At nearly 180 gigawatts, the International Energy Agency (IEA) reports that net global power generation capacity additions for renewables in 2018 were the same as in 2017. Although this is still a 50% gain from 2012, it is an “unexpected flattening of growth trends that raises concerns about meeting long-term climate goals.” The renewable builds in 2018 were only ~60% of the net additions needed each year. As far as renewables go, the primary focus globally is wind and solar PV power. In 2018, wind was 8% of global capacity, with solar at 7%. IEA’s “Stated Policies,” however, models that by 2040 wind will reach 14% and solar 24%.
Accounting for 45% of builds in 2018, China continues to dominate new renewable power additions for capacity. Both China and the EU have been adding more renewables to the system than the U.S. And India, the most energy short nation on Earth, knows that it needs to up its renewable power game. “India plans $330 billion renewables push by 2030 without hurting coal.”
Ultimately, reducing greenhouse gas emissions to the levels required depends mostly on what China and India do. Both of these giants are overwhelmingly coal-based economies. Coal has been cheaper, plentiful, and more reliable. China and India have come to over depend on coal because it “punches above its weight,” generating more electricity than its share of capacity would suggest. For example, in China, coal is 54% of capacity but 66% of generation; in India coal is 57% of capacity but 74% of generation, per IEA numbers for 2018. This “coal is more reliable” thing is true globally too: coal is 29% of all capacity but actually supplies 38% of all generation.
For renewables, costs must continue to fall and reliability must continue to improve. Take wind as an example. Wind in China accounts for 10% of power capacity but actually generates just 5% of power. Wind in India is 9% of capacity but only 4% of generation. “Why China’s Renewable Energy Transition Is Losing Momentum.” China has instituted a low cost requirement for renewables: “China: No Wind Or Solar If It Can’t Beat Coal On Price.” Even with more renewables, the reality is that “China Is Still Building an Insane Number of New Coal Plants.”
But India has the most upward demand potential for really all energy sources. The energy deprivation of the soon to be largest country in the world simply cannot stand. Despite having more than four times the amount of people, India only generates 40% of the electricity that the U.S. does. India typifies the forgotten billions of people that still unacceptably have per capita electricity use rates that we had when FDR was president. The idea that India will be using less of anything is an impractical one.
Indeed, now more than three years in, the Paris Agreement on climate change has struggled to take flight. Eradicating abject poverty and energy deprivation have been cleared by the UN as the overriding priority for poor nations. To illustrate, Indians have a real GDP per capita of just $2,300, versus $55,000 for Americans. We Westerners cannot see this of course, but the reality is that most of the world is more worried about where the next meal will come from than reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
In a world adding another 2.5 billion humans and $100 trillion in GDP by 2050, an “all of the above” energy strategy seems more likely than some want you to think – explaining once again why IEA has insisted on massive investments for Carbon Capture, Utilization, and Storage.