For The First Time In 40 Years, Economic Growth Did Not Lead To More Carbon Emissions In 2014

More than 160 countries are now consciously uncoupling from fossil fuels by adopting renewable energy policies and targets, which helped make 2014 the first year in the past four decades that economic growth was not accompanied by a rise in carbon emissions, according to a new report.

The 10th annual edition of REN21's Renewables Global Status Report found that, despite 3 percent growth last year in the global Gross Domestic Product and a 1.5 percent increase in energy consumption, CO2 emissions levels held steady at 32.3 billion metric tons, the same as in 2013.

Booming U.S. Renewable Energy Sector Growing Faster Than Expected

The mainstreaming of renewable energy is happening even faster than projected.

According to the latest “Electric Power Monthly” report from the U.S. Energy Information Administration, which includes data through the end of 2014, some 13.91% of electricity generation in the U.S. last year was from renewable sources.

“Given current growth rates, especially for solar and wind, it is quite possible that renewable energy sources will reach, or exceed, 14% of the nation's electrical supply by the end of 2015,” noted Ken Bossong, executive director of the SUN DAY Campaign. “That is a level that EIA, only a few years ago, was forecasting would not be achieved until the year 2040.”

That number includes conventional hydroelectric power, which comes with severe environmental impacts of its own and is not generally considered a true “clean energy” source (the same can be said of biomass and biofuels, which is also included). So it’s worth noting that 2014 was the first year that electricity generation from non-hydropower renewable energy sources exceeded hydroelectric generation.

Wind energy continues to be the biggest clean energy source by far, supplying some 4.45% of 2014 electricity generation in the U.S. versus .45% from solar and .41% from geothermal. But solar is making great strides, seeing more than 100% growth last year while wind grew just 8.3% and geothermal by just 5.4%.

Chart: The Deadliest Energy Sources in the World

Deaths per terawatt hour by energy source

How deadly is your energy source? The very real and lethal effects of our global energy choices become clear in this interactive data visualization, showing the death rate, as measured by the number of deaths per terawatt hour (TWh), for each of the major global energy sources, e.g., coal, natural gas, oil, nuclear, hydro, peat, and biomass. Take a closer look at the chart here:

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