Global renewable investments stall, ‘rapid boost’ needed to reach Paris Agreement goals

Worldwide investments in renewable energy and energy efficiency stalled in 2018, with experts saying a “rapid boost” is required to keep Paris Agreement goals in sight.

The International Energy Agency (IEA) released its World Energy Investment 2019 report today, and it points out some disturbing trends when it comes to renewable energy.

While overall global energy investment stabilized after three years of decline, that stability came from increased spending in oil and gas, not renewables.

To reach a proper Sustainable Development Scenario, renewable investments need to at least double by 2030. As the IEA notes, “energy investment is misaligned with where the world appears to be heading, and also far out of step with where it needs to go.” IEA Executive Director Fatih Birol said,

“Energy investments now face unprecedented uncertainties, with shifts in markets, policies and technologies. But the bottom line is that the world is not investing enough in traditional elements of supply to maintain today’s consumption patterns, nor is it investing enough in cleaner energy technologies to change course. Whichever way you look, we are storing up risks for the future.”

The Misalignment

Coal investments are declining overall, but many develop Asian countries continue to add to their coal fleet. Coal supply investments were actually up — that includes the likes of China’s investments which were mostly “aimed at sustaining production and increasing productivity and safety by closing unsafe, inefficient mines and replacing them with more efficient ones.” But as the report notes, any continuing investment in coal plants keeps higher CO2 emissions in the global energy system.

Meanwhile, upstream oil and gas investments — exploration and production — were up 3% in 2018, with another 1% increase expected this year. The report also notes that “2019 could be a big year for new gas infrastructure.”

Renewable power investment is up 55% since 2010 when adjusting for cost declines, but renewable investments in both the power sector and the heat/transport sector were down about 1% in 2018.

This report may not come as a surprise to those who read last week’s big IEA report, which found that added renewable capacity stalled in 2018 after nearly two decades of annual growth. The agency isn’t optimistic going forward, either, noting in its latest report:

There are few signs in the data of a major reallocation of capital required to bring investment in line with the Paris Agreement and other sustainable development goals.

Electrek’s Take

It’s one thing to talk about setting targets for renewable energy and emissions reductions, and quite another to actually invest enough money to start seeing actual progress toward hitting those targets. This new report, paired with the IEA’s other recent report of stalled renewable capacity growth, puts things into further perspective.

The world was “far out of step with where it needs to go” in 2018, and based on these trends, it doesn’t appear 2019 will be much better. So when does the world as a whole — and especially China and the US — actually start to turn the tide by pumping way more money into renewables and energy efficiency, and just as importantly, pulling equally large investments out of fossil fuels? 2020? 2021? There’s not much time left.

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