh in mid-summer. Support for renewable energy in the UK also reached an all time high with 82% of people favouring it over other forms of energy creation, including fracking and nuclear.

While domestic installations of solar have fallen off in the wake of the reduction in Feed in Tariff payments since 2016, the cost of solar PV has also dropped. A 4kW array can set you back between £6,000 and £8,000, including installation, whereas just 7 years ago it may well have cost twice as much. The truth is that the industry is still learning to survive without the crutch of subsidies but homeowners and businesses are still investing in this area.