Our Opinion: Clean energy booms despite drop in oil prices


Despite the crash in oil prices, driving the cost of gasoline below $2 a gallon for the first time in seven years, investments in renewable energy continue to break records.

In 2015 along, clean energy received $329 in global investments, according to Bloomberg New Energy Finance. "2015 was also the highest ever for installation of renewable power capacity, with 64 (gigawatts) of wind and 57 (gigawatts) of solar PV commissioned during the year, an increase of nearly 30 percent over 2014."

In case you are wondering, a gigawatt is a unit of electrical power equal to one billion watts; that's a lot of light bulbs.

According to Bloomberg, clean energy investment surged in China, Africa, the United States, Latin America and India in 2015, driving the world total to its highest ever figure, up 4 percent from 2014's totals.

Much of the reason for this continued rise in investment despite cheap oil is further declines in the cost of solar photovoltaics, meaning that more capacity could be installed for the same price, notes Bloomberg. In addition, the strength of the dollar, the continued weakness of the European economy and the plunge in fossil fuel commodity prices have also contributed to increased investments.

Because the prices of crude oil, coal and natural gas have fallen, people and funds with deep pockets are investing where the return will be better, such as in renewable energy.

"These figures are a stunning riposte to all those who expected clean energy investment to stall on falling oil and gas prices," said Michael Liebreich, chairman of the advisory board at Bloomberg New Energy Finance. "They highlight the improving cost-competitiveness of solar and wind power, driven in part by the move by many countries to reverse-auction new capacity rather than providing advantageous tariffs, a shift that has put producers under continuing price pressure."

In developing countries, where energy production was very limited, wind and solar power are being adopted, said Liebreich. "They can be produced more cheaply than often high wholesale power prices; they reduce a country's exposure to expected future fossil fuel prices; and above all they can be built very quickly to meet unfulfilled demand for electricity."

He also said in light of the recent Paris Climate Agreement, the demand for clean energy will only continue to increase.

Large, off-shore wind arrays in the North Sea and China account for much of this growth, noted Bloomberg, as did utility-scale wind farm, solar parks, biomass and waste-to-energy plants and small hydro-electric schemes. In Japan, China and the United States, rooftop solar is also growing at a remarkable rate.

"Preliminary indications are that, thanks to this utility-scale and small-scale activity, both wind and solar PV saw around 30 percent more capacity installed worldwide in 2015 than in 2014. The wind total for last year is likely to end up at around 64GW, with that for solar just behind at about 57GW. This combined total of 121GW will have made up around half of the net capacity added in all generation technologies (fossil fuel, nuclear and renewable) globally in 2015."

China invested $110 billion in clean energy in 2015, followed by the United States with $56 billion. China is attempting to curtail its use of coal to produce electricity because of the environmental effects and the toll on human health. Bloomberg notes that much of the investment in the United States is due to the "green stimulus" policies instituted in 2011.

"Africa and the Middle East are two regions with big potential for clean energy, given their growing populations, plentiful solar and wind resources and, in many African countries, low rates of electricity access," notes Bloomberg. Energy firms around the world are eying the great expanse of the Sahara Desert, which could supply the majority of power for Africa and much of Europe.

While none of this is good news for the fracking industry and those invested in fossil fuels, it is good news for those of us concerned about the future we are bequeathing to our children. Moving away from polluting energy sources could help to slow global climate change and perhaps even reverse it. Even more money needs to be invested and we hope this trend continues.


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