"New era" for solar power as growth outpaced all other fuels in 2016

Courtney Goldsmith
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Solar PV additions grew faster than any other fuel last year (Source: Getty)

A "new era" is emerging in solar power, the International Energy Agency (IEA) said today as it raised its forecasts for renewable energy over the next five years.

For the first time ever, solar photovoltaics (PV) additions to the grid rose faster than any other fuel, surpassing the net growth in coal and boosting renewables to account for almost two-thirds of net new power capacity around the world last year.

The IEA said renewables will continue to show strong growth over the coming years, with electricity capacity set to increase by more than nearly 1,000 gigawatts (GW), or 43 per cent, by 2022.

“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,” said Dr Fatih Birol, executive director of the IEA.

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The surge in solar power has come as a result of policies supporting low-carbon energy and cost reductions for solar PV and wind.

The IEA's renewable forecast this year is 12 per cent higher than last year, mostly due to solar PV upward revisions in China, which has accounted for almost half of the global expansion, and India.

China, India and the US are set to make up two-thirds of global renewable expansion by 2022. Total solar PV capacity by then would exceed the combined total power capacities of India and Japan today, the IEA said.

Net additions to renewable energy capacity in 2016, which include solar, wind, hydropower, bioenergy, wave and tidal, grew by 165 gigawatts (GW), six per cent more than in 2015.

The agency said power generation is set to rise by more than a third to 8,169 terawatt-hours (TWh), which is equal to the total power consumption of China, India and Germany combined.

By then, renewables will account for 30 per cent of power generation, up from 24 per cent in 2016. The growth in renewable generation will be twice as large as that of gas and coal combined, the IEA said.

Although coal will still be the largest source of electricity generation in 2022, renewables is on track to halve the generation gap with coal in the next five years.

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