The rise of renewable sources of energy and their gallant victories over fossil fuels — particularly coal — is now legendary.

Last year, India added 11,788 MW of renewable energy capacity, twice as much as coal and hydro put together (5,400 MW). An estimate has it that 65 per cent of coal-derived electricity in India is sold at prices higher than new wind and solar.

Globally, countries have been adding more renewable energy capacity than conventional since 2012, and in 2017 alone, a record 167 GW of renewable was added. While these data ‘feel good’, renewables have failed to hit where it matters the most — emissions.

The International Energy Agency (IEA) measures energy-related carbon dioxide emissions and captures it in its Energy Sector Carbon Intensity Index (ESCII). In a recent article, IEA’s Energy and Climate Change policy analyst Caroline Lee says that in the past three years, “the ESCII has barely changed, indicating the energy supply has not become any cleaner on average over time.”

Global warming

The index actually increased in 2017 a year, which saw energy-related CO2 emissions rise 1.4 per cent after remaining flat for three years, reaching 32.5 Gt. Global energy demand rose 2.1 per cent in the year and fossil fuels met over 70 per cent of the growth. Lee says that the fact that this rise is moderate compared with what it used to be years back does not help much, because of the urgency to keep global warming under check. Energy intensity, or primary energy demand per unit of gross domestic product, slowed to 1.7 per cent, compared with 2.3 per cent over the previous three years and only half the annual improvement rate consistent with the need to limit global warming to 2 degrees.

“While significant progress has been made in deploying renewables, particularly wind and solar, the deployment of low carbon-energy has not kept up with energy demand growth,” says Lee.

The rise in energy-related emissions only shows that the increase in renewable energy capacity additions is not good enough. Clean energy met 10 per cent of global energy demand in 2015. “However, to achieve a truly sustainable energy system, this share needs to more than double to 21 per cent by 2030. But, while wind and solar deployment has accelerated, this goal is still out of reach under current policies,” says a recent IEA press release. IEA’s report on Global Energy Demand, 2017, shows that China and India together accounted for 40 per cent of the world’s incremental demand for energy. The two were responsible for 70 per cent of the additional demand for electricity. However, India contributed less to the rise in emissions — per-person energy-related emissions was 1.7 tCO2, “well below the global per capita average of 4.3 tCO2.”