January 2017 began with an attention-getting report from Bloomberg New Energy Finance: “Solar Could Beat Coal to Become the Cheapest Power on Earth” . Similarly, the Renewable Infrastructure Investment Handbook published by the World Economic Forum states: “ renewable energy technology, especially solar and wind, has made exponential gains in efficiency in recent years, enough to achieve economic competitiveness and, in an increasing number of cases, grid parity.” A January 5 post by Clean Energy Canada, “Clean Energy is too good a deal for Trump to Pass up ” , documents the economic and political forces driving clean energy in the U.S., and offers this chart comparing the number of jobs in solar to the fossil fuel industries.
And in an unprecedented move for a sitting President of the United States, Barack Obama has written “The Irreversible Momentum of Clean Energy” in Science (Jan. 9), with an overview of his energy policy legacy, and making the case that market forces in the U.S. will carry it on.
A general consensus is that the clean energy train has left the station, and China is driving that train. A January 2017 report from the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis (IEEFA) is the latest to document the growing dominance of China in the renewable energy industry in “China’s Global Renewable Energy Expansion: How the World’s Second-Biggest Economy Is Positioned to Lead the World in Clean-Power Investment.” The report states: “The change in leadership in the U.S. is likely to widen China’s global leadership in industries of the future, building China’s dominance in these sectors in terms of technology, investment, manufacturing and employment. ” According to the IEEFA, Chinese global investment in clean energy exceeds $100 billion annually, (more than twice that of the U.S.), and is expanding beyond Asia to Africa, Europe, the Middle East, North America and South America. It cites the International Energy Agency’s World Energy Outlook 2016 report ( Nov. 2016) to state that China holds 3.5 million of the 8.1 million renewable energy jobs globally. Small wonder when five of the world’s six largest solar-module manufacturing firms, and five of the ten top wind-turbine manufacturing firms are owned by Chinese companies. Between 2015 – 2021, “China will install 36% of all global hydro electricity generation capacity … 40% of all worldwide wind energy and 36% of all solar.”See a summary of the details of the IEEFA report in “China cementing Global Dominance of Renewable Energy and Technology” in The Guardian ; the Globe and Mail summary “U.S. and Canada falling behind China in race for renewable energy” (Jan. 6) rather badly understates the case .
The trend seems set to continue. On January 5, the Chinese National Energy Agency announced its plans for the next phase of energy investment: see “China Aims to Spend at Least $360 Billion on Renewable Energy by 2020 ” in the New York Times.
In Canada, the latest major report tracking clean energy investment was published by Clean Energy Canada in June 2016. Tracking the Energy Revolution reported reduced investment in 2015 (from $12 billion to $10 billion), although renewable generation capacity grew by 4% in that time. Even before the announcement of the Pan-Canadian Framework, Clean Energy Canada called this a “pivotal time” for renewables, and sets an optimistic tone. That boosterism is also apparent in “Challenge 2017: Rays of hope shine on solar industry despite ‘Trump digs coal’ mantra” in the Financial Post (Jan. 3) – a mostly anecdotal story of Canadian solar manufacturers, and “Canada can cash in on a cleantech boom“, in the Toronto Star (Jan. 5). The Star article applauds a recent clean energy-focused trade mission to China by the Minister of Environment and Climate Change, the clean-tech incentives announced in the December 2016 Pan-Canadian Framework on Clean Growth and Climate Change, and recent federal and provincial policies that set aggressive targets for renewable energy use in government buildings and operations.