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Solar PV growth outpaces all other fuels — and will continue to grow

Renewables broke new records in 2016, largely as a result of booming solar photovoltaics (PV) deployed in the People’s Republic of China, according to the International Energy Agency (IEA)

According to the IEA's report Renewables 2017: Analysis and Forecast to 2022, renewables deployment, driven by sharp cost reductions and policy support, represented almost two-thirds of new net electricity capacity additions in 2016, with almost 165 GW coming online. This was accompanied by record-low auction prices as low as $30/MWh, said the IEA.

This year's renewable forecast is 12% higher than last year, thanks mostly to solar PV upward revisions in China and India. Three countriesChina, India and the United Stateswill account for two-thirds of global renewable expansion by 2022. Total solar PV capacity by then would exceed the combined power capacities of India and Japan today.

"We see renewables growing by about 1000 GW by 2022, which equals about half of the current global capacity in coal power, which took 80 years to build," said Dr Fatih Birol, the executive director of the IEA. "What we are witnessing is the birth of a new era in solar PV. We expect that solar PV capacity growth will be higher than any other renewable technology through 2022."

Paolo Frankl, head of the IEA's Renewable Energy Division, said: "The real star is solar PV. Last year, new solar PV capacity around the world grew by 50%, reaching over 74 GW, with China accounting for almost half of this expansion. For the first time, solar PV additions rose faster than any other fuel, surpassing the net growth in coal."

Meanwhile, annual capacity growth of wind declined by almost one-fifth in 2016, following the 2015 boom caused by a developer rush in China.

Hydropower capacity expansion was lower than in 2015, as the Chinese market declined for a third year in a row, while Brazil saw strong growth.

The growth of other renewable technologies such as bioenergy, concentrating solar power (CSP), and geothermal was relatively slow, and it represented only 4% of 2016 global renewable capacity additions.

Although renewables have been a huge success story, the report notes that challenges remain in their deployment in the transport and heat sectors.

The share of renewables in road transport fuel is expected to increase only marginally, from 4% in 2016 to almost 5% in 2022. "Despite the surge in electric vehicles, decarbonisation of the transport sector remains a major policy challenge. We see an important opportunity in the new advanced biofuels technologies - those based on non-edible feedstock… but without specific policy incentives, this industry cannot grow," said Frankl.

The share of renewables in heat consumption will increase slowly, from 9% in 2015 to almost 11% in 2022.

"For heat, we have mixed signals," notes Frankl. "There is an increase in the EU, which, frankly speaking, looks good. In the US, the increase is softer. In India, there is no increase in the renewable share; here the share is actually shrinking in our forecast.

China is the leader in electricity but this is certainly not the case in terms of heatin 2022, only 5% of total heat demand is covered by renewables."

This article appears in the latest issue of World Energy Focus, the magazine of the World Energy Council, with content produced by Petroleum Economist. For more information and to register, visit the site

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