Renewables just passed coal as the largest source of new electricity worldwide


The global forecast just got sunnier — and windier.


It’s been a long run, coal, but your reign is over.

Renewable energy sources have passed coal as the largest new source of electricity in the world, according data released Tuesday by the International Energy Agency (IEA).

The transition of the world’s energy sources is critical for avoiding a 2°C rise in global temperatures. Coal, for instance, represented about a quarter of U.S. CO2 emissions in 2012.

Solar and wind account for almost two-thirds of the growth in renewables, which is coming from industrialized and developing nations alike.

The agency also announced it has revised its forecast for renewable energy, “significantly increasing” the amount of green energy it expects to come online in the next five years. In addition to pro-renewable policies (such as the Paris climate agreement), a significant price decline is driving growth.

Over the next five years, IEA expects costs for solar to drop by a quarter; for onshore wind, costs will fall another 15 percent.

Renewable energy is going to continue to be the fastest-growing source of electricity, IEA says. CREDIT: International Energy Agency

IEA’s Medium-Term Renewable Market Report shows that the United States is adding renewables at a faster rate than demand is growing — which means that renewables are not only covering the increase in demand, but also supplanting some fossil fuel electricity. Overall, though, wind and solar still only make up a small portion of the U.S.’s electricity.

In the developing world, where industrialization is fueling a rapid increase in demand for electricity, renewable energy accounts for roughly half of new electric power.

The rise in renewable energy has implications for the economy. While coal companies are facing enormous struggles — due to a variety of factors, including low natural gas prices, increased regulation, and financial mismanagement — solar in the United States is doing remarkably well. Last year, solar accounted for one out of every 83 new jobs across the country.

One sticking point that IEA noted for the renewable energy transition is the “persistent challenges” of heating and transportation energy. However, the agency only tracks the transition from oil and gas to biofuels. As electric vehicles increase worldwide, those vehicles will tap into the same grid that is steadily getting greener.


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