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Renewable Energy

Renewables drove global power additions in 2021

The International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) says renewable energy continued to grow and gain momentum despite global uncertainties. By the end of 2021, global renewable generation capacity amounted to 3,064 Gigawatt (GW), increasing the stock of renewable power by 9.1 per cent.

Although hydropower accounted for the largest share of the global total renewable generation capacity with 1 230 GW, IRENA’s Renewable Capacity Statistics 2022 shows that solar and wind continued to dominate new generating capacity. Together, both technologies contributed 88 per cent to the share of all new renewable capacity in 2021. Solar capacity led with 19 per cent increase, followed by wind energy, which increased its generating capacity by 13 per cent.

IRENA Director-General, Francesco La Camera said: “This continued progress is another testament of renewable energy’s resilience. Its strong performance last year represents more opportunities for countries to reap renewables’ multiple socio-economic benefits. However, despite the encouraging global trend, our new World Energy Transitions Outlook shows that the energy transition is far from being fast or widespread enough to avert the dire consequences of climate change.”

“Our current energy crisis also adds to the evidence that the world can no longer rely on fossil fuels to meet its energy demand. Money directed to fossil fuel power plants yields unrewarding results, both for the survival of a nation and the planet. Renewable power should become the norm across the globe. We must mobilise the political will to accelerate the 1.5°C pathway.”

To achieve climate goals, renewables must grow at a faster pace than energy demand. However, many countries have not reached this point yet, despite significantly increasing the use of renewables for electricity generation.

Sixty per cent of the new capacity in 2021 was added in Asia, resulting in a total of 1.46 Terawatt (TW) of renewable capacity by 2021. China was the biggest contributor, adding 121 GW to the continent’s new capacity. Europe and North America—led by the USA—took second and third places respectively, with the former adding 39 GW, and the latter 38 GW. Renewable energy capacity grew by 3.9 per cent in Africa and 3.3 per cent in Central America and the Caribbean. Despite representing steady growth, the pace in both regions is much slower than the global average, indicating the need for stronger international cooperation to optimise electricity markets and drive massive investments in those regions.

Highlights by technology:

  • Hydropower: Growth in hydro increased steadily in 2021 with the commissioning of several large projects delayed through 2021.
  • Wind energy: Wind expansion continued at a lower rate in 2021 compared to 2020 (+93 GW compared to +111 GW last year).
  • Solar energy: With an increase in new capacity in all major world regions in previous years, total global solar capacity has now outgrown wind energy capacity.
  • Bioenergy: Net capacity expansion increased in 2021 (+10.3 GW compared to +9.1 GW in 2020).
  • Geothermal energy: Geothermal capacity had an exceptional growth in 2021, with 1.6 GW added.
  • Off-grid electricity: Off-grid capacity grew by 466 MW in 2021 (+4%) to reach 11.2 GW.

Please read the full Renewable Capacity Statistics 2022 including the highlights, here.

COP26: Call made for renewable energy job creation

More than 130 renewable energy leaders, under the auspices of the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) Coalition for Action, have launched a Call to Action for COP26, encouraging all governments at national, regional, and local levels to ensure access to high-quality, sustainable jobs during the energy transition.

Limiting the earth’s temperature rise to 1.5oC by 2050 requires a full decarbonisation of the energy sector. As such, the clean energy transition must progress rapidly. But to build a climate-resilient future, the energy transition must advance in a just and inclusive manner, leaving nobody behind.

As countries convene in Glasgow to re-align strategies and renew ambitions at the 26th United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26), there is an opportunity to increase momentum of the global energy transition – and a transition grounded in renewable energy has been proven to generate widespread socio-economic benefits, including jobs.

“Leaving fossil fuels behind, we need to make sure that everybody can participate in a low-carbon economy. Policies are needed to make the best use of renewable energy players’ insights and best practices in driving a renewable energy market and creating adequate and equal opportunities for all,” says IRENA Director-General Francesco La Camera.

The Renewable Energy and Jobs: Annual Review 2021 report by the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) finds that the renewable energy sector offered employment to 12 million people in 2020 – a steady increase since 2012 at 7.3 million. Renewable energy jobs are also more inclusive, showing better gender balance with 32 per cent women employed in the sector, compared to 22 per cent in the fossil fuels sector. These records provide a very promising insight into a clean energy future.

With the clock ticking, members of Coalition for Action urge governments to consider the following five recommended actions in their decision-making to accelerate a just and inclusive energy transition, at COP26 this week:

  • Comprehensive structural and just transition policies are critical to secure the benefits and manage labour market misalignments that result from the energy transition.
  • Concrete and resilient finance mechanisms are required for countries to equitably transition away from fossil fuels.
  • Job and enterprise creation in the renewable energy sector must be complemented with labour and socio-economic policies in the energy sector.
  • Long-term partnerships between industry, labour unions and governments are essential to ensure job security and social protection, especially in areas particularly impacted by the energy transition (e.g., coal mining regions).
  • Data-driven actions and solutions are needed to support targeted policies that encourage job creation, capacity building and reskilling to empower those disproportionately impacted, such as women, youth and minorities.

See a more detailed view of the IRENA Coalition for Action’s Call to Action for COP26.

Renewable Energy

GUEST BLOG: Wind energy sector growth – UK & beyond

By Hire Torque

Globally, we’re constantly moving towards greener initiatives in order to safeguard valuable resources and protect the planet. In the past, we have been heavily reliant on fossil fuels like coal and gas. Formed over millions of years, our rate of consumption makes these energy sources unsustainable, driving us to develop more environmentally friendly practices.

From wind turbines to wave power, renewables is a buoyant market. However, it’s wind power that has made the most significant impact on how we generate and use energy — and we’re becoming increasingly reliant on it as an energy source.

This is an important trend to track for energy managers.

In 2016, the amount of energy generated through windfarms exceeded the amount created by coal power plants — the first time ever this has happened in the UK. On Christmas Day 2016, more than 40% of all of the energy generated was from renewable sources, with 75% of this figure coming from wind turbines. This was yet another milestone figure, up from 25% in 2015 and just 12% in 2012.

Coal-fuelled electricity has reached its lowest output in some 80 years too, clearly underlining the growth of renewables. So what does the future hold for the wind energy sector in the UK and beyond? Hire Torque, who specialise in Controlled bolting for wind turbines, take a look at the market’s global potential below:

Predictions for the next 5 years

After record-breaking growth in 2014 and 2015, 2016 was a time for the wind energy sector to reconsolidate and consider their next move. In total, the global installed capacity at the end of 2016 was 486,790 MW — an impressive figure by anyone’s standards.

However, growth is expected to pick-up once more in 2017, with predictions expecting the global installed capacity to rise to 546,100 MW. By 2018, this figure will hit 607,000 MW before reaching 817,000 MW by 2021. Although the rate of growth is anticipated to slow, it’s clear that wind power will continue to occupy a large energy share on a global scale.

So how does this performance breakdown on a region-specific basis? Asia, North America and Europe are expected to remain the dominant wind power markets. By 2021, it’s anticipated that Asia will create 357,100 GW of energy from wind turbines. Europe is expected to hit 234,800 GW, while North America is likely to generate 159,100 GW.

Emerging markets are also expected to continue their development. For example, Latin America will grow to 40,200 GW by 2021 — up from 15,300 GW in 2016 — while the Middle East and Africa will more than quadruple their output, growing from 3,900 GW in 2016 to 16,100 GW in 2021.

Future investments

Of course, in order to support the sector’s continued growth, additional investments must be made. In 2016, €43 billion was spent on constructing new wind farms, refinancing, fundraising and project acquisitions — an increase of €8 billion compared to 2015.

It seems the sector is increasing its focus on offshore windfarms as oppose to onshore sites. Investments onshore dropped by 5%, while offshore reached a record-breaking €18.2 billion. Impressively, the UK is leading the way, raising €12.7 billion for new wind energy projects. This dwarfs the country in second place, Germany, with €5.3 billion.

Although this investment is expected to slow in 2017, we have already witnessed a €1.8 billion investment into Europe’s new projects in the first quarter of 2017 alone. While the total investment may be less, it’s clear that wind energy will remain vital to the global movement towards greener, more sustainable energy both now and in the future.


Industry Spotlight: Delivering renewable heat – a 2020 vision…

In my previous column, I looked back on the renewable energy targets that were set across the UK in 2009 and looked ahead to consider the likelihood of these being met by 2020.

The biomass heat sector is experiencing low growth at present, primarily due to the collapse in fossil fuel prices and continuing RHI (Renewable Heat Incentive) uncertainty; so until this changes our renewable heat target won’t be met.  Arguably, there is an inadequate appreciation of the current situation and its impact on progress to meeting renewable heat targets.

The good news is the biomass heat sector is willing and able to respond to demand and can grow its capacity.  But ideally, demand needs to grow at a sustainable pace and in line with realistic targets.

Those of us involved in the sector are looking for some clear policy direction and support. Surely it would be in the interests of government to offer this if they want to deliver anything like the targets set for 2020, let alone anything more after that.

With fossil fuel being so cheap at present, the initial financial carrot (to biomass investment) has been reduced for the time being. Clearly government policy can’t and shouldn’t force up fossil fuel prices (though a strong argument for this approach could be made), but the public sector does buy a massive amount of fossil-sourced heat for its building estate. Maybe it’s time to mandate that a small percentage of this is renewable? The stick rather than the carrot.  

There are 32 local authorities in Scotland, each owning many schools, sheltered housing complexes, leisure centres and civic offices. There are also 14 health boards, numerous housing associations (with high rise flats especially), prisons and a range of other public sector buildings (courts, MOD, higher education sector etc). The development of new public buildings under the Hub process also represents renewable heat investment opportunity.

To put some metrics around this, a typical council spends about £3 million a year on heating and owns, say, 100 buildings.  If 20 of those buildings were converted to renewable heat over four years by our 32 councils, that becomes 160 installation contracts a year. Add in the rest of the public building estate and the new builds described above, and it is possible to imagine 300 to 400 installs a year are achievable although still representing a very small percentage of the total public sector building estate.  Only the ‘low hanging fruit’ would need to be addressed.

A mandated process would mean that biomass heat would contribute an important percentage of the remaining 6,420GWh 2020 target. Without this, demand seems unlikely to pick up ‘naturally’ until fossil fuel prices rise for several consecutive years.  In that period, the installation capacity gained in the sector could be permanently lost, so I think there is a need to act now or lose any opportunity to grow the amount of renewable heat in our energy mix.

The methodology for mandating public sector renewable heat targets would need to be developed and structured to ensure that only appropriate and viable projects are developed. At the moment (with current fossil fuel prices and RHI tariffs), a simple biomass heat install will show a 10 to 15 year payback. That has risen from a six to eight year payback three years ago, when fossil fuels were more expensive and RHI rates were higher. Based upon clear financial guidance, the public building estate might well be looked at in terms of any project with a sub-15 year payback, backed with prudential borrowing limits to enable the capital investment.

The long term economic and carbon benefits are especially strong with biomass heat (it creates many more jobs than other forms of renewable investment and saves more carbon), so mandating a target delivers not only on renewable energy policy, but also saves money long term.  So the only question remains, why not?


Steve Luker is principal consultant at re:heat, specialists in biomass heat with offices in North East England and Scotland. Before entering consultancy, Steve worked for Scottish Enterprise as a renewables and sustainability consultant. Steve is a recognised expert in bio-energy, advising local and national government, development agencies and the private sector in the UK and overseas on supply chains, energy contracts, tendering and procurement.  For further information, please visit


Read part one of Steve’s column here

UEA: Investment in energy storage ‘vital’…

Researchers at the University of East Anglia (UEA) has suggested that government subsidies should be used to encourage investment in energy storage systems if renewable power is to be fully integrated into the sector.

The research, led by Dr Konstantinos Chalvatzis and Dr Dimitris Zafirakis of the university’s Norwich Business School and published in the Applied Energy journal; found that the buy cheap, sell expensive approach alone cannot provide adequate revenue to justify investment. However, the study did declare that if the decarbonisation of electricity is to be achieved by increasing renewables, investment in storage has to be encouraged.

Dr Chalvatzis, a senior lecturer in business and climate change, said: “We need sufficient storage and more investment in storage systems in order for renewable energy to reach its full potential. Subsidies would encourage investment, which in turn would enable further integration of renewables into the energy sector. The fact that for some days countries such as Germany and Portugal are running their entire electricity network exclusively on renewable energy shows how far we have come to rely on it as a power source and this will continue to increase.”

With this said, the research claims that investment in energy storage has been limited until now, largely due to the high capital costs of most systems. Therefore, it is suggested that the main focus should be on multiple grid services and associated welfare effects, such as reduced consumer energy costs and increased energy security that energy storage technologies can provide.

You can access the research here