Renewable energy sources supplied nearly one-fifth (19 percent) of final energy consumption worldwide in 2012 and continued growing in 2013, according to the Renewable Energy Policy Network for the 21st Century's (REN21) “Renewables 2014 Global Status Report,” one of the most thorough and comprehensive reports on conditions and trends in global use of renewable energy.
Technological advances, cost reductions, and the spread of supportive government policies and institutional frameworks have progressed much faster and further than had been anticipated, REN21 highlights in its latest report, to the point where the cost of wind, solar, biomass, waste-to-energy and geothermal energy is on par, or even below, that of conventional fossil fuels across a widening range of countries, regions and uses. Commenting on renewables' rapid advance into the mainstream energy mix, REN21 states:
“[M]ost mainstream projections did not predict the extraordinary expansion of renewables that was to unfold in the coming decade. Numerous scenarios projected levels of renewable energy for 2020 that were already surpassed by 2010. Today, renewable energy technologies are seen not only as a tool for improving energy security, but also as a way to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions and to provide direct and indirect social beneﬁts.”
As REN21's 2014 report authors bring to the fore:
“The number of emerging economy nations with policies in place to support the expansion of renewable energy has surged more than six-fold in just eight years, from 15 developing countries in 2005 to 95 early this year. Those 95 developing countries make up the vast majority of the 144 countries with renewable energy support in place.”
Among industrially developed nations, the 2009 establishment of solar and renewable energy feed-in tariffs (FiTs) in Japan triggered a boom in clean energy investment that persisted through 2013.
In the U.S., recent initiatives by President Barack Obama to use executive authority to direct the EPA to enact stricter limits on carbon emissions from new and existing power plants. If they can withstand legal challenges by states and vested fossil fuel industry interests, these standards should provide substantial impetus to what's been a rapid pace of renewable energy investment, growth, development and employment.
Strong, growing support for renewable energy among developing countries could serve as another quiver in the arrow of renewable energy proponents in the U.S. and European Union (EU), where vested fossil fuel, power utility and other interests are wielding their tremendous economic leverage to oppose efforts to make a transition to a renewable energy infrastructure and markets.
In a research study undertaken to challenge President Obama and the EPA's imposing limits on power plants' carbon emissions, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, for example, contends that given energy demand is rising fastest in developing countries, carbon emissions reductions from the proposed limits won't have any significant impact on global carbon emissions. The growing enactment of supportive renewable energy policy frameworks across 95 developing countries, as set out in REN21's latest report, neuters the Chamber's contention.
Also among the highlights of REN21's “Renewables 2014 Global Status Report”:
“As renewable energy markets and industries mature, they increasingly face new and different challenges, as well as a wide range of opportunities. In 2013, renewables faced declining policy support and uncertainty in many European countries and the United States.
“Electric grid-related constraints, opposition in some countries from electric utilities concerned about rising competition, and continuing high global subsidies for fossil fuels were also issues. Overall—with some exceptions in Europe and the United States—renewable energy developments were positive in 2013.”Images courtesy of REN21
An experienced, independent journalist, editor and researcher, Andrew has crisscrossed the globe while reporting on sustainability, corporate social responsibility, social and environmental entrepreneurship, renewable energy, energy efficiency and clean technology. He studied geology at CU, Boulder, has an MBA in finance from Pace University, and completed a certificate program in international governance for biodiversity at UN University in Japan.