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REN21 Renewables 2018 Global Status Report

REN21 ‒ a large coalition of industry associations, international organizations, NGOs, 10 national governments, and scientists and academics ‒ has released the Renewables 2018 Global Status Report.1

Last year was another record year with 178 gigawatts (GW) of renewable power generation capacity added. Non-hydro renewable capacity (1,081 GW) passed 1,000 GW for the first time and should overtake hydro capacity (1,114 GW) in 2018. Of the 178 GW added in 2017, non-hydro renewables accounted for 159 GW and hydro 19 GW.


Global Renewable Electricity Capacity (GW)

Annual Growth (GW)


































Renewables accounted for 70% of net additions to global power generating capacity in 2017, the largest percentage in modern history.

Solar PV capacity was up 29% relative to 2016, with a record 98 GW added. More solar PV generating capacity was added to the electricity system than net capacity additions of coal, natural gas and nuclear power combined. Wind power also drove the uptake of renewables with 52 GW added globally.

The renewable energy sector employed, directly and indirectly, approximately 10.3 million people in 2017.

Investment in new renewable power capacity was more than twice that of new fossil fuel and nuclear power capacity combined. More than two-thirds of investments in power generation were in renewables in 2017, thanks to their increasing cost-competitiveness – and the share of renewables in the power sector is expected to continue to rise.

Renewables accounted for 26.5% of total global electricity generation in 2017 (up from 24.5% a year earlier), comprising hydro 16.4%, wind 5.6%, bio-power 2.2%, solar PV 1.9%, and 0.4% combined for ocean power, concentrated solar, and geothermal.

Nuclear power accounted for 10.3% of global electricity generation in 2017.2 Thus renewables generated 2.6 times more electricity than nuclear power. Renewable capacity (2,195 GW) is 5.5 times greater than nuclear capacity (395 GW including idled reactors in Japan).

Broader energy sector

While the growth in renewable electricity continues the transformation of the electricity sector, REN21 says it is concerned by the lack of change in transport, cooling and heating, which means the world is lagging behind its Paris climate goals.

"We may be racing down the pathway towards a 100 percent renewable electricity future but when it comes to heating, cooling and transport, we are coasting along as if we had all the time in the world. Sadly, we don't," said Randa Adib, executive secretary of REN21.

The REN21 report said of particular concern was that global energy demand and energy-related CO2 emissions rose for the first time in four years in 2017, by 2.1% and 1.4% respectively.

The contributions of different energy sources to total final energy demand in 2017 were: fossil fuels 79.5%, modern renewables 10.4%, traditional biomass 7.8%, and nuclear 2.2%.

Bloomberg New Energy Finance report

A Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF) report finds that the average costs of solar PV (US$70/MWh) and onshore wind (US$55/MWh) have fallen by 18% in the past year alone and the cost of lithium-ion batteries has fallen 79% since 2010.2

BNEF's report on the levelised costs of electricity (LCOE) finds that fossil fuel power is facing an unprecedented challenge in all three roles it performs in the energy mix – the supply of 'bulk generation,' the supply of 'dispatchable generation,' and the provision of 'flexibility.'

Elena Giannakopoulou, head of energy economics at BNEF, said "the economic case for building new coal and gas capacity is crumbling, as batteries start to encroach on the flexibility and peaking revenues enjoyed by fossil fuel plants."

A separate BNEF report states that the LCOE from new solar PV plants is forecast to fall a further 71% by 2050, while that for onshore wind drops by a further 58%. These two technologies have already seen LCOE reductions of 77% and 41% respectively between 2009 and 2018.4


  1. REN21, June 2018, 'Renewables 2018 Global Status Report',
  2. Mycle Schneider, Antony Froggatt et al., Sept 2018, 'The World Nuclear Industry Status Report 2018',
  3. Bloomberg New Energy Finance, 28 March 2018, 'Tumbling Costs for Wind, Solar, Batteries Are Squeezing Fossil Fuels',
  4. Bloomberg New Energy Finance, June 2018, 'New Energy Outlook 2018',

Published in Chain Reaction #134, December 2018. National magazine of Friends of the Earth Australia.

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