Renewable Energy Makes Inroads Globally, Off-Grid Grows in Africa
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Several recent reports released from international organizations and multilateral agencies highlight the important progress renewable energy is making, as it expands its reach in developing countries and worldwide.

The advances reported in these publications are a key component of implementing the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, especially Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 7 (Ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all), and SDG 13 (Take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts).

wec_irena_ren21_iea5 October 2016: Several recent reports released from international organizations and multilateral agencies highlight the important progress renewable energy is making, as it expands its reach in developing countries and worldwide. The advances reported in these publications are a key component of implementing the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, especially Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 7 (Ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all) and SDG 13 (Take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts).

Recent reports address the growth of renewables, which is linked to achieving the SDG 7.2 target: ‘By 2030, increase substantially the share of renewable energy in the global energy mix.’ On a global scale, the World Energy Council (WEC) is reporting remarkable growth in the renewables sector over the past decade. Installed solar photovoltaic (PV) capacity has grown 51% in the past ten years and wind’s capacity increased 23%, according to the report, which is part of WEC’s ‘World Energy Perspectives: Renewables Integration 2016’ series.

Titled ‘Variable Renewables Integration in Electricity Systems: How to Get It Right,’ the report also finds that, including hydropower, renewables now account for 30% of installed generating capacity globally and reached a 23% share of global electricity production. In 2015, a record US$286 billion was invested to install 154 gigawatts (GW) of new renewables capacity, surpassing the investment in 97 GW of conventional generation.

The report includes important lessons on integrating variable renewable energy sources into electricity grids using case studies from 32 countries. [Climate Action Programme Press Release] [WEC Publication Webpage] [Variable Renewables Integration in Electricity Systems: How to Get It Right]

In Africa, the cost of electricity associated with utility-scale solar PV projects has declined by 61% since 2012, according to the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) publication ‘Solar PV in Africa: Costs and Markets.’ The decrease is attributable to a rapid decline in technology costs, which have allowed the installed cost of the systems to reach a low of US$1.30 per watt, which compares to the global average of US$1.80.

In addition to utility-scale solar, the report examines solar PV mini-grids, which can be installed for as low as US$1.90 per watt for systems sized 200 kilowatts (kW) or larger. At the household level, the installations of solar homes systems have tripled between 2010 and 2014, according to the report, supplying annual electricity for as little as US$56, which is currently less than the cost of often poor quality energy services for a year. IRENA highlights that, with enabling policies in place, totaled installed solar PV capacity on the continent could reach 70 GW by 2030. [IRENA Press Release] [IRENA Publication Webpage] [Solar PV in Africa: Costs and Markets]

Off-grid developments relate to target 7.2 ‘By 2030, ensure universal access to affordable, reliable and modern energy services.’ East Africa in particular is a hot spot for off-grid renewable energy growth, based on a status report released by the Renewable Energy Policy Network for the 21st Century (REN21). As outlined in the report, the off-grid market is firmly established in the East African Community (EAC) region and contributes to energy access. The regional report covers the status of renewable energy and energy efficiency in Burundi, Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania and Uganda. Significant investment is being channeled to the mini- and micro-grid sector as well, according to the report authors.

On developments related to target 7.3 ‘By 2030, double the global rate of improvement in energy efficiency,’ the ‘EAC Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency Status Report’ was presented at the International Off-Grid Renewable Energy Conference (IOREC) organized by IRENA from 30 September – 1 October in Nairobi, Kenya. With over 500 participants, the third IOREC focused on the potential of off-grid renewables to provide nearly two-thirds of the generation capacity needed to meet the energy needs of those currently lacking electricity access. Three additional reports were launched during the conference.

The first, ‘Policies and Regulations for Private Sector Renewable Energy Mini-Grids’ explains the policy framework necessary for the off-grid sector to thrive. A second, ‘Innovation Outlook: Renewable Mini-Grids,’ takes a look at the latest technology trends in off-grid systems, predicting the next two decades will see the cost of producing electricity from renewable mini-grids decrease by 60%. The third report, ‘Renewable Energy Benefits: Decentralized Solutions in the Agri-Food Chain,’ considers the ways application of renewable off-grid technologies to agriculture can increase economic and operational efficiency. [REN21 Publication Webpage] [EAC Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency Status Report] [IRENA IOREC Press Release] [Policies and Regulations Publication Webpage] [Policies and Regulations for Private Sector Renewable Energy Mini-Grids] [Innovation Outlook Publication Webpage] [Innovation Outlook: Renewable Mini-Grids] [Renewable Energy Benefits Publication Webpage] [Renewable Energy Benefits: Decentralized Solutions in the Agri-Food Chain]

While energy access remains of utmost concern in developing countries, developed countries must shift fully built-out electricity systems to low- or no-carbon energy sources. The International Energy Agency (IEA) has published the 2016 Review of Japan in its ‘Energy Policies of IEA Countries’ series, concluding that the country should decarbonize its energy supply through a combination of renewable, nuclear and efficient thermal electricity generation. Noting the shift away from nuclear after the Fukushima accident in 2011, IEA reports that fossil fuel use has increased significantly in Japan and with it, energy-related carbon emissions. While encouraging a bigger emphasis on low-carbon sources, the report also commends Japan for its commitment to energy innovation and energy efficiency measures, such as requirements for net zero energy buildings. [IEA Press Release] [Energy Policies of IEA Countries: Japan – 2016 Review]

Technologically more difficult to decarbonize, the transport sector is looking toward electrification and clean electricity grids to reduce its climate changing emissions. In a recent report, the European Environment Agency (EEA) finds that the roll-out of an electric vehicle fleet on the continent, charged by renewable energy, could significantly lower greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. However, such large-scale deployment would also present possible problems for Europe’s power grid. ‘Electric vehicles and the Energy Sector: Impacts on Europe’s Future Emissions,’ as the EEA briefing is titled, crafted several different scenarios to measure possible impacts to the grid, air pollutants and GHG emissions, examining trade-offs among increased pollutants and emissions from increased power generation and decreased tailpipe emissions. [EEA Press Release] [Electric vehicles and the Energy Sector: Impacts on Europe’s Future Emissions Summary]

With a view to advancing environmentally sustainable energy solutions in support of sustainable industrial development, the UN Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO) has announced it signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with Spain’s Research Centre for Energy, Environment and Technology (CIEMAT). The two institutions will work together to generate and apply scientific and technological knowledge in the areas of energy and the environment. [UNIDO Press Release]

One underutilized form of renewable energy, geothermal, can now benefit from a globally-applicable, harmonized standard for reporting geothermal potential in the almost 90 countries where it exists. The UN Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) Committee on Sustainable Energy approved the Specifications for Application of the UN Framework for Fossil Energy and Mineral Reserves and Resources 2009 (UNFC) to Geothermal Energy Resources on 30 September. According to UNECE Sustainable Energy Division Director Scott Foster, incorporating geothermal energy in UNFC will help to achieve SDG 7 by “improving the positioning of geothermal within the policy and investment communities.” [UNECE Press Release]

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