Wind and solar energy are helping to replace coal-fired power generation, but with the rapidly increasing demand for electricity … [+] worldwide, green energy will have to grow much faster to cope with the climate change.
Wind and solar energy generation has doubled from 2015 to 2020 and now accounts for about a tenth of global electricity generation. But the use of coal, the most polluting of all fossil fuels, fell less than 1% during that period in real terms, a new report shows.
Crucially, the world consumed more fossil fuels in 2020 than it did in 2015, the year of the Paris Agreement on climate change, according to Ember’s think tank, ‘Global Electricity Review 2021,’ released today.
The bottom line: the world is not moving away from fossil fuels anywhere near fast enough.
The Ember review, which is increasingly viewed among the climate research community as a bellwether on the direction of electricity generation in the world, offers both good and bad news about progress on electricity decarbonisation, the highest priority. by the international community on reducing greenhouse gas emissions. causing climate change.
From 2019 to 2020, the review shows, the world delivered an additional 315 terawatt hours (TWh) of online renewable generation – more electricity than the United States as a whole – while generation fell by 346 TWh coal. This corresponds to the year-on-year increase in renewable generation of 15%, while the global coal market share of electricity generation fell 3.9% to 33.8% of the total.
But, Ember found, the change was largely due to a temporary decline in electricity demand caused by the coronavirus pandemic. In the long run, since 2015, global electricity demand has increased by a staggering 2,536 TWh, or 11%. China ‘s most populous nation, China, has seen its electricity demand increase by 1,880 TWh – more than the total demand of most countries, including India, the world’ s second most populous nation. In absolute terms this meant that global coal generation fell by just 0.8%, while the use of other fossil fuels, such as fossil gas, increased.
Chart showing the global decline in coal power generation and the rise in renewable energy generation … [+] for the period 2019-2020.
Dave Jones, author of the review and global leader of Ember, said there was one clear message in the 2020 results: world leaders need to act faster.
“The urgency is great,” Jones told Forbes.com. “Even with a global pandemic, coal generation fell by only 4% and gas generation remained unchanged.”
Referring to the Paris Agreement’s goal of keeping global temperature rise within 2 degrees Celsius of this century, Jones said: “Coal generation is 30% of CO2 emissions, and coal must fall apart in this decade or else we are not going to limit temperatures to 2 degrees, let alone 1.5 degrees. So far it is clear that we are not on that path. “
A key takeaway from the research, Jones pointed out, is that installing renewable energy generation is not enough to fight climate change. To do this, nations have had to stop burning fossil fuels.
“World leaders are willing to build green things, which is great,” he said. “But they also need to focus on the gradual eradication of the brown materials – not just the coal-fired power plants, but also the gas-fired power plants – which are creating the problems we have today.”
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The review suggests that China was the only country to have added significant coal-fired power generation in the five-year period – about 77 TWh – adding to concerns that it could be more difficult for the Eastern giant. Asia to decarbonise its power sector in time for its 2060 net zero carbon target.
Indeed, while UN Secretary-General António Guterres called on all governments to stop approving new coal-fired power plants by 2020, China, in its recently issued 14th Five-Year Plan, indicated that it could Build an additional 100- gigawatts of new coal capacity by 2025.
“Despite some progress, China is still struggling to curb its coal generation growth,” said Muyi Yang, senior analyst for Ember. “Demand for electricity is increasing rapidly as power and coal emissions rise. More sustainable demand growth will enable China to eliminate its large coal fleet, especially the least efficient sub-critical coal units, and provide more opportunities for the country to achieve its climate aspirations. “
In Europe, Germany and the United States have stood out as pioneers of renewable energy, generating 33% and 28% of their electricity respectively from wind and solar. Ember described the two nations as an “innovation bed” on green energy, “showing how to successfully integrate huge amounts of intermittent wind and solar into the wider electricity system.” However, across the EU, fossil fuels account for around 37% of electricity generation.
Among G20 nations, five received more than 75% of their electricity from fossil fuels in 2020. These were: Saudi Arabia, with 100% of electricity coming from oil; South Africa, with 89% of electricity from fossil fuels and 86% ideal from coal; Indonesia (83%); Mexico (75%); and Australia (75%), where voices in the country’s power mining lobby made the extraordinary claim, without providing evidence, that “coal can reduce global emissions.”
Of the G20 countries, France received the smallest fraction – less than 10% – of its energy from fossil fuels, and just 1% from coal, but generated 67% from nuclear power.
Jones said the pace of renewable growth since 2015 has shown that wind and sun may be able to replace fossil fuels – if governments act fast enough.
“In 2020, [wind and sun] caused the biggest drop in the world’s coal usage,” he said. However, “coal power must fall by 80% by 2030 to avoid dangerous levels of heating above 1.5 degrees. We need to build enough clean electricity to replace coal at the same time and electrify the global economy. World leaders have not yet awakened to the enormity of the challenge. “