In a first-of-its-kind positive developments, a recent report has highlighted how significant strides have been made in the transition towards a sustainable and decarbonised energy system. The world will likely use fewer fossil fuels to produce electricity this year in a “turning point” for planet-friendly energy, the report says.
Over the years, more and more people are choosing renewable energy as an alternative to fossil fuels. It would be the first ever annual drop in the use of coal, oil and gas to generate electricity, outside of a global recession or pandemic. The report presents a promising outlook for achieving the critical milestone of peak emissions from the power sector, in this coming year.
As per the report, wind and solar reached a record 12% of global electricity in 2022. The carbon intensity of global electricity generation fell to a record low, making it the cleanest-ever electricity. This was due to record growth in wind and solar. The increase in global solar generation in 2022 could have met the annual electricity demand of South Africa, and the rise in wind generation could have powered almost all of the UK. Over 60 countries now generate more than 10% of their electricity from wind and solar, states the report.
The Russia-Ukraine war also played a major role in the world’s transition towards a clean source of energy. There was a huge dip in the supply, which resulted in soaring prices of fossil fuels. This forced governments around the world to rethink and look for alternative energy resources. It also accelerated electrification: more heat pumps, more electric vehicles, more electrolysers. These will drive reductions in emissions for other sectors, and will put more pressure to build clean power more quickly.
According to the report, by 2030, wind and solar need to have increased to 41% of global electricity generation, up from 10% in 2021. Coal generation needs to fall by 54% and gas generation by 24%. At the same time, electricity demand will rise dramatically, by an average of 3.7% per year from 2021 to 2030, as electrification picks up pace. And by 2040, the power sector needs to be net zero: to achieve this unabated coal power must be phased out globally, and unabated gas will only provide only 0.3% of global electricity.
This also comes handy for developing countries, investment in clean sources will play a crucial role in meeting rising electricity demand, which is expanding as the world’s population grows and countries increase standards of living. As per global data, one in 10 people still do not have access to electricity, mostly across Sub-Saharan Africa and Asia. Moving away from fossil fuels and heading towards clean power will provide multiple benefits to health, the economy and climate, while increasing access to affordable energy as recommended by the United Nations in Sustainable Development Goal.
While 2022 may be seen as the turning point, the impacts of the policy developments on clean electricity agreed throughout the year won’t be felt for a while. The change that we have witnessed so far in clean power and in electrification is therefore only the tip of the iceberg.
Wind and solar are the new energy superpowers. They are pushing us towards a new era of falling fossil generation, which will mean not only a phasedown of coal power but also of gas power. But we’re not there yet. Keeping global heating to 1.5 degrees means delivering on the huge expectations set for wind and solar, and picking up speed on other clean electricity sources (including nuclear and hydro) that are currently being built too slowly.
There remains much work to be done to achieve the rapid falls in power sector emissions needed this decade, says the report.