(CN) – The outlook for renewable energy is sunny, according to a new report that shines light on international trends in energy investment and generation capacity.
Nations around the world in 2017 installed a record 98 gigawatts of new solar capacity, far higher than the net additions of any other technology – renewable, fossil fuel or nuclear.
Solar energy also attracted significantly greater investment – $160.8 billion, an 18-percent increase over 2016 levels – than any other technology. That figure represents 57 percent of the $279.8 billion spent on renewables excluding large-scale hydropower plants last year. Solar investment also far exceeded funding for coal and gas generation capacity, estimated at $103 billion.
China was a primary contributor to the expansion of solar energy, adding 53 gigawatts – more than half the global total – and investing $86.5 billion, up 58 percent.
The report, released Thursday by UN Environment, Bloomberg New Energy Finance, and UNEP-Collaborating Center, finds that dwindling costs for solar electricity, and to some level wind power, continues to spur deployment. Last year was the eighth in a row in which global investment in renewables surpassed $200 billion. Since 2004, nations have invested $2.9 trillion in green energy sources.
“The extraordinary surge in solar investment shows how the global energy map is changing and, more importantly, what the economic benefits are of such a shift,” said UN Environment head Erik Solheim. “Investments in renewables bring more people into the economy, they deliver more jobs, better quality jobs and better paid jobs. Clean energy also means less pollution, which means healthier, happier development.”
China spent the most by far on renewables at a record $126.6 billion, 31 percent higher than in 2016.
Funding for renewable power also increased sharply in Australia, up 147 percent to $8.5 billion; Mexico, up 810 percent to $6 billion; and Sweden, up 127 percent to $3.7 billion.
A record 157 gigawatts of renewable energy were commissioned last year compared to 143 gigawatts in 2016, far eclipsing the net 70 gigawatts of fossil-fuel generating capacity added over the same period after adjusting for plant closures.
“The world added more solar capacity than coal, gas, and nuclear plants combined,” said Nils Stieglitz, president of Frankfurt School of Finance & Management. “This shows where we are heading, although the fact that renewables altogether are still far from providing the majority of electricity means that we still have a long way to go.”
However, some large markets experienced declines in investment in renewables. In the United States, for instance, investment dipped 6 percent to $40.5 billion. Europe’s investment in renewables dropped 36 percent to $40.9 billion, with major dips in Germany and the United Kingdom. Investment in Japan fell 28 percent to $13.4 billion.
Lead author Angus McCrone, chief editor of Bloomberg New Energy Finance, said: “In countries that saw lower investment, it generally reflected a mixture of changes in policy support, the timing of large project financings, such as in offshore wind, and lower capital costs per megawatt.”
Global investments of $2.7 trillion from 2007 to 2017 have expanded the proportion of world electricity generated by wind, solar, geothermal, small-scale hydropower plants, marine, and biomass and waste-to-energy from 5.2 to 12.1 percent.
The current threshold of electricity produced by renewables corresponds to an offset of 1.8 gigatons of carbon dioxide emissions – roughly equivalent to what’s produced by the entire U.S. transport system.
The report was funded by the German Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety.