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Global investment in new capacity for renewable energy on course to reach $2.6tn by end of decade

Amount is more than triple the amount investment in the previous decade, UN Environment Programme report finds

According to new figures published by the UN Environment Programme, global investment in new capacity for renewable energy is on course to reach $2.6 trillion by the end of the decade, more than triple the amount of the previous decade, with more gigawatts of solar power capacity installed than any other generation technology.

According to Global Trends in Renewable Energy Investment 2019 report, which has been released ahead of the UN Global Climate Action Summit, this investment is set to have roughly quadrupled renewable energy capacity (excluding large hydro) from 414 GW at the end of 2009 to just over 1,650GW when the decade closes at the end of the year.

Solar power will have drawn half – $1.3 trillion – of the $2.3 trillion in renewable energy capacity investments made over the decade. Solar alone will have grown from 25GW at the beginning of 2010 to an expected 663GW by the close of 2019 – enough to produce all the electricity needed each year by about 100 million average homes in the US.

In 2018, the global share of electricity generation accounted for by renewables reached 12.9% in 2018, up from 11.6% in 2017. This avoided an estimated 2 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions last year alone, a substantial saving given global power sector emissions reached 13.7 billion tonnes in 2018.

Including all major generating technologies (fossil and zero-carbon), the decade is set to see a net 2,366 GW of power capacity installed, with solar accounting for the largest single share (638 GW), coal second (529 GW), and wind and gas in third and fourth places (487 GW and 438 GW respectively).

The cost-competitiveness of renewables has also risen dramatically over the decade. The levelized cost of electricity (a measure that allows comparison of different methods of electricity generation on a consistent basis) is down 81 per cent for solar photovoltaics since 2009; that for onshore wind is down 46%.

“Investing in renewable energy is investing in a sustainable and profitable future, as the last decade of incredible growth in renewables has shown,” said Inger Andersen, Executive Director of the UN Environment Programme.

“But we cannot afford to be complacent. Global power sector emissions have risen about 10 per cent over this period. It is clear that we need to rapidly step up the pace of the global switch to renewables if we are to meet international climate and development goals.”

The report has been released annually since 2007, and also continued to highlight its traditional look at yearly figures, with global investment in renewables capacity hitting $272.9 billion in 2018.

Although this represented a 12% drop from the previous year, 2018 was the ninth-successive year in which capacity investment exceeded $200 billion and the fifth successive year above $250 billion. It was also about three times the global investment in coal and gas-fired generation capacity combined. The 2018 figure was also achieved despite continuing falls in the capital cost of solar and wind projects, and despite a policy change that hit investment in China in the second half of the year.

A record 167 GW of new renewable energy capacity was completed in 2018, up from 160 GW in 2017.

“Sharp falls in the cost of electricity from wind and solar over recent years have transformed the choice facing policy-makers. These technologies were always low-carbon and relatively quick to build. Now, in many countries around the world, either wind or solar is the cheapest option for electricity generation,” said Jon Moore, Chief Executive of BloombergNEF (BNEF), the research company providing data and analysis for the Global Trends report.

The report also tracks other, non-capacity investment in renewables — money going into technology and specialist companies. All of these types of investment showed increases in 2018.

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