Renewable Energy Smashed Every Previous Record In 2015

But the implications are even more important.

Despite fossil fuel prices hitting historic lows, renewable energy smashed all records for use and capacity in 2015.

Over the course of 2015, enough renewable energy came online across the globe — or entered the grid for the first time first time —  to fill all of Africa's power generating capacity. A total of 147 gigawatts of renewable energy was introduced, according to the renewable energy policy network REN21.

A few weeks ago, we reported that Germany had enough renewable energy to supply 90 percent of its power grid in one day. That news was just the tip of the iceberg. More than $286 billion dollars was invested in clean energy sector in 2015, 56 percent of which was invested in solar energy and 38 percent in wind. 

"What is truly remarkable about these results is that they were achieved at a time when fossil fuel prices were at historic lows," REN21's chief Christine Lins, told The Guardian"Renewables remained at a significant disadvantage in terms of government subsidies. For every dollar spent boosting renewables, nearly four dollars were spent to maintain our dependence on fossil fuels."

Perhaps most notably, the report emphasized that despite an increase in energy use, carbon emission levels associated with energy use remained stable throughout the year. REN21 cites China's increased investment and use of renewable energy as the leading factor for this stabilization. China accounted for a third of the global total in renewable energy investment in 2015.

(Credit: Vostok ice core data/J.R. Petit et al.; NOAA Mauna Loa CO2 record.)

Already, more people are employed by the solar energy industry than the gas and oil industry in the United States, whose solar industry still pales in comparison to China's. The U.S. Energy Information Administration expects renewable energy use in the electric power sector to increase by 13 percent in 2013. 

Of course, there is also the potential effect on the environment. As NASA, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and just about every nation on earth have all made clear: climate change is happening, and humans are causing it.  

EIA estimates that we saw a 2.8 percent reduction in carbon emissions — one of the main causes of climate change — in 2015. Continued investment in renewables could mean more of the same in the future.

Cover photo: Shutterstock / giSpate