Another coal myth is attacked as developing nations turn to renewable energy


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A new study has highlighted the myth that developing countries around the world are keeping coal-fired generators burning, revealing that emerging economies are not only leading the global investment and development of renewable energy, but have cut nearly half the new coal-fired power plants.

The data, collected through the latest Bloomberg New Climate Finance Climatescope survey, show that technology costs and innovative creative policies have enabled developing nations to gain the mantle of clean energy leadership from the richest countries.

The report shows that in 2017, developing nations added a record 114 GW of zero-carbon generation capacity of all types, 94GW of which was wind and solar – another record.

At the same time, they put online the smallest amount of new coal-fired power generation capacity since at least 2006, with a new coal construction in 2017 38% lower than the previous year's 48GW coal.

That number, BloombergNEF says, does not represent only half of what was added in 2015, when the market hit the peak of 97 GW of coal, is almost exactly half of the solar and wind capacity these countries added in 2017.

This is bad news for the government of developed nations such as Australia's Morrison Coalition who likes to argue that if Australia does not burn its coal in new factories, other nations, led by countries like China and India and our neighbors, Indonesia.

Instead, BNEF says, these countries – which, unlike many developing countries, are facing increasing demand for electricity – are playing a leading role in building cheap renewable energy and further reducing the costs of these energy technologies .

The report says that this shift in global clean energy leadership is being driven by the rapid improvement in the economy of clean energy technologies, most notably wind and solar.

"Thanks to exceptional natural resources in many developing countries and dramatically lower equipment costs, new renewable energy projects now compete regularly with new fossil fuels in the price – without the benefit of subsidies," he says.

This trend has been more apparent, says the company, in more than 28GW contracted through bids in emerging markets in 2017, involving offers from developers to deliver wind for up to $ 17.7 / MWh and solar power for only $ 18, 9 / MWh.

Climatescope also revealed that clean energy dollars are flowing to more nations than ever before, with about 54 developing countries registering investments in at least one wind farm and 76 countries getting funding for solar projects of 1.5MW or greater over the year .

"It has been a major turnaround," said Dario Traum, senior associate of BNEF and project manager Climatescope, in comments accompanying the report.

"Just a few years ago, some argued that less developed nations could not, or should not, expand zero-carbon energy generation because they were too expensive," he said.

"Today, these countries are leading the charge when it comes to deployment, investment, policy innovation and cost reduction."

But that does not mean the world's climate challenge is less daunting.

As new coal capacity additions fell to their lowest level in more than a decade, real coal-fired power generation increased 4 percent in 2017 to 6.4 TWh.

And despite ample evidence that new-build renewables may underestimate new coal-fired power plants, 193 GW of coal are currently under construction in developing countries today, according to Coalswarm data.

In terms of climate, BNEF says that the real challenge for renewable energy is not only to beat new coal-fired power plants for new construction opportunities, but also to replace existing coal-fired power plants, many of which have recently come on stream .

In fact, the same challenge seems to confront us here in Australia – although in our case, these coal plants are at the end of their lives, not at the beginning.


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