The world is recording tremendous growth of renewable energy in the electricity sector, but its share of total final energy consumption (TFEC) continues to increase only moderately and still isn’t making a dent in global fossil fuel consumption, according to the Renewables 2021 Global Status Report (REN21).
“We are waking up to the bitter reality that the climate policy promises over the past 10 years have mostly been empty words,” said REN21 Executive Director Rana Adib. “The share of fossil fuels in final energy consumption has not moved by an inch.”
Renewable energy sources increased their share of TFEC by just 2.5 percentage points in the past decade, REN21 finds, rising from 8.7% in 2009 to 11.2% in 2019. Over that same period, fossil fuels held steady at just over 80%, while other sources of energy declined from 11.0% to 8.7%.
“The world is burning more fossil fuels than ever,” the report notes, and the share of fossil fuels has “barely changed over one decade.” Global energy demand grew almost 20%, from 320 to 381 exajoules, and modern renewables accounted for only 25% of that growth, with the balance coming from fossils, nuclear, and traditional biomass.
(Bloomberg Green helpfully explains that “one exajoule is the equivalent to 24 million tonnes of oil equivalent, and one joule is the energy required to lift an iPhone to your ear.)
Analyzed by sector, heating and cooling accounts for 51% of consumption, but renewables contribute only 10.2% of that load. Transport consumes 32% of energy, of which renewables are 3.4%, while electric power is the smallest of the three at 17%, with renewables comprising 27.1%. “Most focus is on the power sector, but the greatest urgency is in heating and transport,” the report cautions.
“Despite the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, renewable energy set a record in new power capacity in 2020 and was the only source of electricity generation to register a net increase in total capacity,” it adds. “Investment in renewable power capacity rose, although slightly, for the third consecutive year, and corporations continued to break records for sourcing renewable electricity.”
But the report shows an alarming gap between targets and actions in the pursuit of low-carbon energy, noting that 15 countries of the G20 do not have a 2020 target for renewable energy in all sectors. “A good way to accelerate development is to make the uptake of renewable energy a key performance indicator for every economic activity, every budget and every single purchase.”
Although the COVID pandemic could have been a gamechanger in the global energy transition, most countries have recovery packages that will provide six times more investment to fossil fuels than to renewables, and this year’s report raises a fundamental question: what is holding the world back from using the COVID crisis as an opportunity for transformation?
“Shifting to renewable energy is not only necessary and possible, but it also makes business sense,” it states. “Fossil fuels are responsible for climate change, and also heavily contribute to biodiversity loss and pollution. Shifting from fossil fuels to renewable energy is a necessary step to take, and making renewables the norm is not a question of technology or costs.”
The report ranks countries on 13 measures for power capacity and heat. China scored first in eight of those measures, and the United States showed up next, with two first-place and five second-place rankings.
REN21 says its Renewable Global Status Report is the world’s only crowdsourced report on renewable energy, with input from 200 experts from around the world.