Record growth in wind and solar last year pushed worldwide electricity generation to its cleanest-ever level, a report found, reflecting a renewable energy boom that researchers say could herald the “beginning of the end of the fossil age.”
The analysis published Wednesday by independent climate think tank Ember found that 12% of the world’s power came from solar and wind in 2022, up from 10% of global electricity generation in 2021.
Solar was the fastest-growing source of electricity for the 18th consecutive year, the report said, rising by 24% year-on-year and adding enough power to meet the annual electricity demand of South Africa.
The report found that the increase in wind generation, which added 17% in 2022, could have powered almost all of the U.K.
“We are entering the clean power era,” said Małgorzata Wiatros-Motyka, senior electricity analyst at Ember and lead author of the research. “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.”
‘Much more needs to be done’
Researchers said that the analysis — which was based on electricity data from 78 countries last year and represents 93% of global power demand — provides the first accurate picture of the electricity transition in 2022.
It shows that more than 60 countries now generate over 10% of their electricity from wind and solar.
Renewables and nuclear sources were collectively found to have accounted for 39% of global electricity generation in 2022 — in a new record high.
Despite this progress, researchers said that the dramatic build-out of wind and solar was still not fast enough to fulfil all of the world’s increasing electricity needs. Consequently, the report noted that coal and other fossil fuels 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 last year, producing 36% of global power.
Burning fossil fuels, such as coal, oil and gas, is the chief driver of the climate emergency.
“Much more needs to be done to ensure that developing countries are not left behind and locked into high carbon futures,” said Damilola Ogunbiyi, CEO and special representative of the U.N. Secretary-General for Sustainable Energy for All.
Ogunbiyi said 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.”
Have power sector emissions peaked?
The Ember report said that 2022 may come to mark 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.
The International Energy Agency said last year that the electricity sector needs to move from being the highest-emitting sector to being the first sector to reach net zero by 2040 — if the global economy is to decarbonize by the middle of the century.
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, described China as “the 800-pound gorilla when it comes to the global power sector.”
“This is not only because of China’s sheer scale, but also a concerning trend of its electricity sector development. China has no doubt been leading global renewable energy expansion. But at the same time, the country is accelerating coal project approval,” Li said.
“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.”