Sustaining the current 20% compound annual growth rate of solar and wind out to 2030 will keep hopes of limiting global heating to 1.5°C very much alive, says the UK-based non-profit Ember in its third annual global electricity review.
But that depends on policies and investment that can keep up an annual growth in both technologies that amounts to a doubling every 3½ years, or a quadrupling over the next seven.
“Wind and solar have arrived,” said David Jones, lead author of Ember’s review. “The process that will reshape the existing energy system has begun.”
The share of wind and solar in the world’s electricity production has exceeded 10% for the first time, writes RenewEconomy, citing the report, and the two renewables are poised for further, rapid growth.
“Even as coal and power emissions hit another all-time high, there are clear signs that the global electricity transition is well under way,” Jones stated. “More wind and solar is being added to grids than ever. And not just in a few countries, but across the world. They are able—and expected—to provide the majority of clean electricity needed to phase out all fossil fuels, at the same time helping to increase energy security.”
Solar generation rose by 23% last year, and wind by 14%, taking their combined output to 10.3% of global electricity generation. That’s up from 9.3% a year earlier, and double the 4.6% in 2015, when the Paris climate treaty was agreed, Jones said.
Fifty countries have crossed the 10% wind and solar landmark, with seven new countries in 2021 alone: China, Japan, Mongolia, Vietnam, Argentina, Hungary, and El Salvador.
Hydropower made up around 15% of the globe’s clean power mix, falling 2% on drier conditions, while nuclear made up roughly 10%, increasing 4% as reactors in France and Japan came back online and new reactors switched on in China and Russia.
To keep to the target of net-zero by 2050, “solar generation needs to rise seven-fold by 2030, taking it from 4% of global electricity in 2021 to 19% by 2030,” Ember found. The report labelled African countries and Middle Eastern countries as solar “laggards”, with only 1% and 2% respectively of global solar generation coming from those regions. Australia emerges as a “leader” with 12% and “the highest proportion of its electricity from solar of any major country in the world.”
Vietnam saw the biggest rise, from 2% solar in 2020 to 10% in 2021, though “more upfront planning would have helped, to strengthen the grid and add sufficient interconnection, alongside flexible demand and storage capacity,” the report found.
For wind to be on target, generation “needs to rise four-fold by 2030, taking it from 7% of global electricity in 2021 to 21% by 2030,” Ember stated. “That means maintaining year-on-year growth of 18%; growth last year was 14%, and averaged 15% over the last 10 years.”
China is the current leader in wind generation, with 65% of the sector’s growth last year.
Jones told Reuters governments will have to solve the problems slowing deployment if they want to supercharge renewable energy growth, citing on-the-ground constraints like permitting as the main obstacle.
At the same time, coal experienced its fastest growth since “at least 1985” as pandemic recovery saw demand surge—especially in China and India—resulting in it claiming a whopping 36% of the world’s power mix last year, the Ember report found.
The high price of natural gas contributed immediately to coal’s rise in the mix, but so too did the fact that solar and wind weren’t ready to step up when demand surged, wrote Jones. As gas prices soar during Russia’s war in Ukraine, “there is a real risk of relapse into coal, threatening the global 1.5°C climate goal,” he said.
“Clean electricity now needs to be built on a heroic scale,” Jones added.
“Leaders are only just waking up to the challenge of how quickly they need to move to 100% clean electricity.”
The International Energy Agency’s 1.5°C pathway projects global electricity demand rising 38% from 2020 to 2030, as the world economy grows and electrification reduces fuel use in other sectors. But that could be offset by a massive improvement in efficiency. “The large rise in electricity demand in 2021 suggests the world is still not learning to use electricity as efficiently as it needs to,” Ember said.