Renewables in 2022
The current energy crisis has emphasised the need for, and importance of, renewable energy sources in order to provide security and independence. Renewable energy allows us to move away from our reliance on fossil fuels and imports from other countries which, consequently, would limit our vulnerability to any fluctuations in energy prices.
The expansion and growth of renewables in the past decade has been extraordinary. Increased investment, technological advances and policy introductions have allowed renewable energy to develop rapidly. In 2021, we reached a record amount of globally installed renewable capacity with 3146 GW, despite the challenges throughout the year. Solar and wind accounted for nearly 90% of additions and China became the first country to reach over 1 terawatt of installed renewable energy capacity. Additionally, the number of countries with renewable energy policies increased and at least 40 countries had more than 10GW capacity by the end of 2021. Despite this, we are still not on track to reach net zero by 2050, and deployments of renewable energy must triple annually if we are to achieve the goal of net zero.
Heating and cooling buildings accounts for a third of global energy use and yet in 2019 renewables were responsible for just under 15% of energy use. With climate change and rising global temperatures, cooling in buildings is becoming a bigger necessity and governments are beginning to develop action plans for cooling. Rising electrification has boosted development and research into renewable heat technologies and sales of renewable heating systems reached a record high in 2020. Like with most renewable energies, upfront, initial and maintenance costs are high which prove a challenge for the implementation of renewable energy in buildings.
Similarly, the industry sector is slow to shift to renewable energy. Accounting for over a third of global energy use it remains dependent on fossil fuels for producing energy as well as raw material use. The development of renewables in this sector is limited by the risk of stranded assets, fossil fuel subsidies and high initial costs. Carbon reduction policies will be essential in propelling emission reductions and may contribute towards the shift to renewable energies.
Use of hydrogen is considered the best replacement to fossil fuels in sectors that are hard to decarbonise and electrify. Renewable based hydrogen can be used for transport or industry and can complement variable renewable electricity from solar and wind sectors. The Republic of Korea plans to convert three cities entirely to hydrogen use and the Netherlands are on track to have the first hydrogen power plant in 2025. Hydrogen strategies are in place in at least 38 countries however hydrogen production remains fossil fuel based and highly energy intensive.
Another sector in which decarbonisation is critical is transport. Overall demand is rising despite the pandemic reducing transport use temporarily with a 24% increase in the decade. Electrification in the transport sector reached a high in 2021 with 6.6 million electric vehicles sold in 2021 which was a 109% increase from the year before. Biofuels continue to account for a majority percentage of renewable energy contribution in the transport sector. Specific sectors of transport remain hard to decarbonise, such as aviation, shipping and long-haul transport and require significant investments in new infrastructure if they were to be powered by renewable energies. This means renewables continue to favour fossil fuels and population and economic growth have led to demand in the transport sector accelerating at a much faster rate.
Renewable energy allows us to move away from the centralised energy system of fossil fuels as they build on local resources which allow for decentralisation. This makes it possible to build connected but decentralised energy systems that would increase resilience and security. Decentralisation also allows for diversity within energy producers and owners. Community energy projects are becoming more common around the world, and we can only expect this to continue increasing. Renewable energy is a more affordable and reliable energy service that has huge potential for low-income countries and societies and is the main driving force to reducing the damage caused by climate change.
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