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Renewable Energy Surges to Record-Breaking Levels Around the World

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The renewable revolution is gathering apace according to new research. Last year was an “extraordinary" record year for the sector, with “the largest global capacity additions seen to date."

An estimated 147 gigawatts of renewable power capacity was added in 2015, according to the annual report of REN21, the renewables policy organization made up of energy experts, NGOs and governments, which is based in Paris.

In total, new installations of renewable power generation capacity rose to 1,848.5 GW globally in 2015, underlying the fact I made in yesterday's blog that Big Oil's demise might come sooner rather than later, in part due to the renewable revolution.

Most importantly, slowly but surely every year, renewables are becoming more cost competitive with fossil fuels.

“I've been working in this sector for 20 years and the economic case is now fully there," said Christine Lins, the executive secretary of REN21: “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)."

Lins also points out that this record renewable growth has been achieved despite huge subsidies to fossil fuels. “What is truly remarkable about these results is that they were achieved at a time when fossil fuel prices were at historic lows and renewables remained at a significant disadvantage in terms of government subsidies," she said in a statement.

Lins continued: “For every dollar spent boosting renewables, nearly four dollars were spent to maintain our dependence on fossil fuels."

Most worrying for Big Oil is that this is the largest ever annual increase in installed clean capacity ever. As if to emphazise the point the amount spent on renewables was double that spent on new coal and gas-fired power plants.

In total, including large hydro projects, new investment was an estimated $328.9 billion, echoing research by Bloomberg New Energy Finance from earlier in the year which put clean energy investment a fraction higher at $329.3 billion.

More than 8 million people are now employed in the sector.

Source: IRENA

Other important trends were apparent too: For the first time ever, developing nations spent more than the developed world on renewables. “For the first time in history, total investment in renewable power and fuels in developing countries in 2015 exceeded that in developed economies," the report said.

China alone accounted for more than one-third of the global total. “The renewables industry is not just dependant on a couple of markets but it has turned into a truly global one with markets everywhere and that is really encouraging," added Christine Lins.

The report also advocated the desperate need to integrate renewables into the current power infrastructure which was built for fossil fuels. “The renewables train is barreling down the tracks, but it's running on 20th century infrastructure—a system based on outdated thinking where conventional base load is generated by fossil fuels and nuclear power," said Arthouros Zervoz, chairman of REN21.

Zervoz added: “To accelerate the transition to a healthier, more secure and climate-safe future, we need to build the equivalent of a high-speed rail network—a smarter, more flexible system that maximizes the use of variable sources of renewable energy and accommodates decentralized and community-based generation."

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The last time San Francisco did not record a drop of rain in February was in 1864 as the Civil War raged.

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On Thursday, the U.S. Drought Monitor said nearly 60 percent of the state was abnormally dry, up from 46 percent just last week, according to The Mercury News in San Jose.

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"Given what we've seen so far this year and the forecast for the next few weeks, I do think it's pretty likely we'll end up in some degree of drought by this summer," said Swain, as The Mercury News reported.

Another alarming sign of an impending drought is the decreased snowpack in the Sierra Nevada Mountain range. The National Weather Service posted to Twitter a side-by-side comparison of snowpack from February 2019 and from this year, illustrating the puny snowpack this year. The snow accumulated in the Sierra Nevadas provides water to roughly 30 percent of the state, according to NBC Los Angeles.

Right now, the snowpack is at 53 percent of its normal volume after two warm and dry months to start the year. It is a remarkable decline, considering that the snowpack started 2020 at 90 percent of its historical average, as The Guardian reported.

"Those numbers are going to continue to go down," said Swain. "I would guess that the 1 March number is going to be less than 50 percent."

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Climate Prediction Center forecast that the drier-than-average conditions may last through April.

NOAA said Northern California will continue deeper into drought through the end of April, citing that the "persistent high pressure over the North Pacific Ocean is expected to continue, diverting storm systems to the north and south and away from California and parts of the Southwest," as The Weather Channel reported.

As the climate crisis escalates and the world continues to heat up, California should expect to see water drawn out of its ecosystem, making the state warmer and drier. Increased heat will lead to further loss of snow, both as less falls and as more of it melts quickly, according to The Guardian.

"We aren't going to necessarily see less rain, it's just that that rain goes less far. That's a future where the flood risk extends, with bigger wetter storms in a warming world," said Swain, as The Guardian reported.

The Guardian noted that while California's reservoirs are currently near capacity, the more immediate impact of the warm, dry winter will be how it raises the fire danger as trees and grasslands dry out.

"The plants and the forests don't benefit from the water storage reservoirs," said Swain, as The Mercury News reported. "If conditions remain very dry heading into summer, the landscape and vegetation is definitely going to feel it this year. From a wildfire perspective, the dry years do tend to be the bad fire years, especially in Northern California."

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