TODAY’S STUDY: What Happened And Didn’t In 2016
A Year Of Hectic Change And Off Target Predictions
Michael Liebreich13 December 2016 (Bloomberg New Energy Finance)
Every January, Bloomberg New Energy Finance’s Chief Editor Angus McCrone and I don our Nostradamus hats and try to predict what the coming year will bring. Then, each December, to keep ourselves honest, we revisit our predictions and mark our homework. Frankly, if all pundits did the same, they might be respected more. Anyway, welcome to our December VIP briefing - it’s time to see how we fared.
Overall, at the start of the year, we predicted that 2016 would be “sunny, with a hint of Götterdämmerung”. We described the clean energy sector as being “in the best health of any time in its history”. It was, we said, “a third of-a-trillion-dollar industry, with a strong cadre of competitive suppliers, enjoying a generally supportive policy environment – now underpinned by the commitments made in Paris”.
So why the Götterdämmerung? “There is certainly more than a whiff of sulfur in the air”, we said, pointing to China’s economic slowdown and South China Sea adventurism; the end of quantitative easing; turmoil in the financial and currency markets; almost daily terrorist outrages around the world; tragic levels of refugees; the rise of the far right in Europe and Donald Trump in the U.S.; Saudi Arabia and Iran squaring off in the Gulf; the eminent bankruptcy of Venezuela and other oil producing nations; North Korea’s saber-rattling; the continuing failure of the EU to address its systemic problems, and the attendant risk of a British exit. “If you want to be scared about what 2016 might bring,” we concluded, “there is ample cause”.
We were not wrong. As it turned out, 2016 delivered more than just a hint of Götterdämmerung, it delivered the complete Wagnerian Ring Cycle, in political terms at least.
First, there was the U.K.’s Brexit vote on June 23, spelling at the very least a shock for the European Union, the world’s biggest single market; then, on November 8, the election of Donald Trump as the U.S.’s 45th President; December 4 saw an Italian referendum rejecting Matteo Renzi’s constitutional changes and forcing his resignation; and just before year end, months of protests against Park Geun-hye culminated in an impeachment vote by the South Korean Parliament.
These political earthquakes – and others that may strike next year during the EU election cycle – will have an impact on the energy sector, and we will look at this in detail in the 10 Predictions for 2017, to be published in January. Our head of Americas, Ethan Zindler, had a first look at the energy implications of Trump in this column last month. It is certainly a relief that The Donald got elected in 2016 and not in 2012, before the huge reductions in wind and solar costs transformed the competitiveness of those technologies!
As for our serenely sunny prediction for the clean energy sector itself, we were, on average right, with some sectors doing worse and some better than expected. It is worth highlighting three areas in which events surprised us.
First, when our advanced transport team forecast early in the year that EVs would ride a remorseless descent in battery prices to claim 35 percent of new car sales globally by 2040 (with the possibility of 50 percent on one scenario), the immediate reaction from the outside world was mainly disbelief. Yet within months, as one major motor manufacturer after another made decisive commitments to EVs, opinion swung round to agree with us, and most other major forecasters fell into line. By the end of the year, the most frequent comment we get when we present is: “Surely by 2040 more than half of new cars will be electric.” We will be updating our forecasts for the electric vehicle market early in 2017 – watch this space.
The second surprise was a series of astonishingly low tariffs for solar projects in developing countries, starting in January with $64 per megawatt-hour in Rajasthan, India, then riding a downward escalator via Peru, Mexico, the United Arab Emirates and Morocco to a new record of just $29.10 per megawatt hour in Chile. With the world record for unsubsidised power from solar is now below $30 per megawatt hour, and that for wind not far behind, you can forget competitiveness, renewables are robustly entering the era of undercutting. If you need to build new generating capacity, and you can deal with the attendant variability at an affordable cost, renewable energy will beat any other technology in most of the world without subsidies.
The third unexpected development was less welcome, as wind and solar investment fell from their 2015 peaks in both China and Japan. This came as a major jolt to the sector, after many years of seemingly inexorable growth. It also helped to make a mess of the first of BNEF’s “10 Predictions for 2016”.
1. Record-Breaking Investment… 2. Fossil Fuel Prices Back From The Abyss… 3. PV To Beat Wind Installations… 4. Another Strong Year For Wind… 5. The Yieldco Is Dead, Long Live The Yieldco… 6. Electric Vehicles Break Halfmillion Mark… 7. Grid Storage Additions Double… 8. Gas – Distress But Also Resilience… 9. European Carbon Prices Recover… 10. Corporations And Cities Buy Clean Energy…