Historically speaking, wealthier, developed nations, particularly the US and Europe, have led the world on renewable energy, investing the most capital and building the most capacity.
Last year, that changed.
In 2015, for the first time, countries outside the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) invested more in renewable energy and added more renewable capacity than the 15 OECD countries combined.
This is only a bit of symbolism — the lines have been converging for a while — but it is important symbolism.
Led by China, emerging nations have emerged
The finding comes from the 2016 Climatescope report from Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF). It’s an annual snapshot of the state of clean energy in non-OECD countries. It goes deep, ranking countries on policies, finance, value chains, and various other metrics.
To me, the headline news is illustrated by two charts. This shows renewable-energy capacity additions from 2011 to 2015:
As you can see, after some fluctuations, non-OECD countries nosed ahead last year. It might bump around another year or two, but the longer term trend is clear: The center of clean-energy gravity is moving south.
And it’s almost entirely due to China. The country installed 142 gigawatts (!) of new power generation capacity in 2015, of which 33 GW was wind and 18 GW was solar PV. (Compare to India, which installed 27.8 GW of new capacity — 2.6 GW of wind and 1.7 GW of solar PV.)
This shows renewable-energy investment from 2011 to 2015:
Again, these numbers might bump around for a few years, but renewable-energy investment in non-OECD countries is headed up, whereas investment in developed nations seems to have plateaued.
The surge in non-OECD investment is led by solar:
Investment in utility-scale solar in Climatescope nations spiked 43% from 2014 to $71.8bn in 2015. Total clean energy investment in Climatescope countries rose $24.8bn with solar accounting for nearly all of that. Photovoltaic (PV) costs are essentially on par with wind and, as recent tenders for power contracts have demonstrated, PV can now out-compete fossil-fuelled projects on price.
Solar and wind now dominate renewable-energy investment. “Together, [wind and solar] accounted for 65% of new clean energy investment in 2011,” BNEF writes. “By 2015, that had risen to 94%.”
And investment is spreading beyond China as well (this is from a different BNEF report):
An expanded list of emerging countries committed billions to clean energy last year with record increases, including Mexico ($4.2bn, up 114%), Chile ($3.5bn, up 157%), South Africa ($4.5bn, up 329%) and Morocco ($2bn, up from almost zero in 2014).
The world’s fate will now be decided by the race between coal and renewable energy in the Southern Hemisphere. Coal growth is slowing, but we are still headed for catastrophe.
This (okay, fine, three charts) is from the US EIA’s International Energy Outlook 2016:
If this unfolds, global average temperatures will exceed 2 degrees — possibly even 3 or 4. To stop short of 2 degrees, global coal use will need to be close to zero by 2040, with oil not far behind.
Emerging nations, like their OECD counterparts, are moving in the right direction, but too slowly.