Developing Nations’ Solar Capacity Increases 54% In 2016, Finds BNEF Climatescope

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Across 71 emerging markets a total of 34 GW worth of new solar capacity came online in 2016, an increase of 54% year-over-year and has more than tripled in three years, according to new figures from Bloomberg New Energy Finance’s annual Climatescope survey.

New solar capacity is a big deal all over the world, with incredible capacity growth rates throughout some of the biggest countries in the world. But solar’s worth is arguably greater in emerging markets, and according to Bloomberg New Energy Finance’s annual Climatescope survey — an assessment of clean energy market conditions and opportunities in emerging countries — a total of 34 GW (gigawatts) was brought online in 71 emerging markets in 2016, up 54% from 22 GW in 2015 and well up on the 3 GW brought online in 2011.

Annual clean energy deployment in Climatescope countries

Unsurprisingly, China accounted for the vast majority of solar capacity brought online in 2016, adding 27 GW, or 79% of total solar capacity in emerging markets.

However, significant levels were also brought online elsewhere, with India adding 4.2 GW, while countries such as Brazil, Chile, Jordan, Mexico, and Pakistan and nine other nations all installed solar PV capacity double or more in 2016 than in 2015. In total, solar accounted for 19% of all new generating capacity added in countries monitored by Climatescope, up from 10.6% in 2015 and only 2% in 2011, showing the tremendous growth and significant potential solar has to serve emerging markets.

“The massive drop in photovoltaic module prices we’ve seen over the last several years continues to reverberate through developing countries,” said Ethan Zindler, Head of Americas for BNEF. “It’s creating opportunities ranging from multi-million dollar projects that serve the grid, to small-scale installations that enable farmers to boost their yields through better irrigation and to connect to the Internet.”

While large-scale solar will play a significant role in providing electricity to the grid of developed nations, one of solar’s most attractive traits is ability to be used in both large- and small-scale situations to equal benefit. Instead of requiring massive infrastructure projects to deliver fossil fuel-generated electricity, such as coal, from a single generating site to a country’s population, solar projects are able to be developed and installed in situ, in the city or town or village where the electricity is needed — and where, until now, many people in emerging markets are relying on harmful and unclean energy sources such as kerosene, diesel, etc.

Climatescope highlights the growing use of solar PV in micro-grids, pay-as-you-go battery and lantern systems, water pumps, and even mobile phone towers. According to Climatescope, “these efforts have flourished organically, unencumbered by governments and often led by entrepreneurs and venture capitalists. Most often, start-ups have taken the lead, securing financing from private sources and forging partnerships with large corporations such as telecom providers.”

Now, more than 1.5 million households in Africa are using solar home systems that were bought on a mobile-money-enabled financing plan, up from only 600,000 at the end of 2015, helping the continent’s solar financing market to thrive. Meanwhile, in India, the number of installed solar irrigation pumps has increased from 12,000 in April of 2014 to reach 128,000 in May of 2017.

However, it’s not all good news from BNEF’s Climatescope survey, despite the surge in solar. Climatescope’s 71 countries account for 32.5% of global GDP and 72.4% of the global population (which is a concern in and of itself), as well as the vast majority of economic activity across all non-OECD nations. Based on 43 data indicators and 179 sub-indicators, BNEF’s Climatescope ranks each nation on a 0 to 5 basis. Some of the “troubling findings” highlighted by BNEF include:

  • For the first time since Climatescope was launched four years ago, the average country score fell year-on-year. Nations sampled collectively scored 1.35 in last year’s survey (out of 5). That average fell to 1.19 this year, though the figure was skewed somewhat with the addition to the survey of 13 new nations from Central Asia and Europe, many of which scored low.
  • The lower scores were attributable to lower clean energy investment and lackluster progress on policy-making. Total new clean energy investment in non-OECD countries fell by $40.2 billion to $111.4 billion in 2016 from $151.6 billion in 2015. While China accounted for three quarters of the decline, new clean energy investment in all other non-OECD countries also fell 25% from 2015 levels.
  • In terms of policy, of the nations researched by BNEF, 76% have established domestic CO2 containment goals. However, only two-thirds (67%) have introduced feed-in tariffs or auctions to support clean energy projects, and just 18% have set domestic greenhouse gas emissions reduction policies. These detailed, technical regulations have proven critical to attracting private capital in developing countries and facilitating scale-up.
  • China topped the survey once again. The country remains the world’s single largest market for clean energy development, but saw new asset (project) investment fall by $36.6 billion year-on-year. Seven of the top 10 ranked nations scored lower this year than in the prior survey. Brazil, Jordan, Mexico, India, South Africa, Chile, Kenya, Uruguay and Vietnam comprise the rest of the top 10.

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Joshua S Hill

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