Boom in Global Renewable Energy Underscores Need for Strong Policies Here

Recent news on the world stage detailing the state of renewable energy offers some global context to the efforts being made by stakeholders and forward-thinking policy makers here to bring America into a clean energy future.

The Renewable Energy Policy Network for the 21st Century, better known as REN21, issued its latest annual update showing that with the support of policies implemented in the developing world, global renewable energy generation capacity has jumped to record levels.

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.

That the 95 developing nations today make up the vast majority of the 144 countries with renewable energy support policies and targets underscores a contrast with declining support and renewables policy uncertainty ‑ and even retroactive support reductions ‑ in the United States and some European countries, says REN21’s Renewables 2014 Global Status Report.

Launched at a UN-hosted “Sustainable Energy for All” event in New York, the 2014 report credits support policies with a central role in driving global renewable energy capacity to a record level last year ‑ more than 1,560 gigawatts (GW), up more than 8 percent from 2012. That means more than 22 percent of the world’s power production now comes from renewable sources.

“Markets, manufacturing and investment expanded further across the developing world, clearly illustrating that renewables are no longer dependent upon a small handful of countries,” the REN21 report states.

The economic benefits are made clear with the report’s finding that in 2013, an estimated 6.5 million people worldwide worked directly or indirectly in the renewable energy sector.

The annual status report from REN21 is the world’s most frequently referenced report on the renewable energy market, industry and policy developments. Among its findings are the assessment that overall, renewables accounted for more than 56 percent of net additions to global power capacity. Hydropower rose by 4 percent to approximately 1,000 GW in 2013, accounting for about one-third of renewable power capacity added during the year. Other renewables collectively grew nearly 17 percent, to an estimated 560 GW.

Some 19 percent of all energy consumed in 2012 came from renewables, and that percentage grew in 2013. Heat energy from modern renewable sources accounted for an estimated 4.2 percent of total final energy use; hydropower made up nearly 4 percent, and an estimated 2 percent was provided by power from wind, solar, geothermal and biomass, as well as by biofuels.

For the first time, in 2013, more solar photovoltaic (PV) than wind power capacity was added worldwide, accounting for about one-third of renewable power capacity added during the year. Interestingly, even as global investment in solar PV declined last year nearly 22 percent relative to 2012, new capacity installations increased by more than 32 percent. The solar PV market had a record year, adding more than 39 GW in 2013 for a total of approximately 139 GW.

Though investment in renewable power and fuels globally was down from record levels in 2011, it still reached $249.4 billion in 2013.

The report shows robust policies, coupled with continuing technological advances, falling prices and innovations in financing, have made renewables increasingly affordable for a broader range of consumers worldwide. The findings put a renewed emphasis on the need for U.S. policy makers to sustain the policies and funding mechanisms – the federal Renewable Fuel Standard, state Renewable Portfolio Standards, production and investment tax credits, grants and other funding for new energy research – that will drive the commitment to domestically produced, infinite and cleaner sources of electricity and transportation fuels.

And as the report demonstrates, U.S. lawmakers should follow the lead of their counterparts in developing countries: Even in an oil-dominated energy arena, renewables must be allowed to grow and play a wider role in ensuring a secure energy future.

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