BNEF: New Clean Power Capacity Passes New Fossil Fuel Power Capacity… Never Turning Back

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Clean energy has overtaken fossil fuels in terms of annual electricity generation capacity additions — with more renewable energy capacity now being added globally than coal + natural gas + oil combined.

And, perhaps more importantly than that simple proclamation, there’s now no going back. That’s the case made Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF) founder Michael Liebreich at the recent BNEF summit, “The Future of Energy Summit 2015,” and subsequently by Bloomberg.

BNEF graph

This major shift started occurring to a notable degree back in 2013 when 143 gigawatts (GW) of new renewable energy capacity and nuclear energy capacity (a very slight amount, which is being counted as “clean”) was added, as stacked against 141 GW of new fossil-fuel-fired power plants.

This shift is set to continue accelerating according to the recent BNEF analysis — with the prediction that by 2030 over 4 times as much renewable capacity will be installed annually as fossil-fuel-fired project capacity.

“The electricity system is shifting to clean,” stated Michael Liebreich during his keynote address. “Despite the change in oil and gas prices, there is going to be a substantial buildout of renewable energy that is likely to be an order of magnitude larger than the buildout of coal and gas.”


Given that costs associated with solar + wind energy continue to fall relatively rapidly (and remaining fossil fuel reserves become increasingly expensive to extract), these predictions seem fairly safe to my eyes.

According to the International Energy Agency, despite the fact that solar energy currently only makes up around 1% of the total electricity market, it could very easily be the biggest single source of electricity in the world by the year 2050.

Will this transition be fast enough to mitigate catastrophic climate change, though? As explored in the graph below, BNEF showcases the disparity between the billions of dollars that are needed to limit warming to under 2° Celsius and what’s currently being spent. (Red lines are what’s currently being spent, blue lines are what’s predicted to be needed.)

BNEF graph

If anything, though, these estimates are severely underestimating what’s needed. There are a great deal of significant issues that will accompany climate change that aren’t incorporated that well or at all into the models used to make these estimates. In particular, the issues concerning human-related social structures and institutions, and cultural + geopolitical forces.

As was stated awhile back in a report prepared by a panel of retired US generals and admirals, climate change will essentially (in many ways) be a “threat multiplier” — causing already simmering conflicts, cultural differences, and migration issues to come to a head. These issues pose at least as significant a threat to the current state/governmental structures (and general stability) around the world as the direct effects of climate change do.

Image Credits: BNEF

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James Ayre

James Ayre's background is predominantly in geopolitics and history, but he has an obsessive interest in pretty much everything. After an early life spent in the Imperial Free City of Dortmund, James followed the river Ruhr to Cofbuokheim, where he attended the University of Astnide. And where he also briefly considered entering the coal mining business. He currently writes for a living, on a broad variety of subjects, ranging from science, to politics, to military history, to renewable energy.

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