Half of the world’s economies are already five years past a peak in fossil-fuelled power generation, with the majority of that output displaced by clean electricity, concludes a new analysis released this morning by London, UK-based energy think tank Ember.
“Not many people realize just how many countries’ power sectors are already well into a phase of fossil decline,” said Ember’s head of data insights, Dave Jones. “For many countries, this was done simultaneously to rising electricity demand.”
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Out of a dataset of electricity figures from 215 countries, 107 economies accounting for 38% of global electricity demand are at least five years past peak fossil power, with emissions falling 20% in the last decade, Ember found.
And “economies that are at least one year past a peak in fossil power represent 50% of global demand, setting the stage for a peak and subsequent decline in global power sector emissions.”
Some 78 of these economies have displaced fossil fuels from their power sectors through clean electricity growth in the years since a post-2000 fossil power high, Ember said in a release. “As many as 45 of them did so despite an increase in overall electricity generation, in most cases driven by an increase in electricity demand.”
Ember’s findings follow previous analyses predicting either that power sector emissions would structurally fall in 2023 for the first time, or would plateau if adverse hydropower conditions required additional fossil fuel use. With data for the year still accumulating, The results so far are too close to make a final call about 2023, but Ember expects 2024 to start a new era of falling power sector emissions.
The shift towards renewables is gaining momentum in the power sector. A decade ago, utilities in the United States balked at former president Barack Obama’s clean power regulations, but now nearly all the country’s large utilities are aiming for net-zero by 2050, writes Canary Media.
And “A growing subset of the industry isn’t waiting a couple of decades to act: They’re pushing for 80% carbon reductions by 2030.”
Canary Media says 25 utilities have entered the “2030 Club”—a Smart Electric Power Alliance (SEPA) initiative to recognize utilities that have set voluntary carbon-cutting goals that exceed the state mandates that govern them. The initiative helps “explore the characteristics that enabled these utilities to become early adopters and innovators in the utility carbon reduction arena,” says SEPA. It also provides benchmarking and best practices for utilities that are preparing to meet their own carbon reduction targets.
2030 Club members include some of the largest utility parent companies in the U.S., as well as small municipal and co-op utilities across the country—even from states where climate policies are less ambitious. Their carbon reduction strategies range from behind-the-meter customer programs to deploying energy storage and grid modernization technologies.
“There’s leadership being demonstrated across these ownership profiles, across geographies, across operational characteristics,” said Lakin Garth, SEPA’s director of emerging technologies. “If we can show that it’s happening across the country—red state, blue state, green state—that’s important.”
The list owes an “intellectual debt” to club member Xcel Energy, Canary Media says. The utility has moved forward with ambitious emissions reductions since 2018, and recently filed plans for achieving its net-zero goals at its Colorado facility. “It’s a proposal for state regulators to sign off on, but it also reads like a blueprint for other utilities looking to decarbonize fast,” writers senior reporter Julian Spector.
Xcel wants to stop burning coal by 2030 and help coal plant communities make the transition to other forms of employment. It also wants to double renewable generation in the system with added wind, solar, and grid storage. The price tag for all that is about US$15 billion, with $10 billion coming from incentives under the Biden administration’s Inflation Reduction Act, Xcel says.
Other 2030 Club members have different approaches, with wire utilities focusing on preparing their grids—for an influx of renewables and for heightened demand. Some utilities are helping customers manage that demand through improved efficiencies and demand response from virtual power plants.
With these 25 U.S. utilities showing that grid transformation can be accomplished in a short time, Canary Media says the list “leaves room for hundreds of other utilities that could pick up their pace.”