Wednesday, June 1, 2016

The State of Renewable Energy: Summary of the Key Findings in the REN21 GSR 2016 Report

The Renewable Energy Policy Network for the 21st Century (REN21) has just released its annual Global Status Report (GSR). This collaborative multi-stakeholder renewable energy report draws on hundreds of experts, authors, contributors and reviewers. It provides information designed to assist in policy development and clean energy deployment. The GSR is the most frequently reference report on renewable energy market, industry and policy trends.

In the section "Mainstreaming Renewables: Guidance for Policy Makers," started by referencing the adoption of the UN's Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) which is focused on the provision of sustainable energy for all and the Paris Agreement which committed the 195 nation's that signed it to more renewables and greater efficiency.

Political Decision Making

The report draws attention to the linkage between environmental protection, poverty reduction, economic growth and technology development. It specifically addresses the need for ministerial collaboration between finance, climate and energy.

Civil Society

Citing what it calls, "overwhelming support for a transition to renewable energy," the report singles out the Pope’s environmental encyclical and the Islamic, Hindu and Buddhist declarations on climate change. These and other faith groups are calling for a low (or zero) carbon future. The report also mentions shareholder efforts to make fossil fuel companies greener.

Fossil Fuels

The report states that to keep temperatures below the 2 degrees Celsius upper threshold limit agreed upon at COP21, "remaining fossil fuel reserves will have to be kept in the ground". We need to discourage investments in fossil fuels.

Renewables & Efficiency

To meet the world's energy needs we need to dramatically scale up renewable energy and energy efficiency. We need to remove risks from investing in renewable energy.


The report states that subsidies given to the fossil fuel industry must be phased out. These subsidies distort the true cost of energy and actually encourage waste and generate emissions. Further subsidies are an impediment to the growth of renewables.

Heating, Cooling and Transport

Renewable energy needs to play a larger role in the heating, cooling and transport sectors. We also need to see more interaction between these three sectors and national policies should strengthen local capacity. Compared to the power sector, these sectors have seen slower progress in terms of the adoption of renewable energy. Compared to the power sector, these sectors have seen slower progress in terms of the adoption of renewable energy. As stated in the report:

"renewable heat obligations exist in only 21 countries and biofuel
mandates exist in only 66 countries, compared to 114 countries
with renewable energy regulatory policies in the power sector."
The report points to inadequate policy initiatives in support of the transition away from fossil fuels. It specifically states that "policy makers need to remove barriers [both supply and demand side] that are preventing the increased share of renewables in heating and cooling and transport."

This includes things like the lack of trained personnel, costs to retrofit or upgrade, and the lack of awareness.

Plan for a Distributed Future

The report states that we must proactively plan for a future where more energy is generated locally (ie closer to the consumption point). Distributed energy is increasing in both developed and developing countries. This is particularly important in rural parts of developing countries where distributed energy will preclude the need to be connected to a centralized grid.

Comprehensive planning requires new business models and policy incentives. This includes provisions for rooftop solar, decreasing storage costs, increasing energy efficiency measures, the development of community energy projects and the involvement of a new ‘smart’ technology industry.

This planning will also contribute to research, development and deployment of enabling infrastructure for distributed resources, including strengthened electricity networks, energy storage, demand  response and flexible power plants.

New tools will be required and we need to simultaneously pursue on and off grid solutions.

The private sector also should plan for a decentralised energy landscape, more focused on renewables and less focused on fossil fuels.

Adapt to the New Complex Energy System

"Systemic, cross-cutting approaches are needed for scaling  up renewables."

Rather than focus on single sector policies that are part of a centralized power grid, we need to plan for "increasingly complex energy system with increasing crossover and decentralisation."

This will require more fluid involvement of different departments and ministries as well as close collaboration between the public and the private sectors.  The report states:
"Scaling up renewables is often less a problem of finance, and  more one of political will and of capacity"
Overcoming these hurdles requires political leadership, technical skill and vision.

Training of a skilled workforce is important. This should include joint training in both energy efficiency and renewable energy. As explained in the report.
"Greater synergies between the two are possible in all sectors, and strengthening measures for one often will, in turn, strengthen the other. To expand energy access, decision makers also must make use of both renewable energy and energy efficiency across all sectors. By building both renewables and efficiency into energy access policies and programmes from the beginning, available energy supply effectively can be increased, and more-reliable supply can be provided at a lower cost."

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