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A worker cleans solar panels on the rooftop of the Yiwu International Trade City in Yiwu, Zhejiang province in this file photo.Reuters

China was the largest developer of renewable energy projects in 2015, accounting for almost 40 per cent of all the wind, solar, biopower and small hydro installations around the world.

New numbers from British-based research firm GlobalData show that China has become the largest installer of clean energy, with almost 45 gigawatts of renewable power projects added last year, out of 115 GW that started up worldwide.

One gigawatt is enough to power about 700,000 homes, so globally there was enough new renewable energy installed in 2015 to power about 80 million homes.

The head of GlobalData's power practice, Ankit Mathur, said China's renewable position has grown particularly strong in the solar sector, where it became the largest consumer of solar panels in 2014, passing both the United States and Japan. In 2015, China installed 18.4 GW of solar power, more than double the amount in Japan and the United States, where each had about 8 GW of new installations.

Around the world, there is now a total of about 914 GW of installed renewable energy capacity, GlobalData estimates, enough to power about 640 million homes. That's up almost 15 per cent from 2014.

The total amount of renewable power is expected to grow to around 1,511 GW by 2020, a compound annual growth rate of 11.3 per cent over the next five years.

Already, there is more renewable electricity being added around the world, each year, than what is being added from new coal- and gas-fired projects, GlobalData said.

GlobalData did not break out Canadian numbers, but based on industry reports the domestic sector is also growing quickly.

The Canadian Wind Energy Association said 1,506 megawatts of new wind was added in Canada in 2015, the sixth highest installation rate in the world. For the fifth consecutive year, wind is the largest source of new electricity generation in the country, CanWEA said.

There is now about 11.2 GW of total wind energy capacity in Canada.

Canada has a little more than 2 GW of total solar energy capacity, most of it in Ontario.

Merran Smith, executive director of energy and climate think tank Clean Energy Canada, said the global expansion of green energy production is partly due to the plunging cost of renewable technology. "There is a business case for renewables and we are seeing the investment money going there," she said. "This is the new economy."

For Canadian suppliers to the sector, the market goes far beyond domestic clients, she noted. With the huge expansion in projects in two of our key export markets – China and the United States – "we need to be able to provide them with the products they are looking for," she said.

The GlobalData report said that the most important recent development in global climate-change policy was the adoption of ambitious carbon-reduction targets at the Paris conference. Ms. Smith agreed, saying this shift in political thinking will "accelerate the transition that is already under way."

Bloomberg New Energy Finance said in a report released Thursday that the amount of money spent on clean energy investment around the world hit a new record of $329-billion (U.S.) in 2015, despite the falling cost of renewable technology, a weak European economy and the steep drop in fossil fuel prices.

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