Renewables are finally becoming a globally significant source of power, according to a United Nations Environment Programme report released in March by Frankfurt School UNEP Centre and Bloomberg New Energy Finance.

Driven by rapid expansion in developing countries, new installations of carbon-free renewable power plants in 2014 surpassed 100,000 megawatts of capacity for the first time, according to the Global Trends in Renewable Energy Investment report. It appears that renewable energy is now entering the market at a scale that is relevant in energy industry terms – and at a price that is competitive with fossil fuels.

The numbers are compelling. Renewables such as wind, solar and biomass generated an estimated 9.1% of the world’s electricity in 2014, up from 8.5% in 2013, according to the report. These sources made up the majority of new power capacity in Europe, and also brought electricity to new markets.

They also caught the eyes of investors: in 2014, energy investment in rose 17% over the previous year, surging to $270bn, according to the report.

Conventional wisdom meets unconventional growth

Some experts still predict that fossil fuels will supply the majority of our energy for decades to come, but the evidence strongly points in another direction. As the Global Trends report points out, the clean energy investment that funded almost half of all new power plants in 2014 came at what would, seemingly, be a very bad time for renewables. While oil prices were rapidly falling and China’s coal consumption was decreasing, both commodities were, if anything, more economically viable.

 But at the same time, renewables appear to be increasing rather than decreasing in competitiveness. For example, a large-scale solar plant in Dubai has recently bid to provide electricity at less than $0.06 per kilowatt-hour. To put this in context, this is less than what the vast majority of consumers around the world pay to keep the lights on. It’s a third of the cost of electricity in Africa. Grid parity for solar is already available in many countries; in others, it’s just around the corner.