As European and Asian leaders take up the low-carbon mantel from the United States, a global report found 2016 was a record-setter for renewable energy.
The International Renewable Energy Agency reported total global renewable energy capacity increased last year by 161 gigawatts, reaching 2,000 GW by the end of the year. According to estimates from the U.S. Energy Department, 1 gigawatt of energy is enough to power 100 million LED light bulbs.
“We are witnessing an energy transformation taking hold around the world, and this is reflected in another year of record breaking additions in new renewable energy capacity,” IRENA Director-General Adnan Z. Amin said in a statement.
For the first time ever, new power from solar energy outpaced wind, with Asian economies recording the largest expansion in solar capacity with a gain of 50 GW. Nearly half of that came from China. For Europe, Germany and the United Kingdom recorded the largest regional gains in wind energy capacity.
European Commissioner for Climate Action and Energy Miguel Arias Canete is in Beijing this week to coordinate on implementation of the Paris climate agreement. With the United States embracing an energy policy focused on fossil fuels, Canete said “shared climate leadership is needed more than ever.”
U.S. President Donald Trump this week signed executive measures aimed at revising or erasing some of the climate initiatives enacted by his predecessor. With a domestic energy sector recovering on the back of better crude oil prices, the president and his supporters said that backing oil and gas would translate to economic stimulus for the country.
U.S. leaders outside the federal government stressed their commitments to a balanced energy mix in the wake of Trump’s measures. Tom Cochran, the executive director and CEO of the U.S. Conference of Mayors, said self-reliance, energy independence and economic gains — many of the themes expressed by the president — are rooted in renewables.
“A thriving economy and reducing greenhouse gas emissions are compatible by focusing on new technology, investing in renewable fuel sources, and increasing our energy efficiency,” he said.
IRENA in its annual report said the United States last year was among the countries with significant gains in solar power capacity. Nearly 75 percent of the new wind energy capacity installed last year came from just four countries, including the United States.