In our last piece we took some time to delve into the most recognizable and far reaching trends in renewable energy over the last year. Today we’ll be digging deeper as we assess the most stand-out trends that have emerged in recent times within the alternative energy market. Who’s outpacing the other and which countries are well poised to be the future leaders in renewable energy innovation?
Previously, we mentioned that renewable energy spending has been increasing globally every year over the past decade. We also noted that this momentum has been stymied in the West by a sudden emergence of green-skepticism and proponents arguing in favour of traditional economic and military spending instead. Let’s look at the raw data however. Recall that we stated in 2015 the world spent almost $286 billion USD in renewable investments. What’s more important to note though is that $156 billion USD of that figure came from the developing world. Just a few years ago the developed world had an indisputable monopoly on the renewable market yet in 2015 more than 50% of renewable energy investment originated in poorer countries. That’s not all as in a single year alone (2015), these wealthier countries saw an 8% reduction in such investments compared to the developing world’s 19% spending increase.
If this trend continues then by 2030 Europe and North America’s grand renewable energy projects may be just a footnote in the global energy race. Yet all signs seemingly points to these economic powers handling this reality in an almost dismissive way. All things considered, the leading continent in this competition is now Asia, with China at the centre of it all. To those following the markets, this shouldn’t be much of a surprise as China currently stands as the world’s larger producer of photovoltaic cells with a firm intent at further consolidating its grip. Meanwhile, over in the West, the onus of the discussion tends to focus on issues like taxing energy generated through alternative methods. For example, governments and state officials have noted that considerable revenue gets generated by taxing private power companies with little effort for greater returns. Indeed, even home generated electricity might not be safe in the face of proposed levies. So much it seems, for the concept of free, self-generated electricity.
Meanwhile in Japan, power companies actually grant rebates or pay individuals for generating excess energy from solar panels installed on their property. Thus, it’s possible to make a tidy sum of money or receive a welcome discount on your utility bill if you generate far more power than you use and sell it back to the company. Japan’s overall goal here is to not only improve energy efficiency and grid stability but also encourage the gradual ‘phasing out’ of non-renewable energy generation.
A brilliant idea all things considered and one that could hold weight here in the Caribbean, especially if easily implemented by our state owned power companies. In hindsight, it’s clear that the East and West are both of 2 very different minds on this issue. In a way the thought processes itself and general attitude seems to diverge leading to differences in outlook and prioritization. However, while China makes massive strides in power generation, Brazil and the US still lead the world in biofuel generation and usage.
Regardless of East-West disparities, some studies project that by 2040 renewables would have overtaken fossil fuels as the primary means of power generation. Such a prediction isn’t too farfetched as current estimates assert that almost 25% of global energy is obtained from non-fossil fuel sources even despite speculation that coal and gas prices are likely to remain low for at least another decade. Here’s another worthwhile figure as we’re on topic. Currently, ¾’s of China’s energy is derived from fossil fuels. This means the remainder is derived from alternative sources. Such a feat is quite impressive given China’s reputation as a colossal hydrocarbon polluter. Even though the Asian power maintains its voracious appetite for new oil and gas markets, experts claim it’s currently ‘greening’ faster than it is ‘blackening’.
Additionally, China’s emissions are projected to peak at around 2025 with reductions following each subsequent year as its breakneck economic growth stabilize and slows. However this menas their neighbour India will soon surpass them as a major polluter, more so since India hasn’t been as green-centric or as aggressive in pushing for further investment. According to Digital Trends, by 2040 India and other Asian nations will all have emission levels roughly 5% higher than their current maximum. This means unless they act fast an even heftier long term investment has to be on the table if they wish to transform their economy by then. In hindsight, Indian policy makers would be wise to pay heed to such things as while short term economic gains might be substantial, in the long run it could be for naught as they’re left behind globally in more ways than one. Sustainability is imperative after all.
Asia isn’t the crowning centre of renewables however and it’d be poor sport to omit the feats of Latin America. We’ve mentioned previously that Costa Rica is now more energy independent than ever but did you know that Chile generates so much solar based electricity that it gives some away for free? In fact, as we’re on topic it’s prudent to point out that if a nation of more than 1 billion souls (that of China) can achieve such levels of renewable energy development then what’s stopping smaller Caribbean populations from taking their own initiative on the matter? This applies doubly so to those heavily dependent on petroleum based industries.