Environmental Laboratory

Is Renewable Energy Overtaking Coal?

Nov 09 2016 Comments 0

The International Energy Agency (IEA) has recently released figures for the performance of the renewable energy market in comparison to coal in 2015 and the results are encouraging, to say the least.

The IEA found that last year was the first time new installations of renewable plants surpassed coal for the first time, and went on to project that renewables will be able to provide enough energy to meet total demand in Europe and the USA within five years.

By the figures

The Agency’s report found that a total capacity of 153GW was installed in the renewable sector last year, accounting for over half of all new installations of any kind. Wind power saw the greatest boost in its total capacity, with 66GW of new installations, while solar power also received a respectable 49GW addition. Hydropower and biogas (which faces its own challenges in the European market) accounted for the remainder of the additions.

Despite trailing behind in terms of new installations in 2015, hydropower is still far and away the biggest source of green energy worldwide, with over 70% of all renewables coming from water-powered sources. However, the recent additions have seen wind move up to 15% and solar to 4%, representing huge increases on their previous contributions.

Moreover, it’s thought that these trends will continue into the 2020s, with solar and wind power estimated to contribute a third of all renewable energy generation by 2021. Simultaneously, fossil fuel capacity is expected to decrease, with coal a particular victim of the rise of renewables.

The battle is far from won – but the signs are encouraging

While 153GW of new capacity have been installed in 2015, it should be noted that plants rarely produce above a third of their total potential, meaning that in reality only about 50GW of new energy will be generated from renewable sources this year. This means that actual energy production from coal still outweighs that from renewables, despite the recent installations.

That being said, the trends in energy generation clearly show that the renewable energy economy is thriving at present and should be expected to do so for the foreseeable future. The exceptional year of 2015 means that the IEA have rethought the predictions they made in 2014, upping them by around 13% and estimating that renewables will add up to 800GW of power over the coming five years.

If accurate, that would mean that green energy sources could provide up to 7,600TW of energy by 2021, which is more than enough to fuel the entirety of Europe and the United States. What’s more, these predictions are based on the assumption that no drastic action will be taken by any nation in order to meet the ambitious climate change goals outlined at the COP21 talks in Paris last December.

Instead, this conservative estimate is based upon the ever-decreasing cost of renewables and the phasing out of fossil fuel power stations over coming years. Any way you look at it, it’s encouraging news for the future of the energy industry and of our planet.

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