The renewable energy industry is one of the most vibrant, fast-changing and transformative sectors of the global economy. In spite of high-profile climate change naysayers, green energy is set to become an ever more important driver of economic growth.
Here are 10 trends we expect in renewable energy in 2017, based on what happened in 2016.
- Investment to combat climate change
In 2017 the sharp rise in renewable energy investment to combat climate change will continue, especially in China. Developing countries, having overtaken their wealthier counterparts in 2016 investment, will streak further ahead in 2017.
- Cheaper solar power
The global drop in solar power prices in 2016 will accelerate in 2017. The cost of solar panels will continue to fall, by 99% since 1976 and 80% since 2008.
- Mobilised media
Media support for investing in alternative, renewable energy sources will continue to grow. Serious reporting will disseminate the scientific arguments supporting the role of humans in climate change more widely.
- Growing clean energy employment
Renewable energy is steadily creating more jobs. The major political events of 2016, such as Brexit and the election of Donald Trump, which caused some initiatives to be re-evaluated, will not reverse the global trend towards new jobs in the renewable energy sector.
- Coal reconsidered
A study by the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research recently found new solar and wind power plants in South Africa to be 40% cheaper than new coal-fired power plants. With these findings being released late in 2016, the implications will be properly considered in 2017.
- India invests in the sun
In 2016 India unveiled the world’s largest solar power plant. The facility in Kamuthi, Tamil Nadu, has a capacity of 648 MW and covers an area of 10 km2, making it the largest solar power plant at a single location. It can produce enough electricity to power about 150 000 homes. India and other countries will continue this impetus in 2017.
- Solar power: a stand-alone option
By doing away with diesel generators and using more than 5 000 solar panels and 60 power packs, the South Pacific island of Ta’u in American Samoa became entirely self-sufficient in its electricity supply. In 2017 more homes, businesses and even towns are likely to follow suit.
- Pay-as-you-go solar power in Nigeria
Nigeria will offer ways to address its problem of frequent power outages with a new off-grid solar programme. Hundreds of thousands of homes and small businesses are expected to benefit. Rural households in many parts of Africa will receive electricity through similar initiatives.
- Japan stalling
Post-Fukushima investments in renewable energy will probably stall as the government continues to reduce subsidies. The government is pushing to restart mothballed atomic reactors and planning to invest heavily in new coal-fired power plants.
- Breakthroughs in solar cells
If solar cells can be commercially produced with a tin or lead compound called perovskite, solar power will become safer, cheaper and more commercially attractive. Other breakthroughs in renewable energy may occur at any time.
Coal is experiencing its whale-oil moment and there’s no avoiding it. It is already being replaced by better, cleaner forms of energy.
– Steven Conn, Miami University (of Ohio) history professor