English bulletin November 1, 2016


Renewable sources of electricity overtook coal last year to become the largest source of installed capacity in the world, according to the International Energy Agency.

A recent graph is spectacular showing how the cost of solar energy has come down while the volume deployed has gone up. In 1975 a silicon solar energy module cost over $50 per watt, while now it is less than $1 per watt. The milliwatts installed have risen from 1 to 115,000! Since 2000 the deployment of solar has doubled seven times.

And the trend promises to continue. Dubai recently received a bid for solar installations that would produce electricity at 3 cents per kilowatt hour, four times less than the average price paid for residential electricity in the United States. And the Middle East is not alone. Projects with similar low rates are reported from Mexico and China.

Last year, for the first time, global investment in renewable energy surpassed investment in fossil fuels. This year’s graph shows $286 billion dollar investment in renewable energy (mostly solar panels and wind mills) compared to $130 billion for fossil fuels. Developing as well as developed countries are involved, including China (over $100 billion), India (over $10 billion), South Africa, Mexico, Chile, Morocco, Turkey and Uruguay (all over $1 billion).

To some extent the change is simply driven by the profit motive of investors. Presumably that is the case for the great investment by China. The Chinese are not only making the largest investment in the world (by far!) but they are advancing renewable energy in other regions besides their own, for example, in Latin America.

At the same time, sometimes the investment comes from small startup companies such as the Spanish Renewable Energy Cooperative
Also the change is due to political decisions of investors. For example, Roman Catholic institutions around the world have recently decided to divest from fossil fuel extraction, joining a large list of religious institutions that have made the same decision.

In some cases, the political decision is national. Switzerland has just adopted a new law which phases out nuclear power and puts the emphasis on cutting energy consumption and increasing the production of renewable energy. The generation of non-hydro renewable power is to grow from 1.7 TWh last year to 11.4 TWh by 2035 (nearly tenfold).

Cities are also involved. This is especially important since, according to the International Renewable Energy Association, cities accounting for 65 per cent of global energy use and 70 per cent of man-made carbon emissions. In the United States, Boulder, Colorado, announced that the community will move to 100% renewable electricity by 2030, while Utah’s Park City has committed to to the same target by 2032. Meanwhile, Los Angeles’ City Council has directed its staff to develop a plan for 100% renewable energy.

There are some surprising technical advances involved in the shift to renewable energy. For example, the government of France has decided to invest in 1000 kilometers of autoroutes composed of solar panels!

Despite the fact that the climate accord negotiated by the Member States of the UN in Paris does not promise to solve the problem of global warming, the growing progress in renewable energy may ultimately solve much of the problem.




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