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Record $286 billion spent on renewables in 2015: Study

Solar panels are seen over water at a 500MW solar power station of China Huadian Corporation on July 29, 2015 in Taizhou, Jiangsu Province of China.
Tang Dehong | Visual China Group | Getty Images
Solar panels are seen over water at a 500MW solar power station of China Huadian Corporation on July 29, 2015 in Taizhou, Jiangsu Province of China.

An "extraordinary" year for renewable energy saw new investment in renewable power and fuels hit $286 billion in 2015 and an estimated 147 gigawatts added to renewable power generating capacity, according to a new study from the Renewable Energy Policy Network for the 21st Century (REN21).

In addition the study, Renewables 2016 Global Status Report, found that the use of renewables expanded in the transport sector. China also appears to be emerging as a big player in renewables, accounting for a third of the $286 billion spend.

REN21 also added that if spending on hydropower projects bigger than 50 megawatts is included, then new investments in renewable power and fuels – excluding renewable heating and cooling – hit $328.9 billion in 2015.

"What is truly remarkable about these results is that they were achieved at a time when fossil fuel prices were at historic lows, and renewables remained at a significant disadvantage in terms of government subsidies," Christine Lins, executive secretary of REN21, said in a statement.


"For every dollar spent boosting renewables, nearly four dollars were spent to maintain our dependence on fossil fuels," Lin added.

REN21's study comes hot on the heels of a report from the International Renewable Energy Agency which found that 8.1 million people now work in the renewable energy industry.

While noting that the outlook was broadly positive, REN21 also noted that several headwinds remained. These include the integration of "high shares of renewables into the grid", fiscal constraints, political instability and regulatory barriers.

"The renewables train is barrelling down the tracks, but it's running on 20th century infrastructure - a system based on outdated thinking where conventional baseload is generated by fossil fuels and nuclear power," Arthouros Zervos, chair of REN21, said in a statement.

"To accelerate the transition to a healthier, more secure and climate-safe future, we need to build the equivalent of a high-speed rail network – a smarter, more flexible system that maximizes the use of variable sources of renewable energy, and accommodates decentralized and community-based generation," Zervos added.

Also highlighted were several key commitments that have pushed renewable energy to the forefront of global discussion. One such agreement was reached at last December's historic COP21 summit in Paris, where global leaders agreed to make sure global warming stayed "well below" 2 degrees Celsius.