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REthinking Energy 2017: Accelerating the global energy transformation

09 August 2017
Authors: Rabia Ferroukhi

In 2015, the international community came together with renewed ambition to adopt the Paris Agreement and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and its 17 goals as key blueprints for the future we want. The success of both, however, will depend to a large degree on our momentum on renewable energy, not just for “access to ašordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all” (SDG7), but for every one of the goals and commitments the global community has set for itself. This edition of REthinking Energy presents evidence and a compelling narrative of the remarkable ongoing transformation and how renewable energy is being produced and used – in the rapid growth of solar PV, for example, in game-changing storage innovation, in the success of fine-tuned policies and new financing mechanisms. A further boost has come from bold commitments by the private sector. Iconic companies such as Google, Apple, and Facebook are committing to procure renewable energy for their operations, while a vibrant small- and medium-size enterprise sector in emerging economies is pioneering new and successful models bringing sustainable energy to the energy poor. But the world is never static; new challenges are bound to arise. Can the short-term trends that so clearly favour renewables be sustained? Will enough financing be forthcoming and in what form? Will technological change be rapid enough to drive innovation and investment? Will political commitment endure? The Paris Agreement came into force in November 2016. More than 150 governments have now put forward their proposed contributions, a testament to a strong collective sense of purpose. Yet studies suggest that the existing commitments may not be su¨cient to keep the global temperature increase below 2° Celsius, and certainly not below the 1.5° threshold that science says may be necessary to ward oš a climate catastrophe, unless we are able to nurture and grow the global energy transformation at an unprecedented scale and pace. The momentum of change to accelerate the energy transformation continues but raises important questions about the policy, technology and financial challenges ahead. Important developments and political change have created a dynamic if unpredictable environment. Will this momentum be sustained and grow? That is certainly our hope. Renewables are a proven commodity. By any reckoning, a fundamental transformation of the world’s energy and industrial systems is under way and this edition of REthinking Energy aims to be a thought-provoking contribution to the ongoing debate. 

Renewable energy is a fundamental and growing part of the world's ongoing energy transformation. Governments all over the world are joining that consensus. The use of renewables is their prime choice for enhancing access to ašordable, reliable and cleaner sources of modern energy services. More than 170 countries have established renewable energy targets, and nearly 150 have enacted policies to catalyse investments in renewable energy technologies. Many are looking to partner with an increasingly active private sector. Recent studies by IRENA and its partners have shown clearly that renewables are competitive, attractive to investors and creating millions of new jobs. They present a compelling business case. This edition of REthinking Energy, the third in IRENA’s series, examines the dramatic changes under way in the energy sector in many countries. Among them is the growing maturity of the renewable energy market, coupled with technology advancements and policy refinement. Together, these developments provide an opportunity to develop an energy system that underpins sustainable development objectives. The foundations exist for accelerating the global energy transition, but ešorts need to step up to achieve long-lasting change. Policy commitments still need to be strengthened, additional investments catalysed, and technological innovation fostered if new markets are to be geared up, e¨ciency enhanced and costs driven down even further. According to nearly every measure, renewable energy is gaining ground. Today, one out of every five units of energy delivered to consumers comes from renewable sources. This is remarkably evident in the power sector, where renewables are growing at unprecedented rates, far outpacing growth in conventional technologies. Since 2012, new generating capacity fuelled by renewables has exceeded that fuelled by non-renewables by a widening margin. At 154 gigawatts (GW), capacity from renewables represented 61% of all new power generating capacity added worldwide in 2015 (IRENA, 2016b). Renewables are now the first-choice option for expanding, upgrading and modernising power systems around the world. Wind and solar power, which commanded about 90% of 2015 investments in renewable power, are now competitive with conventional sources of electricity, as their costs have plunged in recent years. The cost of wind turbines has fallen by nearly a third since 2009 and that of solar photovoltaic (PV) modules by 80%. These developments are reflected in the levelised cost of electricity with some renewable technologies having reached grid parity. Currently, onshore wind, biomass, geothermal and hydropower are all competitive or cheaper than coal, oil and gas-fired power stations, even without financial support and despite relatively low oil prices. Great potential remains for renewables. Currently, the share of renewable energy in total final energy consumption stands at 18.3%. About one-half of this portion is made up of modern renewables, evenly split between electricity and direct heat applications. The other half consists of traditional biomass used for heating and cooking. If all current national plans and policies are fully implemented without additional measures, the share of renewable energy in the total global final energy mix will rise only slightly by 2030 – from 18.3% to 21% – a measure of the extent of unexploited potential. 


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