The Coronavirus may have disrupted countries and industries all over the world, but renewable energy is emerging as a path to get our economic and environmental goals back on track.
As various nations work to launch stimulus packages to avoid financial turmoil, many are placing renewable energy at the center of their recovery plans. And as we gradually move towards a post-Corona world, it’s clear that renewables are no longer a barrier to economic growth; they’re one of the most critical drivers.
And even though the cleantech sector has not been immune to the challenges of COVID-19, governments and companies continue to ramp-up investment in green energy, renewable energy certificates (RECs), electric transport, and sustainability measures.
In a recent report by the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), it was found that renewable energy presents an opportunity for governments and companies to meet climate targets, boost economic growth, create millions of new jobs – and increase the well-being of people all over the world.
2020: A Year of Renewable Energy Records
With global electricity consumption expected to drop by around 6% this year, and many new large-scale solar, wind, and battery installations coming online, renewables have shown they’re ready for prime-time.
With drastic changes to our living and working habits, and many aging fossil-fuel generators struggling to cope with decreasing and unpredictable energy demands, renewable sources such as solar and wind were responsible for keeping the lights on in many areas of the world.
During the first quarter of 2020, renewable energy in the EU set a new record by providing 40% of the total electricity demand – only to re-break the record in the second quarter with 44%. Over the same period, coal generation dropped by almost a third compared to the previous year.
“We are seeing (renewable energy) figures we weren’t expecting to see for another 10 years.” – Matti Rautkivi, Wartsila
In the US, as fossil-fuel generation continues to decline and clean energy accelerates, the country is expected to source more electricity from renewables than coal for the first time on record. In the first quarter of 2020, 40% of all new US generation capacity came from solar, and Wood Mackenzie has forecasted 33% annual solar growth over last year.
Down under, Australia’s solar industry continues to thrive despite the pandemic, setting several new monthly generation records and eclipsing 2018’s total installations in just the first seven months.
Economies Are Shrinking, but Renewables Are Coming to the Rescue
As countries worldwide endure unprecedented shutdowns of social and business activities, governments are turning to renewable energy to jump-start their economies – and meet their climate obligations in the process.
“By accelerating renewables and making the energy transition an integral part of the wider recovery, governments can achieve multiple economic and social objectives in the pursuit of a resilient future that leaves nobody behind.” – Francesco La Camera, Director General of IRENA
Beyond creating new jobs and lowering electricity prices, renewable energy is also delivering an exceptional return on investment through savings in health, social, and environmental costs. IRENA’s report concluded that for every US$1 invested in renewables, returns of between $3 and $8 could be expected over the next 30 years.
The European Union, which announced a €1 trillion Coronavirus recovery plan, has allocated €550 billion to climate change initiatives covering renewable energy, electric transport, and energy-efficiency. The EU will tender 15 GW of renewable energy over the next two years, launch a €10 billion clean energy fund, install 2 million electric and hydrogen vehicle charging stations, and invest up to €60 billion into zero-emission trains.
COVID-19 has also created a newfound focus on air quality, with Harvard University reporting that people in cities with high air pollution levels were more susceptible to Coronavirus and other respiratory illnesses. With the rapid electrification of the transport system, many governments have realized that clean energy and electric vehicles won’t just create investment and jobs – but also significant savings to the healthcare system.
Renewables are also lowering energy prices and providing greater network stability. Tesla’s “big battery” in South Australia – which saved local consumers AUD$116 million in 2019 alone – was recently expanded by 50% to build on its phenomenal success. In California – a state hit by COVID-19, heatwaves, and wildfires – work recently commenced on the world’s largest battery system, a 730MWh installation almost four times larger than anything we’ve seen to date.
The Exciting Future of the Renewable Energy Market
It is no secret that COVID-19 has created turbulence in all major industries, particularly regarding investment, manufacturing, and construction.
But while many sectors face an uphill battle to return to growth, renewable energy has largely weathered the storm and looks set to emerge from COVID-19 stronger than ever.
With EV sales growing every year and solar power delivering record-low electricity prices, it seems that nothing – not even a global pandemic – can slow renewable energy down.
And with support from governments, companies, and individuals – who continue to invest in renewables and purchase renewable energy credits – 2020 is the beginning of a decade when solar, wind, and batteries transform our world for the better.