Despite Recent Pledges, Utilities Have Been Slow to Adopt Renewable Energy, Study Finds

A technician installs solar panels in Bavaria, Germany.

A technician installs solar panels in Bavaria, Germany. Windwärts Energie

Just one in 10 energy suppliers globally are prioritizing renewable energy over fossil fuel development, according to a new study of 3,000 power companies published in the journal Nature Energy. And just a handful have cut their oil, gas, and coal capacity over the past two decades.

While most new global power generation comes from renewable energy — including two-thirds from wind and solar last year — much of this investment is being led by independent companies. Large-scale utilities have been much slower to adopt renewable energy, the study finds. And many of those that are investing are also adding more natural gas and coal capacity.

According to the study, around 75 percent of companies were categorized as “passive,” meaning there was no substantial change in their energy mix between 2000 and 2018.

Economists say the findings undercut efforts to tackle climate change.

“If you look at all utilities, and what’s the dominant behavior, they’re not doing much in fossil fuels and renewables,” Galina Alova, an economist at the University of Oxford and lead author of the new study, told the BBC.

Alova also noted that much of utilities’ fossil fuel-based capacity, particularly natural gas, has been added in the last decade. “They are locking themselves into this model for two decades,” she told Greentech Media. If nations are genuinely committed to decarbonization, utilities “are going to have to retire [plants] early or make use of the carbon capture and storage solutions at much greater scale than is now happening.”