Over the course of a year, the value of a barrel of oil fell from $110 to around $30 at the start of 2016. Over this same period, global annual investment in renewable energy continued to demonstrate strong growth, rising 4 percent over the previous year to reach an all-time high of $329.3 billion in 2015. “These figures are a stunning riposte to all those who expected clean energy investment to stall on falling oil and gas prices,” says Michael Liebreich, founder of the London-based research arm of Bloomberg LP. “They highlight the improving cost-competitiveness of solar and wind power.” As the world works to implement the Paris climate agreement, they’ve got the wind at their back as market forces seem to finally be working in the planet’s favor.
Large oil companies are being hit hard by the oil price decline, which still does not seem to have bottomed out. Concerns that oil will fall even lower in 2016 has delayed $380 billion of investment in new projects. Companies are “going into survival mode,” according to oil industry analyst Angus Rodger. Coal and natural gas prices have also declined.
Although cheap gas prices may slow the adoption of energy efficient measures and enable more drivers on the road, 2016 is expected to be another strong year for renewable energy. The renewable revolution is empowered by plummeting costs of solar panels and wind turbines, and encouraged by stronger regulation of greenhouse gas emissions. Solar and wind accounted for about half of all new energy capacity installed in 2015.
China is currently the number one market for renewable energy after increasing its investment in the sector by 17 percent to $110.5 billion in 2015. This is double the amount invested in the United States. India and other emerging markets also are also picking up the pace of investment. “Wind and solar power are now being adopted in many developing countries as a natural and substantial part of the generation mix,” says Liebreich. “They can be produced more cheaply than often high wholesale power prices. They reduce a country’s exposure to expected fossil fuel prices. And above all, they can be built very quickly to meet unfulfilled demand for electricity.”