2015 was a good year for the global energy transition. On the deployment side, we saw solid growth of renewable energy technologies, covering a broadening base of markets. In terms of technology, we saw steady cost reductions for existing solutions, albeit very little by way of new breakthroughs. In terms of politics, the Paris agreement stunned a skeptical public to set a new tone for companies and governments alike.
Here are some interesting facts
– Investments high, record instalments: Globally, we saw a record 55 GW of solar and 59 GW of wind installed. Total investments into renewable will likely be north of $300 bn globally in 2015. (In 2014 the record number was $318 bn.) In context: This is approximately 8% of global infrastructure investment (ca. $3.2 tr), around 16% of global energy investment (ca. $1.6 tr) and around 50% of global power generation investment (ca. $0.6 tr) . This year, for the first time, developing countries might outdo developed countries in renewable energy investment. One reason why total investments stagnate is that the cost of wind and solar is falling constantly.
– Costs falling: A global average cost of installing ground-mounted solar is now $1.3 per watt. This is the main component in pushing cost of solar power. There have been some notable solar power purchase deals. They include: a project by ACWA Power in Dubai for $ cents 5.8 per kWh, and tariffs of around or below $ cents 7 per kWh in e.g. India and Jordan. Warren Buffet’s utility NV energy will buy solar power from First Solar in Nevada at the incredible rate of $ cents 3.9 per kWh (includes a US tax credit).
– Renewables is making a difference: In Germany, 35% of electricity is from renewables (mostly wind) – talking about grid ceilings and dealing with volatile sources. This comes, as Michael Liebreich wrote, at the cost of a cappuccino per household per month.
– Electrical storage is growing steadily, not exponentially: With electrical storage, we are still in the pre-boom phase of individual (often large) pilots and experimentation in commercialisation. Globally, installations in 2015 were around 500 MW. The cost of storage fell by 35% to $350 per kWh.
– Electric vehicle grow rapidly, but are still a fringe technology: globally, in 2015, sales of electric vehicles will reach around 420,000 units. That is a 45% growth from the 290,000 in 2014. Markets are the US, China and Europe. The highest electric car share in sales is in Norway (20%). In the UK, for instance, it is still below 2%.
– Low cost of oil to stay: Oil is now at $38 per barrel (Brent). There was some talk about prices rising again, even above $70 or $80, but it currently seems like that is not likely to happen. Supply options have diversified (through e.g. US unconventional oil), technology improvements keep costs low and demand is tepid. The “peak oil” discussion is now focussing on demand, not supply.
– Coal is in trouble in the West – and perhaps also in the East: In the US and Europe coal is losing ground rapidly. Take for instance the latest announcement of Germany’s largest utility and coal-fired power plant owner RWE to split its business and focus on renewables. In the US, the second largest coal producer, Alpha Natural Resources, filed for bankruptcy. In China, for the first time in a generation, coal use dropped in 2015. The IEA speculates about a “peak coal” in China. In India, coal is coming under increasing pressure from quicker and simpler alternatives, such as solar.
It is these underlying cost and investment trends that drive the global energy transition and made the Paris Agreement possible. A low carbon world is today seen as an opportunity not to be missed, rather than as a cost.
For more, read Michael Liebreich’s excellent blog on the topic: http://about.bnef.com/blog/liebreich-energy-in-2015-what-we-got-right-and-what-we-got-wrong/