The global growth of renewable energy will slow for the first time in 20 years due to the impact of the coronavirus pandemic, which will “hurt but not halt” the rise of clean energy.
The world’s energy watchdog has warned that developers will build fewer wind farms and solar energy projects this year compared with a record roll out of renewables in 2019.
But a rebound is possible in 2021, according to the International Energy Agency (IEA), if critical government decisions made within the next few months support a green economic recovery from the pandemic.
New figures from the IEA predict that the world will grow its capacity of renewable energy by 6% or 167 GW this year. The forecast growth is 13% less than the amount of new capacity which started up in 2019.
The slowdown is likely to be more severe in Europe. The IEA expects the amount of new renewable energy rolling out this year to fall by a third to its lowest annual growth rate since 1996.
“Countries are continuing to build new wind turbines and solar plants, but at a much slower pace,” said Fatih Birol, the IEA’s executive director. “Governments must not lose sight of the essential task of stepping up clean energy transitions to enable us to emerge from the crisis on a secure and sustainable path.”
Birol said the resilience of the renewables industry cannot be taken for granted, and warned governments against reining in clean energy spending to weather the looming economic crisis wrought by the coronavirus.
“The continued decline in renewable energy costs alone will not be enough to shelter the industry from the current crisis. In my view the role of governments is more important than ever,” he said. “The decisions they make in the next few months will be a critical factor for the future of new renewable energy capacity build.”
The UK government has promised to move ahead with an auction for renewable energy subsidy contracts next spring which will include bids from onshore wind and solar projects for the first time since the government lifted a block on financial support put in place four years ago.
“Many countries are now hesitating,” Birol said. “But if [support schemes] are postponed or cancelled it will be a serious hit for the growth of renewables, which we need badly to meet our climate goals.”
The renewable energy industry will be the most resilient energy source through the Covid-19 pandemic, according to the IEA’s figures which predict that the impact of the virus will wipe out the growth in fossil fuel demand this year.