As China and the USA ratified the climate change agreement at the G20 summit, the World Wide Fund published a report flagging up fifteen encouraging signs of change in the international energy system. The fast growth in energy generation from renewables was top of the list.
The first indicator pointed to by this NGO* is that renewables accounted for 90% of new electricity generation globally in 2015, compared with 50% in the previous year. As a study conducted recently by the International Energy Agency (IAE)** confirms, onshore wind and solar power have assumed a particularly important role in electricity generation over the last few years. So where is this growth coming from? The fall in their average generating costs since 2008 (35% and 80% respectively). Prices are expected to continue falling, "ultimately making solar photovoltaic the cheapest form of power generation", according to the WWF. These technologies, which have reached maturity and become competitive on price in some regions of the world, are entering a new and exciting phase that promises much for the future.
These studies also quote some landmark figures for electricity consumption in a number of countries. In Germany, for example, wind and photovoltaic power met around 90% of national energy consumption during the daylight hours of May 8 this year. Another significant figure shows that China reduced its consumption of coal by 3.7% in 2015, and by 10% in the first half of 2016, reflecting a massive shift in investment towards renewables. In Queensland, Australia, two thirds of coal-fired power generating plant construction projects have been mothballed or completely abandoned since 2010, highlights the WWF.
In order to make maximum use of renewables - which are intermittent by their nature - in our electricity supply systems and respond as closely as possible to demand, the IEA is recommending a greater level of system flexibility. A more flexible structure would make it possible to respond effectively to significant variations in power generation and consumption through the use of smart grids and/or energy storage solutions.
* World Wide Fund, 15 Signals - Evidence The Energy Transition Is Underway, September 2016 (in French).
** International Energy Agency: Next Generation Wind and Solar Power, 2016.