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Future looks bright for clean power

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According to the UN, in 2016, the world added record levels of renewable energy capacity. Thanks to the plunging cost of renewables, the bill was almost a quarter lower than the previous year. The report from UN Environment says, investment in renewables capacity was roughly double that in fossil fuels. It follows the new that, since 2012, the cost of offshore wind power has fallen by around a third – far faster than expected. The report’s authors sound the alarm, that just as costs are plunging, some major nations are scaling back their green energy investments. They say that this reduces the likelihood of meeting the Paris climate agreement. The paper is published in conjunction with Bloomberg New Energy Finance and Frankfurt School-UNEP Collaborating Centre. Ulf Moslener, a co-author, told BBC News: “Things are heading the right way, and the learning and technical costs of renewables have done a large part of their job. But investments are not yet there to meet the structural change agreed in Paris.”

Wind, solar and other renewables added 138.5 gigawatts to global power capacity in 2016 – up 8% from 2015, the report finds. It says that the added capacity roughly equals that of the world’s 16 largest existing power producing facilities combined. Even though the global economy grew by 3.1 per cent, recent figures from the International Energy Agency cited the switch to renewables as one main reason for greenhouse gas emissions staying flat in 201. With a 3% increase, Europe led the way on renewables investment. Germany spent $13.2bn and the UK spent $24bn. India kick-started a huge investment in solar with what’s said to be the world’s biggest solar farm. From 2015, globally new investment in solar and wind had fell. Much of the finance drop was due to reduced costs. However, countries are also needing less electricity than projected as economies switch towards services, use more LEDs and governments impose standards making appliances like air-conditioners and fridges more efficient. Some nations are also taking the opportunity to scale back their ambition on energy investment. But Michael Liebreich from BNEF said the key argument over costs had been won: “The question always used to be ‘will renewables ever be grid competitive?’. “Well, after the dramatic cost reductions of the past few years, unsubsidised wind and solar can provide the lowest cost new electrical power in an increasing number of countries, even in the developing world – sometimes by a factor of two.” “These technologies are there because they are competitive. We see wind – and in some cases solar – are the cheapest alternatives. Subsidies play less of a role. That’s where the markets are going, and it’s probably a bad idea to work against markets,” said Ulf Moslener, as he directed it at President Trump. Dr John Constable of the anti-green group GWPF, told BBC News: “Faced with a barrage of criticism about subsidy levels, the offshore wind industry has reacted with claims of major cost reductions.” Even though there was a more muted reaction from Dr John Constable, his campaign against wind subsidies has arguably put downward pressure on renewable costs. As it didn’t include the cost of supplying the cables to tie turbines into the national grid, he said the cost of wind power could be deceptive.

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