Renewable energy sources accounted for nearly half of all new power plants during 2014 in a “clear sign” that an energy transition from fossil fuels to renewables is currently underway, according to the International Energy Agency (IEA). Green energy – including hydropower, wind, solar and bioenergy – is now the second largest generator of electricity in the world after coal, and is even set to take the lead by the early 2030s.
Even so, the annual World Energy Outlook report published by the IEA still warns that on current projections, we’re still likely to see average global temperatures rise by 2.7 degrees Celsius (4.9 degrees Fahrenheit) above pre-industrial levels by the end of this century, unless we can majorly curb emissions. “As the largest source of global greenhouse-gas emissions, the energy sector must be at the heart of global action to tackle climate change,” said Dr Fatih Birol, the executive director of the IEA, in a statement.
The report details how the steep drop in oil prices during the last year has impacted the energy sector, and suggests that if the price remains at $50 (£33) a barrel, it will have a major impact on energy security. That's because the market would favor countries that can still produce oil cheaply, namely those in the Middle East. “Now is not the time to relax,” said Dr Birol. “Quite the opposite: a period of low oil prices is the moment to reinforce our capacity to deal with future energy security threats.”
The decline in demand for coal within China is also reinforced in the report, especially considering that last year saw the country's first drop in its consumption this century. It is also expected to reach a plateau, which is good news as the country is still the largest burner of coal in the world, and means it should switch to other less polluting fuel sooner than previously predicted.
It’s estimated that by 2040 around half of the energy in Europe will be produced through renewables, while in Japan and China this figure will be closer to 30%, and for the U.S. and India it will be 25%. In fact, the outlook for India is not particularly great, as its consumption of coal is set to triple during the same period as its economy continues to grow.
With over 60% of all new investment in the energy sector going into renewables, it seems that the world is on the right trajectory in its shift towards clean energy, but with $490 billion (£323 billion) of fossil fuel subsidies in 2014 alone, the move needs to be stepped up and intensified to ensure we keep warming below 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit).