Report: Renewables Generating Nearly One-Third of Global Electricity

A UK- based global research group said continued growth in wind and solar power increased power generation from renewable energy to nearly a third of worldwide electricity output last year. Ember, a think tank headquartered in London, in its “Global Electricity Review 2024” released May 8 wrote that the numbers show a goal to triple renewable energy generation capacity by the end of the decade is in reach.

The group said, “Renewables generated a record 30% of global electricity in 2023, driven by growth in solar and wind. With record construction of solar and wind in 2023, a new era of falling fossil generation is imminent.”

Ember’s fifth annual review of the global electricity market said that solar power generation capacity rose 23% last year, with wind power showing a 10% increase. Generation from fossil fuels, including coal and natural gas, rose just less than 1%. The group said electricity output from renewables would be even higher if not for persistent, years-long drought conditions in many areas that has lessened hydropower production.

The group said that four countries severely impacted by drought—China, India, Vietnam, and Mexico—accounted for 95% of the increase in coal-fired generation.

“The renewables future has arrived. Solar in particular is accelerating faster than anyone thought possible,” said Dave Jones, Global Insights Programme Director for Ember and one of the report’s authors. “The decline of power sector emissions is now inevitable. 2023 was likely the pivot point—peak emissions in the power sector—a major turning point in the history of energy.”

Ember said solar power has been the world’s fastest-growing source of energy for 19 consecutive years.

Tracking Power Sector Output and Emissions

Ember said its report “analyzes electricity data from 215 countries, including the latest 2023 data for 80 countries representing 92% of global electricity demand. The analysis also includes data for 13 geographic and economic groupings, such as Africa, Asia, the EU [European Union] and the G7 [the world’s seven largest economies].” The group said it also tracks top six countries and regions in terms of emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2), which Ember said account for more than 72% of all global power sector emissions.

Jones said “the pace of emissions falls depends on how fast the renewables revolution continues. The good news is we already know the key enablers that help countries unleash the full potential of solar and wind. There’s an unprecedented opportunity for countries that choose to be at the forefront of the clean energy future.”

The group in the executive summary of the report wrote: “The renewables revolution—led by solar and wind—is breaking records and driving ever-cleaner electricity production. The world is now at a turning point where solar and wind not only slow emissions growth, but actually start to push fossil generation into decline.”

The report continued: “Indeed, the expansion of clean capacity would have been enough to deliver a fall in global power sector emissions in 2023. However, drought caused a five-year low in hydropower, which created a shortfall that was met in large part by coal. Nonetheless, the latest forecasts give confidence that 2024 will begin a new era of falling fossil generation, marking 2023 as the likely peak of power sector emissions.”

Record Global Power Demand

The report noted that “global electricity demand rose to a record high in 2023, with an increase of 627 TWh, which is equivalent to adding the entire demand of Canada (+607 TWh). Nevertheless, the 2023 increase of 2.2% was below the average for recent years, due to a pronounced decrease in demand in OECD [Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development] countries, notably the U.S. (-1.4%) and the EU (-3.4%). In contrast, the rapid demand growth in China (+6.9%) was equivalent to the total global growth in demand in 2023. More than half of the electricity demand rise in 2023 was from five technologies: electric vehicles (EVs), heat pumps, electrolyzers, air conditioning and data centers. The spread of these technologies will accelerate the growth in electricity demand, but overall energy demand will decline as electrification is much more efficient than fossil fuels.”

Jones noted the push for electrification. “Expanding clean electricity not only helps to decarbonize the power sector. It also provides the step up in supply needed to electrify the whole economy; and that’s the real game-changer for the climate,” he said.

The report noted that absent U.S. power generation from natural gas, the amount of electricity produced from that fuel would have fallen worldwide last year. Ember said that outside the U.S., other countries generated 62 TWh less from gas-fired power plants in 2023 than in 2022. The U.S., though, with abundant natural gas—and also replacing coal-fired power plants with gas-fired units—produced an additional 115 TWh of electricity from gas in 2023.

Darrell Proctor is a senior associate editor for POWER (@POWERmagazine).

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