BBC’s Matt McGrath Gets His Name Right, But Not Much Else
By Paul Homewood
Matt McGrath’s latest piece is little more than an advertisement for the renewable industry:
New solar, wind and hydropower sources were added in 2015 at the fastest rate the world has yet seen, a study says.
Investments in renewables during the year were more than double the amount spent on new coal and gas-fired power plants, the Renewables Global Status Report found.
For the first time, emerging economies spent more than the rich on renewable power and fuels.
Over 8 million people are now working in renewable energy worldwide.
For a number of years, the global spend on renewables has been increasing and 2015 saw that arrive at a new peak according to the report.
Falling costs key
About 147 gigawatts (GW) of capacity was added in 2015, roughly equivalent to Africa’s generating capacity from all sources.
China, the US, Japan, UK and India were the countries adding on the largest share of green power, despite the fact that fossil fuel prices have fallen significantly. The costs of renewables have also fallen, say the authors.
"The fact that we had 147GW of capacity, mainly of wind and solar is a clear indication that these technologies are cost competitive (with fossil fuels)," said Christine Lins, who is executive secretary of REN21, an international body made up of energy experts, government representatives and NGOs, who produced the report.
"They are the preference for many countries and more and more utilities and investors and that is a very positive signal."
Investment in renewables reached $286bn worldwide in 2015.
With China accounting for more than one-third of the global total, the developing countries outspent the richer nations on renewables for the first time.
When measured against a country’s GDP, the biggest investors were small countries like Mauritania, Honduras, Uruguay and Jamaica.
"It clearly shows that the costs have come down so much that the emerging economies are now really focussing on renewables," said Christine Lins.
"They are the ones with the biggest increases in energy demand, and the fact that we had this turning point really shows the business case – and that is really a remarkable development."
The UK’s high position in the global renewables table may come as a surprise to some as there have been a series of substantial cuts to green subsidies over the past year. The UK’s solar industry saw tariff support tumble by over 60% last December.
Despite a significant fall off in European investment in renewables, down around 21%, green power is now the leading source of electricity, providing 44% of total EU capacity in 2015.
The authors say that while the Paris Climate Agreement came after this report was compiled, the fact that countries were getting serious about rising temperatures has already been reflected, to some degree, in their investments. As of early 2016, 173 nations had renewable energy targets in place.
It’s not just nations that are taking big steps towards a greener future. In the US, some 154 companies employing 11 million people have committed to 100% renewable energy.
The Renewable Global Status Report referred to comes from the Renewable Energy Policy Network, or REN21, and is available herehere. According to their website:
REN21 is the global renewable energy policy multi-stakeholder network that connects a wide range of key actors. REN21’s goal is to facilitate knowledge exchange, policy development and joint action towards a rapid global transition to renewable energy. REN21 brings together governments, nongovernmental organisations, research and academic institutions, international organisations and industry to learn from one another and build on successes that advance renewable energy. To assist policy decision making, REN21 provides high quality information, catalyses discussion and debate and supports the development of thematic networks. REN21 is an international non-profit association and is based at the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) in Paris, France.
In other words they are simply a lobby group for renewable interests, and are in no way independent or objective.
Reading the BBC report, one would be excused for thinking that renewables will soon be supplying most of our power, but let’s take a look at some of their key claims, which McGrath has naively regurgitated:-
1) Investments in renewables during the year were more than double the amount spent on new coal and gas-fired power plants
This is a pretty meaningless statement, since the world already has plenty of coal and gas plants, which do not need replacing.
Indeed, the real story here is hundreds of billions are being wasted on renewable energy, when we already have plenty of cheap, reliable fossil fuel power.
The REN21 report itself tells us that $286 billion was invested worldwide on renewable power and fuels, making a total of more than $2 trillion in the last ten years.
Much of this has been wasted because it has simply displaced existing capacity. The investment that has gone on adding new capacity could arguably have been spent more effectively on conventional technology.
This is not some academic argument. Just think of the good that could have been done if this money had been spent on genuine needs.
2) Over 8 million people are now working in renewable energy worldwide.
I always treat these sort of numbers with suspicion, but let’s assume they are right.
The figure for the US, 769,000, compares with a number of 569,000 quoted by the EIA in 2012 as working in the oil and gas industry there (incl support workers). If many more are now employed producing a pitifully small amount of renewable energy, it simply proves just how inefficient renewables are. (According to BP, energy from oil/gas amounted to 1531 Mtoe in 2014, compared to just 65 Mtoe of renewables, excl hydro).
It is also worth noting how China is dominating the solar and wind industries, something that is hardly beneficial to western economies.
3) About 147 gigawatts (GW) of capacity was added in 2015, roughly equivalent to Africa’s generating capacity from all sources.
The BBC always love to quote big numbers like this, without making any attempt to put them into perspective. This is what REN21 show:
Renewables at 23.7% sounds impressive, eh? But craftily, they include hydro, which accounts for two thirds of this figure. Ten years ago hydro was already supplying 16% of the world’s electricity, just the same as it is now.
We all know that adding much more hydro is not possible, and generally speaking is not sensible from either environmental or agricultural reasons.
And that leaves wind and solar, which produce less than 5%.
But when we look at total energy consumption, and not just electricity, the contribution from wind/solar becomes vanishingly small:
4) "The fact that we had 147GW of capacity, mainly of wind and solar is a clear indication that these technologies are cost competitive (with fossil fuels)"
This is simply self serving nonsense.
The only reason renewable capacity is increasing in developed countries is because they are heavily subsidised and/or fossil fuels are being regulated out of existence.
In the UK, for instance, the latest CfD auction has awarded 15-year, index linked prices to offshore wind farms of £126/MWh, which is three times the market price. Solar farms subsidies are not much less, getting guaranteed prices of £83/MWh.
For Matt McGrath to republish this claim, without even questioning it, is unprofessional, to put it mildly, and must call into question his objectivity.
5) Investment in renewables reached $286bn worldwide in 2015. With China accounting for more than one-third of the global total, the developing countries outspent the richer nations on renewables for the first time.
Another thing the BBC like is to put up “big” numbers for China. There is a very deliberate reason for this, and that is to persuade the public that China is serious about decarbonisation.
So, again, let’s see what the actual numbers mean.
China now have wind and solar capacity of 145 and 43 GW respectively. According to BP, the capacity utilisation for these are 15% and 12%, which would give annual generation of about 236 TWh.
However, China’s total generation of electricity in 2014 was 5650 TWh, meaning wind and solar are still only capable of contributing just 4% of total power.
6) Despite a significant fall off in European investment in renewables, down around 21%, green power is now the leading source of electricity, providing 44% of total EU capacity in 2015
I have no idea what the EU’s total capacity is, but it is grossly misleading to claim that green power is now the leading source of electricity.
Because of the woeful inefficiency of renewables, wind and solar only supplied 11% of the EU’s electricity in 2014, according to BP. The figure won’t be much higher for last year.
Hydro adds in another 12%, but this has not increased this century, and nobody in their right minds would suggest it should.
This sort of journalism from the BBC is all too common. Too often, they report a highly biased presentation from a vested interested group as if it was 100% fact, but fail miserably to question, or put such claims into a proper perspective.
When you complain, they simply revert to a “we are only reporting what they said” defence.
Such journalism, if I can be excused from calling it that, is shoddy, unprofessional and blatantly biased.
A more accurate headline would have been:
Renewable Energy Surges From 2% to 2% Around The World
Not quite the same ring, I agree, but a darned sight more accurate!