by Simon Evans.
For the first time ever, investment in new renewables was more than enough to cover rising global electricity demand in 2015. That’s according to the first World Energy Investment report, published by the International Energy Agency (IEA). While fossil fuels still dominate energy supplies, the IEA says changing investment flows point towards a “reorientation of the energy system”.
Carbon Brief has seven charts showing why the IEA thinks an energy shift is underway. Energy investment World energy investment amounted to $1.8tn in 2015, the IEA says, equivalent to 2.4% of global GDP. Around half went towards fossil fuel extraction and distribution, mainly for oil and gas.
Renewables accounted for 17% of the total, around $300bn. The vast majority of this was in the electricity sector, where nearly 70% of investment in power stations went towards renewables. Global energy investment in 2015, by sector. Source: World Energy Investment 2016, IEA.
Investment in energy was down 8% year-on-year in 2015 (around $150bn), largely because of falling investment in oil and gas. Soft demand and Saudi Arabia’s determination to squeeze competitors has created a prolonged period of cheap oil that has decimated incomes.
Reductions have been particularly steep in North America, the IEA says, with investment halving in the past two years. The smaller companies that dominate the US shale industry have been particularly hard-hit by the falling oil price, with scores of firms filing for bankruptcy. Upstream oil and gas investment in 2015, by region. Source: World Energy Investment 2016, IEA.
The Saudi strategy has only been partially successful. Some two-thirds of the fall in oil and gas investment has been absorbed by cost reductions, particularly in the shale sector. Upstream oil and gas costs fell 15% in 2015, the IEA says.
These recent oil and gas cost reductions have been easily outpaced by those for new energy technologies. Costs for onshore wind are down by nearly 40% since 2008, solar by more than 80%, LEDs more than 90% and grid-scale batteries by 70%.
The IEA says renewable costs will continue to fall, while the reverse will be true for oil and gas: “IEA medium-term analyses foresee lower costs in renewables, lighting and electricity storage and eventually modest cost increases in upstream oil and gas.” Energy cost developments 2008-2015, by technology. Source: World Energy Investment 2016, IEA.
The large clean energy cost reductions are behind a continuing shift in the power sector, where 70% of investment in generating assets goes to renewables and fossil fuel investment is in decline.
Renewable power investment held steady at around $290bn in 2015, the IEA says, yet cost reductions mean more capacity could be bought for the money. Solar investment was lower than 2011 in dollar terms, but 60% more capacity was added.
Last year, rising renewable additions combined with weakening power demand growth in a landmark way. The IEA says:
“For the first time, investment in renewables-based capacity generates enough power to cover global electricity demand growth in 2015.”
New renewables commissioned in 2015 have the capacity to generate 350 terawatt hours (TWh), against an increase in demand of less than 250TWh. This means all other capacity brought online in 2015 was effectively surplus to requirements.
(It’s worth adding a couple of qualifiers: first, 40% of investment was to replace ageing assets; second, renewables often generate power intermittently rather than on demand).
See charts and read more here…