The global transition to clean energy, explained in 12 charts

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As you might have heard, the planet is warming up, and in response, people are trying to switch to cleaner energy, to heat it up less, or at least more slowly. So how’s that going?

A report released Monday goes into that question in considerable detail. The Renewables Global Status Report (GSR), released annually by the Renewable Energy Policy Network for the 21st Century (REN21, a think tank), digs into the growth rates of various energy sources, the flows of clean energy investment, and the world’s progress on its sustainability goals.

It is a treasure trove of information. It is also … really long. 250 pages long. So many words!

In an effort to save you, the modern information consumer, precious time, I have gone through the report and extracted the 12 charts and graphs that best tell the story of clean energy as of 2018.

Before we get started, a few background facts.

First, we’re still moving in the wrong direction. Global carbon emissions aren’t falling fast enough. In fact, they aren’t falling at all; they were up 1.7 percent in 2018.

Second, we’re still pushing in the wrong direction. Globally, subsidies to fossil fuels were up 11 percent between 2016 and 2017, reaching $300 billion a year.

And third, the effort to clean up is flagging. Total investment in renewable energy (not including hydropower) was $288.9 billion in 2018 — less than fossil fuel subsidies and an 11 percent decrease from 2017.

This is all bad news. The public seems to have the impression that while things are bad, they are finally accelerating toward something better. It’s not true. Collectively, we haven’t even succeeded in reversing direction yet. Despite all the progress described below, we’re still struggling to get ahold of the emergency brake.

That grim context established, let’s jump in.

1) Renewables are pulling ahead in the power sector.
2) Solar photovoltaics are leading the power sector charge.
3) China is leading the solar PV charge.
4) In fact, China is leading all the charges.
5) Renewable energy is starting to make a dent in electricity.
6) Solar is creating the most jobs.
7) But electricity is only part of energy consumption, and not the largest part.
8) Transportation is showing signs of rapid movement toward electrification.
9) Cities are outpacing countries on clean energy.
10) Progress is being slowed by fossil fuel subsidies.
11) Energy intensity is declining, but not nearly fast enough.
12) Renewables have a long way to go and a short time to get there.

Disclaimer: The views, suggestions, and opinions expressed here are the sole responsibility of the experts. No Opinion Bulletin journalist was involved in the writing and production of this article.