Wind and Solar Hit a Record 12% of Global Electricity in 2022

According to a new report from London-based independent energy think tank Ember, the decarbonisation of the power sector is well underway. Ember says record growth in wind and solar drove the emissions intensity of the world’s electricity to its lowest-ever level in 2022.

As soon as 2023, Ember said wind and solar could push the world into a new era of falling fossil generation, and therefore of falling power sector emissions.

New data from the think tank shows the carbon intensity of global electricity generation fell to a record low of 436 gCO2/kWh in 2022, representing the cleanest-ever supply of electricity.

This was due to record growth in wind and solar, which reached a 12% share in the global electricity mix, up from 10% in 2021. Together, all clean electricity sources (renewables and nuclear) reached 39% of global electricity, a new record high.

Solar generation rose by 24%, making it the fastest-growing electricity source for 18 years in a row; while wind generation grew by 17%.

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 sixty countries now generate more than 10% of their electricity from wind and solar. However, other sources of clean electricity dropped for the first time since 2011 due to a fall in nuclear output and fewer new nuclear and hydro plants coming online.

Coal Increase Constrained

Meanwhile, coal generation increased by 1.1%, in line with average growth in the last decade. The ‘coal power phasedown’ agreed upon at COP26 in 2021 may not have begun in 2022, but also the energy crisis didn’t lead to a major increase in coal burning as many feared.

Gas power generation also fell marginally (-0.2%) in 2022–for the second time in three years–in the wake of high gas prices globally, Ember said. Gas-to-coal switching was limited in 2022 because gas was already mostly more expensive than coal in 2021.

Only 31 GW of new gas power plants were built in 2022, the lowest in 18 years. But 2022 saw the lowest number of coal plant closures in seven years, as countries look to maintain backup capacity, even as the transition picks up speed.

Małgorzata Wiatros-Motyka Senior Electricity Analyst, Ember said 2022 will be remembered as a turning point in the world’s transition to clean power. Citing Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Wiatros-Motyka said the action made many governments rethink their plans amid spiking fossil fuel prices and security concerns about relying on fossil fuel imports.

It also accelerated electrification: more heat pumps, more electric vehicles, and more electrolysers. These in turn will drive reductions in emissions for other sectors and will apply pressure to build clean power at a quicker pace.