Renewable energy - 2015 in review

Renewable energy sources in power generation continued to increase in 2015, reaching 2.8% of global energy consumption, up from 0.8% a decade ago

  • Renewable energy used in power generation grew by 15.2%, slightly below the 10-year average growth of 15.9% but a record increment (+213 terawatt-hours), which was roughly equal to all of the increase in global power generation. Renewables accounted for 6.7% of global power generation. China (+20.9%) and Germany +23.5%) recorded the largest increments in renewables in power generation.
  • Globally, wind energy (+17.4%) remains the largest source of renewable electricity (52.2% of renewable generation), with Germany (+53.4%) recording the largest growth increment.
  • Solar power generation grew by 32.6%, with China (+69.7%), the US (+41.8%) and Japan (+58.6%) accounting for the largest increases. China overtook Germany and the US to become the world’s top generator of solar energy.
  • Global biofuels production grew by just 0.9%, well below the 10-year average of 14.3%: Brazil (+6.8%) and the US (+2.9%) accounted for essentially all of the net increase, partly offset by large declines in Indonesia (-46.9%) and Argentina (-23.9%).

Renewables in this review

Renewable energy includes energy derived from natural processes that do not involve the consumption of exhaustible resources such as fossil fuels and uranium.

Hydroelectricity, wind and wave power, solar and geothermal energy and combustible renewables and renewable waste (landfill gas, waste incineration, solid biomass and liquid biofuels) are the constituents of renewable energy.

The definition of Primary Energy in the Statistical Review confines itself to traded fuels (commercial renewables) used for power generation or transport fuels. It excludes renewable sources of heat. Consumption of hydroelectricity has been reported in the Statistical Review for many years, and biofuels have been included in oil consumption. The Review includes additional tables on the consumption of renewable sources of electricity other than hydroelectricity and on the production of biofuels.

Electricity generation from renewables

The coverage and quality of data relating to non-hydro renewable power is improving steadily, especially where countries have adopted policy targets for renewables. It is now possible to provide a reasonable estimate for total power generated from renewable sources. This is based as far as possible on primary national sources, supplemented as necessary by data from secondary sources, such as Eurostat, the US Energy Information Administration, and the International Energy Agency. The Statistical Review database stretches back to 1965, but any data before 1990 should be treated with caution due to major breaks in data series (fortunately, the numbers before 1990 are generally very small, and too small to affect primary energy aggregates).

The Statistical Review collects data on power generated in tWh, and converts this to mtoe on the same basis as hydroelectricity and nuclear power (that is, on the basis of thermal equivalency assuming 38% conversion efficiency in a modern thermal power station).

Despite high growth rates, renewable energy still represents only a small fraction of today’s global energy consumption. Renewable electricity generation (excluding hydro), is estimated to account for 7% of global electricity generation. Renewables do, however, play a significant role in the growth of electricity, contributing 97% of the growth in global power generation in 2015.

At the individual country level, these sources are already playing an important role in some countries. Denmark leads, with 66% of power coming from renewables, followed by Portugal with 30%. Among the larger EU economies, the renewables share is 27% in Germany, 24% in Spain, and 23% in both Italy and the UK.

The rapid growth of renewable power generation continued in 2015, with an increase of 15%. In volume terms, the largest increase in 2015 was in China, followed by Germany; with the US, the UK and Brazil making up the rest of the top five.

The Statistical Review provides further information in the form of consumption tables for solar, wind, and other renewables, and capacity tables for wind, solar and geothermal power.

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