I’ve long been arguing for the transition from ‘The Fossil Fuel Age’ to ‘The Solar Age’. Climate Change dictates we must, and the opportunities to build a better future for all while making this transition are almost infinite. We are witnessing the death spiral of the coal industry: Peabody, Arch and a host of other coal companies have all filed for bankruptcy in recent months. They all had planned on continued expansion of their industry and massively underestimated the growth of renewables. And the rise of renewables is now happening dramatically quickly in many countries.
The figures for 2015 are now available. Global investments in renewables were £229 billion, an all time high, compared to just £90 billion in coal and natural gas. Renewables used to be seen as a small niche market: not anymore! Globally it’s a very mixed picture. France and Germany saw decreases in investment, but most countries saw rapid increase in investment. China was by far the biggest single player, but some smaller countries saw extraordinary growth, led by Mexico, Chile, Morocco and South Africa. Japan led the rooftop photovoltaic sector, Morocco the concentrating solar thermal sector, China, Germany and UK all opened impressive offshore wind farms over the last year. Wind and solar are becoming well established industries. Some other renewables are about to emerge onto the global stage. Geothermal power is expanding in Turkey, Kenya, Ethiopia and elsewhere. The UK might yet become a leader in the tidal energy sector, as the MeyGen tidal flow project in the Pentland Firth is currently under construction, a similar tidal stream project off the Isle of Wight has just been approved and the Swansea Bay Tidal Lagoon project will hopefully soon get the go-ahead, opening the way for many more such projects. Other technologies are waiting in the wings, such as wave power and algal bioreactors. Energy storage and interconnection technologies are improving rapidly so a 100% renewable energy future becomes ever more achievable, for electricity, heating, cooling and transport. My prediction is that this global energy transition will happen very much more quickly than our politicians and the old energy incumbency are planning for.