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Global summits plan climate change action and clean energy thrives as fossil fuels dive

An artist’s impression of the Gigafactory in the US which will produce batteries for Tesla and Panasonic.

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According to new Berkeley Earth analysis, 2015 was “unambiguously the hottest year on record”. The UK Met Office, Nasa and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration agree and warn that the record-breaking heat shows global warming is driving the world’s climate into “uncharted territory”.

The global energy transition has begun with renewables, clean technology and green finance sectors set to receive at least $16.5tr of investment as countries embark on climate plans agreed in Paris, according to ratings agency Standard & Poor’s. Delivering on the Paris climate agreement is high on the agenda this week at two global conferences. The World Economic Forum (WEF) is being hosted in Davos, Switzerland. Ahead of the meeting, a survey of almost 750 experts revealed a failure of climate change mitigation and adaptation was the risk with the greatest potential impact in 2016. Abu Dhabi is hosting the World Future Energy Summit as part of its Sustainability Week. Christiana Figueres, one of the key players in Paris, talks to CleanTechnica about the climate action that countries need to be taking.

Oil prices plummeted on Wednesday. Crude fell below $27 a barrel, the lowest price since May 2003 and a far cry from the $100 a barrel it fetched in the summer of 2014. International sanctions on Iran are about to be relaxed but it may have trouble unloading its oil reserves of 38 million barrels onto a depressed global market, reports the Washington Post. Reuters reports China's coal production fell 3.5 percent in 2015 as waning demand and a drive by authorities to curb fossil fuel use forced many firms to cut back operations.

Bloomberg reports that despite last year’s slump in oil prices, which brought upheaval and cost-cutting to the traditional energy industry, renewables such as solar and wind, raked in a record $329.3 billion of investment. The multinational agency IRENA has just announced a new $46 million round of new funding for renewable energy projects that either replace existing diesel generators, or provide clean electricity to off grid communities that previously had none at all.

In 2015 the US solar industry added jobs twelve times faster than the rest of the economy, even more than the jobs created by the oil and gas extraction and pipeline sectors combined. And 2015 was a strong year for emerging solar in markets in Latin America and Africa. There is a major drive by India to increase its solar capacity. The country’s energy minister says there are signs that solar power is now cheaper than coal power. One of the world’s largest concentrating solar power plants, in Abu Dhabi, is two years old and beating all expectations. Thousands of homes in Tanzania, that have never had reliable access to the country’s electricity grid, are hooking up to solar systems every month.

Almost one-third of Germany’s electricity demand last year was delivered by renewable energy, with onshore wind and solar PV leading the charge. Denmark produced 42% of its electricity from wind turbines last year, the highest figure yet recorded worldwide.

The future of the Tiwai Point aluminium smelter, which uses 13 percent of all the electricity generated in NZ, appears to have become a little more secure, but maybe in a scaled down version.

Panasonic has tapped into Tesla's electric dream and is investing $1.6 billion in the Gigafactory, in the US state of Nevada, which is due to start production of lithium-ion batteries later this year. The UK has one of the fastest growing ultra-low emission vehicle markets in the world sales hit a record in 2015. NZ 100% renewable electricity provider, Ecotricity, says that in the face of dropping oil prices the number of electric vehicles in NZ has quadrupled in two years and it expects that trend to increase. The first step in the network of EV charging stations around the entire Coromandel has been completed with an installation at Kopu.

Solar powered 3D printers are allowing communities in developing nations to set up “backyard factories”. A solar-powered soccer pitch in Lagos also uses kinetic energy generated by footballers playing. A spacecraft called Juno has been on a mission since 2011 to visit Jupiter. While it won’t arrive there until the middle of this year it has already made history by becoming the spacecraft to travel farthest from Earth using solar energy.