Plunging Costs Make Solar the Renewables Leader as World Struggles to Meet Paris Accord

October 21, 2019, 10:53 AM UTC

Over the next five years, the growth in renewable energy for electricity generation will equal that of the entire United States’ power capacity.

That represents a growth of 1,200 Gigawatts—a 50% jump from current levels—according to a forecast from the International Energy Agency, which mapped out the next five years in renewable energy in an annual report on Monday.

The standout? Solar power, which will account for 60% of the growth, capitalizing on the rapidly falling costs for solar panels, the Paris-based agency said. That will be due largely to “distributed” solar panels installed on commercial and industrial buildings. While solar panels on private homes are also growing, they don’t offer the same economies of scale, while commercial buildings can also more easily integrate solar energy into their existing energy grids, the IEA said.

That surge will push renewables’ share in global power generation to 30% by 2024, from 26% today, the IEA said—and mark a pick-up from last year’s flat renewable growth, which was largely down to a shift in solar policy in China.

However, lest that message seem too cheery, the agency’s director, Fatih Birol, also delivered a sobering message on just how far the world is from meeting the Paris Agreement’s target of limiting the global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees this century. Last year, global CO2 emissions connected to energy hit an all-time high, according to the IEA.

“I believe the disconnect between the government targets, the political statements of leaders, summits and what is happening in … real life, is a major worry. There’s a major disconnect there,” said Birol, speaking to reporters last week ahead of the report’s release. “This means we have to look at all the technologies, all the options available,” to bring down global emissions.

Growth in renewables is dependent on extensive policy support for the switch to renewables, of which solar is just one part, the IEA noted: offshore wind and hydro power still have room to grow—and deploying nuclear power is also a necessity if the world is going to meet its goal to reduce carbon emissions.

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