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New era of solar power is now upon us, IEA says

  • "What we are witnessing is the birth of a new era in solar PV," Birol said.
  • According to the IEA's report on Wednesday, renewables accounted for nearly two-thirds of net new power capacity in 2016.

New solar photovoltaic (PV) capacity increased by 50 percent in 2016, according to a renewables market analysis and forecast from the International Energy Agency (IEA).

Additions of solar PV grew faster than any other fuel and surpassed the net growth in coal, the IEA added. This was the first time this has happened, it said. Photovoltaic refers to a way of directly converting light from the sun into electricity.

"We see renewables growing by about 1,000 GW (gigawatts) by 2022, which equals about half of the current global capacity in coal power, which took 80 years to build," Fatih Birol, the IEA's executive director, said in a statement within the report.

"What we are witnessing is the birth of a new era in solar PV," Birol added.

"We expect that solar PV capacity growth will be higher than any other renewable technology through 2022."

According to the IEA's report on Wednesday, renewables accounted for nearly two-thirds of net new power capacity in 2016. Almost 165 gigawatts (GW) came online in 2016, with the IEA adding that renewable electricity capacity looked set to grow by 43 percent by the year 2022.

Speaking to CNBC on Wednesday, Birol said this year's report showed another record for growth in renewable energy.

"Every year there is a record in renewables," he said. "But this year, the solar power plant additions are higher than that of wind, that of coal, that of gas and that of nuclear. And more than 50 percent of those (additions) comes from one country - which is China," he said.

'Good marriage'

Looking ahead, the IEA said that China, India and the U.S. would account for two-thirds of worldwide renewable expansion by 2022.

When it comes to power generation, the IEA said that renewable electricity was seen growing by over a third by 2022, hitting more than 8,000 terawatt hours. This figure, the IEA said, was equivalent to the power consumption of China, India and Germany combined.

Birol believed the cost of solar energy would continue to decline.

"The era of expensive renewables is over," he said.

"In the last three years the cost of solar has halved and we expect in the next three years the cost to be halved again. In many places such as India and China, solar power can compete with coal without any problem but still, globally, we need some subsidies for renewables."

However, he conceded that renewables alone were "not enough to secure our (national energy) grids having electricity 24-7, therefore we need a good marriage between renewables and traditional (energy) sources."