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Renewables supply 30 per cent of global electricity for the first time

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Renewables supply 30 per cent of global electricity for the first time

The rapid growth of solar power in China has changed the world’s electricity mix

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Renewables generated a record share of global electricity in 2023 thanks to the rapid growth of wind and solar power. The year marked a turning point in the transition to low-carbon energy, according to think tank Ember, with coal and gas power on the cusp of a long-term decline.

Green electricity jumped from 29.4 per cent of total generation in 2022 to 30.3 per cent last year, a new high. This was driven by the rapid rollout of wind and solar power, particularly in China. Hydropower and other renewables, such as bioenergy, made up the remainder of renewable generation.

Solar is by far the fastest-growing electricity source, increasing its share of generation from 4.6 per cent in 2022 to 5.5 per cent in 2023. That is the continuation of a long-running trend; since 2000, wind and solar power have gone from generating just 0.2 per cent of global electricity to a record 13.4 per cent today.

The share generated by fossil fuels fell from 61.4 per cent in 2022 to 60.6 per cent in 2023, but the amount of electricity produced by these fuels rose slightly because of a 2.2 per cent hike in overall energy demand, mostly in China. Nuclear provided 9.1 per cent of electricity, the same as in 2022.

A further surge in wind and solar deployment means that, in absolute terms, fossil fuel generation should fall in 2024 – for the first time outside economic crises or pandemics – even as demand for electricity grows, says Ember’s Hannah Broadbent.

“We really think that 2023 was a major turning point in the history of energy,” she says. “Not only did renewables reach this historic milestone, we also believe that it will be the peak of fossil generation as well. We expect from this year that fossil generation will start to decline at a global level.”

Fossil fuel generation would have declined in absolute terms in 2023, says Broadbent, but severe droughts in China, India, Vietnam and Mexico curtailed hydropower. Coal plants stepped in to fill the gap, leading to a 1 per cent increase in power sector emissions.

Assuming a partial return to normality for hydropower in 2024, Ember says it expects emissions from electricity generation to fall by 4 per cent in 2024, the start of a long-term decline for fossil fuels in the mix.

However, green electricity deployment must increase even more rapidly over the coming years to meet the world’s climate goals. Models suggest wind and solar must deliver 40 per cent of global electricity generation by the end of the decade, around triple its current contribution, in order to meet the target of stopping global warming exceeding 1.5°C.

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