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Renewable energy should be at ‘heart of COVID-19 economic recovery’ as prices continue to fall

Renewables, excluding large hydro, accounted for 13.4% of global generation in 2019.

Renewables, excluding large hydro, accounted for 13.4% of global generation in 2019.

With renewable energy more cost-efficient than ever before, there is a clear opportunity to forward decarbonisation in COVID-19 recovery plans.

A new report entitled Global Trends in Renewable Energy Investment 2020, put together by the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), the Frankfurt School-UNEP Collaborating Centre and BloombergNEF (BNEF), outlines that globally 2019 saw the highest investment in offshore wind in one year and highest solar power capacity additions in one year, while looking into investment trends for 2020.

It argues that in order to get on the right track for keeping climate change to 2 degrees, globally we require the addition of around 3,000GW of renewables by 2030. This may fluctuate somewhat depending on the technology mix.

But dramatically lower costs for renewables may help, with the cost of electricity from new solar photovoltaic plants 83% lower in in the second half of 2019 than a decade earlier.

This helped to contribute to the 184GW growth in renewable capacity globally in 2019, the highest ever record.

As such, thanks to global investment renewables - excluding large hydro -accounted for 13.4% of global generation in 2019. This was an increase from 12.4% in 2018 and 5.9 in 2009.

However, the report notes that in the UK investment actually dropped in 2019, falling 40% from 2018. This placed it at £4.2 billion ($5.3 billion).

The UK was still third in Europe for investment in renewables though, coming just behind Spain in first place and the Netherlands in second, investing £6.7 billion ($8.4 billion) and £4.4 billion ($5.5 billion) respectively.

This partially reflects the maturity of the UK market, where renewable capacity has increased dramatically in recent years, becoming Britain’s main power source in Q1 2020. This has allowed the grid to run without coal generation for over two months, for the first time since the industrial revolution.

It’s clear that more will still be needed to truly decarbonise the electricity network however, and the COVID-19 recovery provides a clear opportunity to do so.

“The chorus of voices calling on governments to use their COVID-19 recovery packages to create sustainable economies is growing,” said Inger Andersen, executive director of UNEP. “This research shows that renewable energy is one of the smartest, most cost-effective investments they can make in these packages.”

“If governments take advantage of the ever-falling price tag of renewables to put clean energy at the heart of COVID-19 economic recovery, they can take a big step towards a healthy natural world, which is the best insurance policy against global pandemics.”

A number of different groups have already called for decarbonisation and the building of a green economy to be at the heart of the recovery in the UK, most recently the Aldersgate Group who have said we have a “historic opportunity” to use low-carbon projects to address economic challenges following the pandemic.

They’ve joined the Energy Efficiency Infrastructure Group, the Committee on Climate Change, the Confederation of British Industry, the International Renewable Energy Agency and a group of 200 business leaders who sent an open letter to the government calling for a green recovery.

The secretary for business, energy and industrial strategy Alok Sharma last week announced that he will chair a roundtable on a green recovery.

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