New solar photovoltaics capacity grew by 50 percent in 2016, with China accounting for almost half of the global expansion, according to the International Energy Agency’s latest renewables market analysis and forecast.
For the first time, solar PV additions rose faster than any other fuel, surpassing the net growth in coal.
Boosted by a strong solar PV market, renewables accounted for almost two-thirds of net new power capacity around the world last year, with almost 165 gigawatts coming online, according to the report, Renewables 2017. By 2022, renewable electricity capacity should increase by 43 percent, the report says.
“We see renewables growing by about 1,000 GW by 2022, which equals about half of the current global capacity in coal power, which took 80 years to build,” says Dr. Fatih Birol, the executive director of the IEA. The agency expects solar PV capacity growth to be higher than any other renewable technology through 2022.
Three countries – China, India and the United States – will account for two-thirds of global renewable expansion by 2022, the report says. Total solar PV capacity by then would exceed the combined total power capacities of India and Japan today.
In power generation, renewable electricity is expected to grow by more than a third by 2022 to over 8,000 terawatt hours, which is equivalent to the total power consumption of China, India and Germany combined. By then, renewables will account for 30 percent of power generation, up from 24 percent in 2016. The growth in renewable generation will be twice as large as that of gas and coal combined. Though coal remains the largest source of electricity generation in 2022, renewables close the generation gap with coal by half in five years, the report says.
The deployment of solar PV and wind last year was accompanied by record-low auction prices, which fell as low as 3 cents per kilowatt-hour. Low announced prices for solar and wind were recorded in India, the United Arab Emirates, Mexico and Chile. These announced contract prices for solar PV and wind power purchase agreements are increasingly comparable or lower than generation cost of newly built gas and coal power plants, IEA says.
China remains the leader of renewable electricity capacity expansion over the forecast period with over 360 gigawatts of capacity coming online, or 40 percent of the global total. China’s renewables growth is largely driven by concerns about air pollution and capacity targets that were outlined in the country’s 13th five-year plan to 2020.
China already exceeded its 2020 solar PV target three years ahead of time and is set to achieve its onshore wind target in 2019. Still, the growing cost of renewable subsidies and grid integration issues remain two important challenges to further expansion.
India’s move to address the financial health of its utilities and tackle grid-integration issues drive a more optimistic forecast, the report says. By 2022, India renewable capacity will more than double. This growth is enough to overtake renewable expansion in the European Union for the first time. Solar PV and wind together represent 90 percent of India’s capacity growth as auctions yielded some of the world’s lowest prices for both technologies.
Despite policy uncertainties at the federal level, the United States remains the second-largest growth market for renewables. The main drivers for onshore wind and solar – such as multi-year federal tax incentives combined with renewable portfolio standards as well as state-level policies for distributed solar PV – remain strong. Still, the current uncertainty over proposed federal tax reforms, international trade and energy policies could alter the economic attractiveness of renewables and hamper their growth over the IEA forecast period.
Africa and Developing Asia
The report also provides detailed analysis on the renewable consumption of electric cars and off-grid solar deployment in Africa and developing Asia. Off-grid capacity in these regions will more than triple, reaching over 3,000 megawatts in 2022 from industrial applications, solar home systems (SHSs) and mini-grids driven by government electrification programs and private sector initiatives.
While this represents less than 5 percent of total PV capacity installed in both regions, the economic impact is nonetheless significant and brings basic electricity services to almost 70 million more people in developing Asia and sub-Saharan Africa in the next five years.
Power consumption of EVs – including cars, two- and three-wheelers, and buses – is expected to double over the next five years, with renewable electricity estimated to represent almost 30 percent of their consumption by 2022, up from 26 percent today. EVs play a complementary role to biofuels, IEA says, which represents 80 percent of growth in renewable energy consumption in transport. However, the share of renewables in total road transport energy consumption remains limited, increasing from 4 percent in 2016 to almost 5 percent in 2022.