Record global renewable energy capacity added in 2016 despite lower capital spending

Image: National Wind Technology Center

Despite a 23 per cent drop in global capital investment, total renewable energy capacity climbed last year by a record eight percent.

The $241.6 billion spent on renewables was the lowest since 2013, however, lower development costs allowed 138.5 gigawatts of new renewable power capacity to be brought on, compared to 127.5 gigawatts in 2015, according to new research published by UN Environment, the Frankfurt School-UNEP Collaborating Centre and Bloomberg New Energy Finance.

The average dollar capital expenditure per megawatt for solar photovoltaics and wind dropped by over 10 percent.

"Ever-cheaper clean tech provides a real opportunity for investors to get more for less," UN Environment executive director Erik Solheim said in a statement.

Investments in renewables capacity roughly doubled that in fossil fuel generation in 2016. Fifty-five percent of all new power last year was from renewable sources, the highest to date.

But it’s not all sunshine on the alternative energy front.

Besides the lower technology costs, other factors are decreasing the world’s capital spend on renewables.

The report documents the biggest slowdown in Mexico, Chile, Uruguay, South Africa and Morocco, where spending fell by 60 per cent or more due to slower-than-expected growth in electricity demand and delays to auctions and financings.

While Jordan was one of the few new markets to buck the trend, investment there rising 148 per cent to $1.2 billion, China, which leads the world in total installed solar and wind capacity, saw investment drop 32 per cent to $78.3 billion last year, breaking an 11-year rising trend.

The United States saw renewable power commitments slip 10 per cent to $46.4 billion, “as developers took their time to build out projects to benefit from the five-year extension of the tax credit system,” the report says.

Meanwhile, President Donald Trump, who has pledged to reverse decades of decline in coal mining, this week is hosting President Xi Jinping at his Mar-a-Lago Florida resort. Climate change, however, is unlikely to be on the agenda, as the two leaders focus on curbing the North Korean nuclear threat.

Xi recently called the Paris accord a "hard-won achievement" and urged signatories to "stick to it."

Trump's claim that climate change is a hoax has reportedly been met in China with a mixture of bemusement and worry—worry, in that his claims might erode public support for taking action to continue reducing the country's reliance on coal.

Who is clearly not worried is President Trump, despite recent studies that predict his prized resort will be underwater by the end of the century.

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