2016 another record year for renewables

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 

A new report by the International Renewable Energy Agency, Renewable Energy Capacity Statistics 2017, states that global renewable electricity generation capacity (including hydro) increased by 161 gigawatts (GW) in 2016, making it the strongest year ever for new capacity additions.1

Renewable electricity capacity grew by 8.7% in 2016, and renewables accounted for 60% of new capacity from all sources (55% if large hydro is excluded). Solar led the way with a record 71 GW of new capacity, along with 51 GW of wind, 30 GW of hydro, 9 GW of bioenergy (also a record), and just under 1 GW of geothermal energy capacity.

Global renewable electricity capacity has doubled over the past decade and now exceeds 2,000 GW:


































That 2,006 GW capacity is 5.1 times greater than nuclear power capacity of 392 GW (including idle reactors in Japan).2 Actual electricity generation from renewables (23.5% of global generation3) is more than double that from nuclear power (10.7%4)

The renewable electricity capacity mix is as follows: hydro 58%, wind 22%, solar 13.9%, bioenergy 5.1%, geothermal and marine energy both <1%.

This year's edition of IRENA's Renewable Energy Capacity Statistics series also contains data for off-grid renewables. Off-grid renewable electricity capacity reached a modest 2.8 GW by the end of 2016, with solar contributing almost half of the total.

Investment falls: A separate report by the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) and Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF) states that the strong growth of renewables occurred despite an 23% drop in investment (excluding large hydro).5 A separate BNEF report finds that investment in 2016 ‒ including all hydro ‒ fell by 18%.6

The fall in investment last year was partly due to falling costs, with the average cost of solar photovoltaics and wind dropping by more than 10% compared to 2015.7 Solar provides the most striking illustration: investment in 2016 was down 34% yet solar capacity growth was 34% higher than the previous year.8

Despite the drop, investment in renewables in 2016 was still roughly double that of fossil fuel generation.

Employment in the renewable energy sector (excluding large hydro) increased from 5.7 million in 2012 to 8.1 million in 2015 ‒ an increase of 42%.9

Future Growth: IRENA Director-General Adnan Amin said in July 2016 that he believes the Agency's REMAP scenario ‒ a doubling of renewable electricity energy by 2030 ‒ is realistic.10 IRENA's REMAP scenario is consistent with the projections of the International Energy Agency (IEA). The IEA's 2016 Renewable Energy Medium-Term Market Report predicts 825 GW of new renewable capacity from 2016‒21, a 45% increase on the 2015 figure.11 Growth of 161 GW in 2016 is consistent with that five-year projection. The IEA report notes that there is potential for more rapid growth than it projects, and identifies additional policy initiatives which would result in growth 29% higher than the projection of 825 GW.


A new report by Greenpeace, the Sierra Club and CoalSwarm notes that the amount of new coal power capacity starting construction fell by 62% in 2016 compared to the previous year.12 In 2016, 65GW of new coal-fired units started construction, compared to 170GW in 2015.

In addition to the 62% drop in new coal plant construction starts, the report's findings also include a 48% decline in overall pre-construction activity, and an 85% decline in new Chinese coal plant permits.

Last year's coal decline was overwhelmingly due to China and India. In China, too much capacity has been built in recent years, and the move away from coal has also been driven by government policy to clean up air pollution. In India, the decline was due to slower-than-expected growth in energy demand, and rapid growth of renewables.

Paul Massara, the former CEO of RWE Npower and now head of a green energy company, North Star Solar, said: "The decline in new coal plants in Asian countries is truly dramatic, and shows how a perfect storm of factors are simply making coal a bad investment."13

A record-breaking 64 GW of coal capacity was shut down in the past two years, the report notes, mostly in the US and EU.


1. International Renewable Energy Agency, 2017, 'Renewable Energy Capacity Statistics 2017', www.irena.org/DocumentDownloads/Publications/IRENA_RE_Capacity_Statistic...

Media release: www.irena.org/News/Description.aspx?mnu=cat&PriMenuID=16&CatID=84&News_I...

2. www.world-nuclear.org/information-library/facts-and-figures/world-nuclea...

3. www.irena.org/DocumentDownloads/Publications/IRENA_REthinking_Energy_201...

4. www.worldnuclearreport.org/IMG/pdf/20160713MSC-WNISR2016V2-HR.pdf

5. UNEP/BNEF, 2017, 'Global Trends in Renewable Energy Investment 2017', http://fs-unep-centre.org/sites/default/files/publications/globaltrendsi...

6. BNEF, 'Clean Energy Investment End of Year 2016', https://about.bnef.com/clean-energy-investment/

7. http://web.unep.org/newscentre/more-bang-buck-record-new-renewable-power...

8. Jocelyn Timperley, 6 April 2017, 'Renewables growth breaks records again despite fall in investment', www.carbonbrief.org/renewables-growth-breaks-records-again-despite-fall-...

9. http://resourceirena.irena.org/gateway/dashboard/?topic=7&subTopic=53

10. Karel Beckman, 13 July 2016, 'Interview Adnan Amin, head of IRENA: "Everything we see is pointing to transformational change"', http://energypost.eu/interview-adnan-amin-chief-irena-climate-negotiator...

11. International Energy Agency, 2016, 'Renewable Energy Medium-Term Market Report: Executive Summary', www.iea.org/Textbase/npsum/MTrenew2016sum.pdf

12. Greenpeace, Sierra Club and CoalSwarm, March 2017, 'Boom and Bust 2017: Tracking the Global Coal Plant Pipeline', http://endcoal.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/03/BoomBust2017-English-Final...

13. Adam Vaughan, 22 March 2017, 'Coal in 'freefall' as new power plants dive by two-thirds', www.theguardian.com/environment/2017/mar/22/coal-power-plants-green-ener...