By Neanda Salvaterra Oct 4, 2017 8:29 am ET

Renewable energy capacity grew at a record pace last year buoyed by government policies in Asia, the International Energy Agency said Wednesday. The world added 6% more renewable energy capacity in 2016 than in the previous year, according to a report by the IEA, a Paris- based organization that advises governments on energy. The growth in renewables was underpinned by a surge in the addition of solar power capacity in China. Beijing has adopted pro-renewable policies in a bid to curb air pollution and reduce its reliance on foreign oil. China is also the largest manufacturer of solar panels.

Fatih Birol, the executive director of the IEA, called the ascension of solar power “a remarkable benchmark,” while speaking at a press conference in London. Worldwide, solar power surged ahead of all other fuels growing by 74 gigawatts in 2016, 50% higher than the previous year. While China accounted for the lion’s share of all the growth in renewables at 41%, the U.S. came in second and distinguished itself by surpassing the European Union and adding 24 gigawatts of renewable power in 2016, a 44% increase from a year earlier.

Other types of renewable energy drove growth elsewhere. In Sub-Saharan Africa, for instance, the growth in renewable energy was driven by the addition of hydropower. Fossil fuels remain the world’s top commodity for electricity generation but renewables are narrowing the gap, the IEA said. The agency forecasts that renewable power will equal half of the current total coal capacity by 2022. Overall renewable power generation grew by 7% last year and accounted for more than 24% of the global electricity mix, with coal remaining the leading energy source. Last year the world got most of its renewable energy from hydropower followed by wind, bioenergy, solar and a few others. If current government policies remain in place, the IEA forecasts that renewable power generation will exceed 8000 terawatts by 2022, a number that is equal to the generation of China, India and Germany combined.

The data is very “important for the fossil fuel industry to take note of,” said Mr. Birol.

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