This report, produced jointly by the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), the International Energy Agency (IEA), and the Renewable Energy Policy Network for the 21st Century (REN21), offers policy makers a comprehensive understanding of the options available to support the development of renewables. Beginning with recent deployment trends and the status of policies and targets globally, the report goes on to examine policies for each sector of energy use – heating and cooling, transport and power – and measures for integrating variable renewables into the power sector. Finally, an updated policy classification and terminology is presented and it aims to provide a global reference for policy instruments. It contains the following sections:

  • Policies in the heating and cooling sector
  • Policies in the transport sector
  • Policies in the power sector
  • Policies for system integration
  • Policies for energy access

Specifically, mandates and obligations such as those for solar water heaters in some countries, offer greater certainty of increased deployment. Building codes can also implicitly support renewable heating and cooling from renewables by setting energy performance requirements. Although they apply mostly to new buildings only, they provide an opportunity to align energy efficiency with renewable energy requirements. Renewable heat and energy efficiency policies should be closely aligned to leverage synergies and accelerate the pace of transition.

Despite the significant progress made over the past decade and the growth in policy support, renewables have yet to reach their full potential and key barriers still inhibit further development. These relate to technology, awareness and capacity, cost, finance, infrastructure and public acceptance, in addition to policy, regulatory, institutional and administrative barriers. Unless renewable energy and energy efficiency are scaled up more rapidly, international climate objectives will not be met, and even the 2 degree Celsius limit for global warming, as set out in the 2015 Paris Agreement, will not be achievable.

Substantial efforts are still required to scale-up deployment (together with energy efficiency) to meet climate objectives. To this end, a combination of policy measures are needed, focusing on direct support (deployment), integration and enabling environment.

Direct policy support for renewable energy has to be increased in the power and end-use sectors, which both account for large shares in final energy consumption as well as energy related CO2 emissions. In many countries, renewables continue to face competition from subsidised fossil fuel options. Meanwhile, enabling policies are needed to ensure effective operating conditions for renewables in energy systems and markets. As such, policy makers should make sure that renewable energy technologies can operate in the system on a level playing field with other technologies, facilitating innovation, supply and consumption of renewable energy in all end-uses.

Finally, renewable energy needs to be integrated into the daily life of consumers and prosumers, as well as into the institutional framework, to allow them to be part of the overall energy transition. Integrating policies, in this context, are those measures that allow the full integration in the energy system: for example, measures to encourage behavioural change (through raising awareness programmes) and policies to couple renewable energy technologies with livelihoods (in the access context).

In any area of energy use, no single instrument can fulfil all country objectives. Policies must be selected with care and designed or adapted to reflect specific national and local circumstances. The long-term stability of targets and policies is key to ensuring investor confidence and sustained growth. At the same time, policies need to continuously adapt to changing market conditions, to achieve greater cost-competitiveness and improved integration of renewables into the system. To ensure that the energy transition accelerates, greater attention must be paid to the transformative impact on society, institutions, financing, ownership structures and the wider economy. This requires supporting effective participation by all stakeholders.

Policy makers already have the tools necessary to support increased deployment, and a wide variety of actors, including traditional utilities, have already taken promising actions. The time has come to exploit the synergies in those actions, to break down the remaining barriers, allow for increased integration of renewable energy across sectors, and go beyond energy sector policy to broader development policy to achieve the energy transition.

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