The Renewables Global Status Report, released annually by the Renewable Energy Policy Network for the 21st Century, digs into the growth rates of various energy sources, the flows of clean energy investment, and the world’s progress on its sustainability goals. The current edition is 250 pages long. This article went through the report and extracted the 12 charts and graphs that best tell the story of clean energy as of 2018.
One take-away is that we are still moving in the wrong direction. Global carbon emissions aren’t falling fast enough. In fact, they aren’t falling at all; they were up 1.7 percent in 2018.
We are still pushing in the wrong direction. Globally, subsidies to fossil fuels were up 11 percent between 2016 and 2017, reaching $300 billion a year. Total investment in renewable energy (not including hydropower) was $288.9 billion in 2018 — less than fossil fuel subsidies and an 11 percent decrease from 2017.
Collectively, we haven’t even succeeded in reversing direction yet. Despite all the progress, we’re still struggling to get a grip on the emergency brake.
On the brighter side, more renewable energy capacity has been installed than new fossil fuel and nuclear capacity combined, for four years running. Some 181 GW of new renewables capacity was installed in 2018; it now makes up more than one-third of global installed power capacity.
The primary reason renewable capacity additions are growing is the rise in solar photovoltaic (PV) panels, especially in China. Of the new renewable energy capacity installed in 2018, 55 percent (about 100 GW) was solar PV; wind power had 28 percent, and hydropower 11 percent.
Heating and cooling, at 51 percent of global energy use, mostly run on natural gas and oil. Transportation, at 32 percent of global energy use, mostly runs on gasoline and diesel. In 2018, the global number of electric passenger cars increased 63% compared with 2017, and more cities are moving to electric bus fleets.
There are at least 100 cities around the world using between 90 and 100 percent renewable electricity. At least 230 have set a 100 percent renewable energy goal in at least one sector.
As of 2017, fossil fuels were still providing about 80 percent of humanity’s energy, which is roughly what they’ve been providing for decades.
Two-thirds of the energy that enters the economy ends up “rejected,” i.e., wasted. That’s because fossil fuel combustion is wasteful. Mining or drilling fossil fuels, transporting them, refining them, burning them, converting them to useful energy, using the energy, disposing of the waste and pollution — at every single stage of that process, there is loss.
Renewable electricity, which will be the world’s primary energy source if it is to tackle climate change, is simpler. It involves no combustion and fewer conversions generally.
The world’s governments urgently need to bear down on heating and transportation, where most of the energy is being consumed. Energy systems need to be rapidly electrified and integrated, which will require policy support at every level.