By: Brian Merchant
Last year saw the biggest worldwide boom in renewable energy yet. Across the globe, wind turbines and solar panels were rolled out and set up at a more rapid clip than ever before.
“In 2013, renewable power capacity expanded at its fastest pace to date,” the Paris-based International Energy Agency wrote in its latest market report.
Wind, solar, and other clean energy sources “continued to grow strongly, reaching almost 22 percent of the global mix,” according to the IEA, “compared with 21 percent in 2012 and 18 percent in 2007.”
All told, $250 billion was invested in clean energy, and the amount of power the sector generated thereafter came to equal natural gas—the other supposedly ascendent energy source. Despite its image as a booming fossil fuel, the IEA notes that natural gas “remained relatively stable in 2013.”
Meanwhile, 14 percent of the US is now running on renewable energy, according to a separate report from the Energy Information Administration. That’s thanks to a doubling of solar power in a single year.
The news isn’t all rosy, however. The IEA also downgraded its forecast for renewables through 2020, because many governments are dropping their support for incentives—right at the time when wind and solar are becoming cost-competitive with fossil fuels.
This is of course the case in the US, where federal incentives to invest in clean energy have fallen off, and many state-level rebates are at risk of expiration too. Much of the boom in 2013 was fueled by the very tax credits that have since dried up.
If we’re going to transition to a clean energy system capable of displacing fossil fuels, ideally in time to prevent dangerous levels of climate change, we’re going to need to deploy carbon-free energy sources even faster than we did last year.