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Cheap solar energy the fastest growing new power source

China's mass-deployment of solar power has helped capacity of the renewable energy grow by 50 percent in 2016. Analysts have praised a sharp drop in the price of panels and more government support.

China solar power farm

Solar energy was the fastest-growing source of electric power last year, a new report said on Wednesday, amid the "birth of a new era" for the reneweable energy sector.

The International Energy Agency (IEA) said solar accounted for almost two-thirds of net new power capacity globally in 2016, having climbed by some 74 gigawatts on the previous 12 months. It said China had led a boom in the large-scale installation of photovoltaic panels and was itself responsible for half of solar's growth.

"China's renewables growth is largely driven by concerns about air pollution," the Paris-based institution admitted.

Last year was the first time solar energy growth had surpassed any other fuel as a source of power, the report said, surpassing the net growth in coal.
Read more: How eco-friendly are electric cars?   

The IEA put much of the solar surge down to a large reduction in the cost of deployment and increased support from governments. But it warned that issues remained relating to subsidies for renewable energy and the integration of solar into national power grids.  

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Panda-shaped solar farms to light up China

The report predicted that if current barriers preventing its growth were addressed, solar power could accelerate much further into the next decade.

"We expect that solar PV capacity growth will be higher than any other renewable technology through 2022," it noted.

The IAE predicted that China, India and America would account for two-thirds of global renewable expansion by 2022 and that renewables would account for 30 percent of global power generation, up from 24 percent in 2016.

It expects about 1,000 gigawatts of renewables will be installed in the next five years, a figure that coal took 80 years to achieve.

The report stressed the need for the developing Asia region and sub-Saharan Africa to step up their investment in renewables, particularly off-grid solar appliances to reach low-income populations.

Read more: Are smart grids an energy game changer?

It also warned that growth of renewable energy in the European Union was set to be some 40 percent lower, as the bloc awaits the adoption of the EU's revised Renewable Energy Directive, which is currently being discussed in the European Parliament, and would cover the period 2021 to 2030.

 Read more: Germany's renewable energy use rises - but only just  

Despite the US currently being the second largest solar energy creator, analysts hinted that US federal policy could hamper growth in solar capacity. As well as pulling the US out of the Paris climate accord, President Donald Trump has threatened to impose tariffs on Chinese solar panel exporters, who are accused of undercutting American manufacturers.

Watch video 01:37

Making solar power portable

mm/uhe (AFP, AP)

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