The world saw record growth in wind and solar power last year, according to a report from independent climate think tank Ember. This helped push global electricity generation to its cleanest level ever, indicating a renewable energy boom that could mark the beginning of the end for fossil fuels. The report found that solar was the fastest-growing source of electricity for the 18th consecutive year, growing by 24% year-on-year and adding enough power to meet South Africa’s annual electricity demand. Wind generation also saw a significant increase of 17% in 2022, which could have powered almost all of the UK.
Ember’s senior electricity analyst, Małgorzata Wiatros-Motyka, said that we are now entering the clean power era. “The stage is set for wind and solar to achieve a meteoric rise to the top. Clean electricity will reshape the global economy, from transport to industry and beyond.” Wiatros-Motyka added, “A new era of falling fossil emissions means the coal power phasedown will happen, and the end of gas power growth is now within sight.”
The analysis was based on electricity data from 78 countries in 2022 and represents 93% of global power demand. More than 60 countries now generate over 10% of their electricity from wind and solar, with renewables and nuclear sources collectively accounting for 39% of global electricity generation in 2022 – a new record high. However, despite this progress, Ember researchers cautioned that the dramatic build-out of wind and solar was still not fast enough to meet all of the world’s increasing electricity needs. Coal and other fossil fuels still met the remaining gap, driving up emissions to a new record high. Coal, the world’s dirtiest fossil fuel, was found to be the single largest source of electricity worldwide in 2022, producing 36% of global power.
Damilola Ogunbiyi, CEO and special representative of the UN Secretary-General for Sustainable Energy for All, said that much more needs to be done to ensure that developing countries are not left behind and locked into high-carbon futures. Ogunbiyi stated that the fact that coal power remained the single largest source of electricity worldwide last year reaffirmed the point that the power sector is off track to meet net-zero targets. “The deployment of wind and solar needs to be massively and urgently accelerated.”
The Ember report suggested that 2022 may have marked the peak of electricity emissions and the final year of fossil power growth, with clean power set to meet all demand growth in 2023. Analysts projected a 0.3% dip in fossil generation this year, with steeper falls expected in subsequent years as wind and solar deployment accelerate. For this to happen, analysts at Ember said, wind and solar must account for 41% of the global power mix by 2030 – a sharp rise from the 12% observed in 2022.
Li Shuo, senior policy advisor at Greenpeace East Asia, said that China was “the 800-pound gorilla when it comes to the global power sector”. China’s electricity sector development is a concerning trend, as the country is accelerating coal project approval. This won’t carry the country far to truly decarbonize. Rapid power sector reforms are needed to put the country back to the carbon neutrality vision it has set for itself.
In conclusion, the Ember report highlights the progress made in clean energy but also the urgent need to accelerate the deployment of wind and solar to meet the increasing global electricity demand. The report suggests that the clean power era is just beginning, with wind and solar set to achieve a meteoric rise to the top of the global energy mix. However, much more needs to be done to ensure that developing countries are not left behind in the