Report: Global electricity emissions set to decline this year due to solar and wind boom

These are headline findings from the Global Electricity Review, published today (8 May) by energy and climate think-tank Ember. It analyses data from the majority of the world’s nations, collectively representing more than 92% of global electricity demand.

According to the review, 30% of the world’s electricity generation in 2023 was renewable. A further 10% was nuclear.

Ember tracked a 23% increase in solar electricity generation year-on-year for 2023. More than twice as much new electricity generation was provided during the year by solar than by coal, largely due to a surge in installations in the second half of the year.

Additionally recorded is a 10% year-on-year increase in wind generation growth.

This means that wind has scaled more rapidly than any other sources of electricity generation in history, surpassing the 1,000TWh per year mark within eight years. Comparatively, this milestone took 12 years in nuclear and wind, 32 years in coal and 28 in gas.

‘A crucial turning point’

Historically, while renewable and nuclear electricity generation rates have increased, so too have rates of fossil fuel generation – largely to keep pace with increasing electricity demand.

Ember did record an 0.8% increase in fossil fuel generation in 2023 and foresees a boom in demand in the coming years to account for emerging electrified technologies such as electric vehicles, heat pumps and hydrogen production facilities.

Growth in data centres to account for the digital revolution, plus the addition of more air conditioning and cooling, will also increase global electricity demand.

Nonetheless, Ember’s analysts believe that “a new era” of “permanent” decline in power sector emissions is likely to begin in 2024. This would be a “major turning point”.

The analysts note that half of the world’s economies have already passed peak electricity generation from fossil fuels. Most other economies will likely turn to cleaner options as they decrease in costs, and as governments and investors seek to make good on their climate commitments.

The pace of the decline in emissions from power will be shaped by decisions made by world leaders, Ember notes, with current plans not aligned with the Paris Agreement’s 1.5C trajectory.

The UN’s most recent annual climate summit saw hundreds of nations rallying behind a global ambition to treble the world’s renewable generation capacity and double the annual rate of energy efficiency improvements by 2030. This top-line pledge must now be built out with appropriate supporting policies tackling issues such as supply chain constraints, planning and permitting hurdles and grid connection delays.

Ember’s global insights programme director Dave Jones said: “There’s an unprecedented opportunity for countries that choose to be at the forefront of the clean energy future.

“Expanding clean electricity not only helps to decarbonise the power sector. It also provides the step up in supply needed to electrify the whole economy; and that’s the real game-changer for the climate.”

Last week, a separate analysis from Wood McKenzie warned that a five-year delay to the global energy transition away from fossil fuels could result in the global average temperature rising to 3C above pre-industrial levels. This level of delay is not unthinkable, with some world leaders retreating from green spending amid economic downturn and some nations pausing or watering down action against a backdrop of elections.

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