Skip to main content

Sign up for our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values. Direct to your inbox.

Last year, the solar PV market was up 25 percent over 2014 to a record 50 gigawatts, lifting the global total to 227 gigawatts. (Photo: minoru karamatsu/flickr/cc)

2015 Saw Renewable Energy Boom, Led by Developing Nations

'What is truly remarkable about these results is that they were achieved at a time when fossil fuel prices were at historic lows.'

Deirdre Fulton

Renewable energy boomed in 2015, a year that saw fossil fuel prices plummet and ended with a historic climate agreement hammered out in Paris.

In fact, investments in renewables such as wind and solar were more than double the amount spent on new coal and gas-fired power plants in 2015, according to the Renewables Global Status Report (pdf) from REN21, an international non-profit association based at the United Nations Environment Programme in Paris, France.

An estimated 147 gigawatts (GW) of renewable power capacity was added in 2015—the largest annual increase ever—while renewable heat capacity and biofuels production also increased. Indeed, the world now adds more renewable power capacity annually than it adds (net) capacity from all fossil fuels combined, the report states. Furthermore, employment in the renewable energy sector rose in 2015 to an estimated 8.1 million direct and indirect jobs.

"What is truly remarkable about these results is that they were achieved at a time when fossil fuel prices were at historic lows, and renewables remained at a significant disadvantage in terms of government subsidies," said REN21 executive secretary Christine Lins. "For every dollar spent boosting renewables, nearly four dollars were spent to maintain our dependence on fossil fuels."

Strikingly, last year marked the first time that developing nations invested more in renewable energy than richer countries did—$156 billion in 2015, a 19 percent increase on the year before, and more than all richer nations combined. 

"Countries are opting for renewables because they are not only the most environmentally sound, but also the cheapest option," Lins said. "It's a clear signal of its economic viability."

Bloomberg notes that Europe, on the other hand, "is losing its status as a global leader in clean energy, with investment in the region plummeting 21 percent last year." Renewable energy investment in developed countries as a group declined by 8 percent in 2015. 

But in the United States, renewable energy investment increased by 19 percent to $44.1 billion, the country's largest increase in dollar terms since 2011.

Developing countries are also leading the way on small-scale power generation, the report reveals.

"Globally, renewable electricity production in 2015 continued to be dominated by large (e.g., megawatt-scale and up) generators that are owned by utilities or large investors," according to REN21.

However, the assessment points out:

At the same time, there are markets where distributed, small-scale generation has taken off‡, or is starting to do so. Bangladesh is the world's largest market for solar home systems, and other developing countries (e.g., Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania in Africa; China, India and Nepal in Asia; Brazil and Guyana in Latin America) are seeing rapid expansion of small-scale renewable systems, including renewables-based mini-grids, to provide electricity for people living far from the grid. Developed countries and regions—including Australia, Europe, Japan and North America—have seen significant growth in numbers of residential and industrial electricity customers who produce their own power.

Responding to the report, Friends of the Earth UK campaigner Andrew Pendleton told The Independent: "It should be a source of deep shame that Britain is being outspent by many other industrialized and developing nations in renewables when, as a windy island, we have a clear competitive advantage.

"If Britain," he continued, "with our almost unrivalled natural resources, isn't the right place to invest in renewables then where is? If now is not the right time, when will be? Governments have to create the right investment climate and it's clear that currently ours isn’t."


Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.

We've had enough. The 1% own and operate the corporate media. They are doing everything they can to defend the status quo, squash dissent and protect the wealthy and the powerful. The Common Dreams media model is different. We cover the news that matters to the 99%. Our mission? To inform. To inspire. To ignite change for the common good. How? Nonprofit. Independent. Reader-supported. Free to read. Free to republish. Free to share. With no advertising. No paywalls. No selling of your data. Thousands of small donations fund our newsroom and allow us to continue publishing. Can you chip in? We can't do it without you. Thank you.

Indignation as Michigan Judge Drops Flint Water Charges Against GOP Ex-Gov Snyder

"The people of Flint deserve justice—and it's unacceptable that the people responsible for Flint's water crisis aren't being held accountable," said Food & Water Watch in response to the development.

Brett Wilkins ·


70+ Lawmakers Tell Biden 'You Can and You Must' Provide Rail Workers Paid Sick Leave

"As president, you and your administration have a number of tools at your disposal to make sure rail workers are guaranteed paid sick leave," wrote the lawmakers.

Julia Conley ·


COP15 Biodiversity Summit Highlights 'Deadly' US Attitude Toward the World

"While others play by the rules, the most powerful nation refuses," writes George Monbiot. "If this country were a person, we'd call it a psychopath. As it is not a person, we should call it what it is: a rogue state."

Jessica Corbett ·


Final House Covid Panel Report Exposes 'Reckless' Trump Pandemic Response

The publication accuses top Trump officials of "failed stewardship" and a "persistent pattern of political interference" that undermined the nation's response to a pandemic that has killed more than a million people in the United States.

Brett Wilkins ·


As NYT Staffers Strike, Sanders Calls for 'New Ways to Empower' Workers Battling Industry Giants

"We need to rebuild and protect a diverse and truly independent press so that real journalists and media workers can do the critical jobs that they love, and that a functioning democracy requires," said the Vermont progressive.

Kenny Stancil ·

Common Dreams Logo