Renewables Force Coal To New Energy Mix Low
Electricity generated by new wind and solar in 2020 helped to force a record fall in global coal power, according to analysis from think tank Ember.
Ember’s new report found this was only possible because the pandemic paused the world’s rising demand for electricity.
Since 2015, rising electricity demand has outpaced growth in clean electricity and led to an increase in fossil fuels and emissions
“As electricity demand resumes and increases, the world will need to do a lot more to ensure coal keeps falling,” said Dave Jones, Ember’s global lead.
“With coal use already rising in 2021 across China, India and the US, it’s clear the big step-up is yet to happen.”
Ember’s Global Electricity Review analyses electricity data from every country in the world to give the a view of the global electricity transition in 2020.
The pandemic paused the world’s rising demand for electricity.
The slight drop in demand (-0.1%) was the first fall since 2009, although it was smaller than the impact of the financial crisis.
Wind and solar showed resilient growth despite the pandemic, up by 15%, or 314 terawatt hours in 2020, which is more than the UK’s entire annual electricity production.
Wind and solar now supply almost a tenth of global electricity, mirrored across many G20 countries, including India (9%), China (9.5%), Japan (10%), Brazil (11%), the US (12%) and Turkey (12%).
Europe is leading the way, with Germany at 33% and the United Kingdom at 29%, giving confidence in how wind and solar can be quickly built and integrated into the electricity system, said Ember.
The growth in wind and solar helped push coal power to a record fall of 4% (-346 TWh).
Models from the International Energy Agency show that coal power must fall by 14% every year to keep the world on track for 2050 net zero emissions.
As electricity demand growth picks up again, wind and solar will need to significantly accelerate to ensure that coal continues to fall.
China has successfully increased access to electricity with per capita demand now above the UK and Italy.
Over half of the increase in demand since 2015 was met by clean sources, but 39% was met with coal. In 2020, China was the only G20 country that saw a large increase in coal generation because electricity demand increased sharply.
The four largest coal generating countries after China all saw coal power decline in 2020, including the US (-20%).
Despite the record fall in coal in 2020, power sector emissions were still around 2% higher in the pandemic year than in 2015 when the Paris Agreement was signed.
Electricity demand rose 11% (2536 TWh) since 2015, but this outpaced the increase in clean electricity generation (2107 TWh).
Jones said: “Progress is nowhere near fast enough. Despite coal’s record drop during the pandemic, it still fell short of what is needed.
“Coal power needs to collapse by 80% by 2030 to avoid dangerous levels of warming above 1.5 degrees.
“We need to build enough clean electricity to simultaneously replace coal and electrify the global economy. World leaders have yet to wake up to the enormity of the challenge.”