Report: Global power sector emissions plateau due to hydro setbacks

Pictured: The Englebright Dam, California

This is according to Ember’s ‘Global Electricity Mid-Year Insights’ report. The organisation analysed monthly electricity data from 78 countries representing 92% of global electricity demand.

According to the report, wind and solar energy sources collectively increased their global electricity share to 14.3% in the first half of 2023, up from 12.8% the previous year, although their growth rates slowed.

Wind grew by 10% (compared to 16% in 2022), while solar expanded by 16% (compared to 26% in 2022) during the same period.

Concurrently, hydro generation dropped significantly by 8.5% due to droughts. China alone contributed to nearly three-quarters of this global decline. Fossil generation saw a slight increase to compensate for the hydro deficit.

The report notes that if global hydro generation had remained at last year’s levels, power sector emissions would have decreased by 2.9%.

Ember’s senior electricity analyst Malgorzata Wiatros-Motyka said: “It’s still hanging in the balance if 2023 will see a fall in power sector emissions.

“While it is encouraging to see the remarkable growth of wind and solar energy, we can’t ignore the stark reality of adverse hydro conditions intensified by climate change.”

In the International Energy Agency’s (IEA) pathway to net-zero emissions by 2050, hydro generation should have increased by 4% annually from 2021 to 2030. However, this target was not met in 2021 (-2.2%), 2022 (+1.3%), or 2023 first half (-8.5%).

Tripling global renewable capacity by 2030

The report emphasises that when hydro generation falls short of expectations, it creates an electricity deficit that must be compensated for by new low-carbon sources like wind and solar.

It suggests that, to achieve significant reductions in fossil generation and emissions, wind and solar must grow rapidly enough to overcome output uncertainties from other clean sources while also satisfying increasing electricity demand.

Global Renewables Alliance’s chief executive officer Bruce Douglas said: “The message is simple: tripling renewable energy capacity by 2030 is the clear route to reducing emissions from the power sector, along with building a new energy system that delivers clean, secure and just power to the world.

“COP28 is the time for the world to rise to that challenge and deliver a clear target of tripling renewable capacity by the end of the decade and set the world on the course for net-zero by 2050.”

The 2030 renewables target has been advocated for by the IEA and supported by members of the G20.

Earlier this month, COP28 president-designate Dr. Sultan Al Jaber urged the fossil fuel industry to rally around ambitious decarbonisation targets as part of the COP28 Presidency’s Action Agenda, in a bid to accelerate energy transition and keep 1.5C attainable.

COP28 will be hosted in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) from 30 November and will run for two weeks.

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