Solar and wind energy made up most of the world’s new electric capacity last year despite a plunge in investment by clean-tech powerhouses like China, the United Nations reported Thursday.
Solar power capacity soared in 2016, with 75 billion watts installed worldwide during the year, according to the UN Environment Program, Bloomberg New Energy Finance, and Germany’s Frankfurt School. Another 54 billion watts worth of wind turbines went online as well. That boom happened even though global investment in those technologies fell 23 percent, to about $242 billion.
Partly, it’s because technology has gotten cheaper: New solar capacity grew by about a third over 2015, though the money invested in those projects fell by a third.
“We basically get more bang for the buck,” said Ulf Moslener, head of research at the Frankfurt School’s UNEP Center. “We see that for all of that falling investment, the capacity was at an all-time high.”
Renewable sources made up 55 percent of the electric capacity built in 2016 and more than 11 percent of the total power generated worldwide in 2016, the report found. That kept about 1.7 billion tons of carbon dioxide and other planet-warming gases out of the atmosphere, which contributed to a third straight year in which emissions remained flat even as the global economy expanded by about 3 percent.