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

A new report from independent energy think tank Ember has provided an overview of changes in global electricity generation in 2022 and a realistic summary of how “on track” the electricity transition is for limiting global heating to 1.5 degrees.

Ember’s fourth annual Global Electricity Review analysed electricity data from 78 countries representing 93% of global electricity demand and includes estimated changes in the remaining generation.

It also dives deeper into the top ten CO2 emitting countries and regions, accounting for over 80% of global CO2 emissions and says as soon as 2023, wind and solar could push the world into a new era of falling fossil generation, and therefore of falling power sector emissions.

Ember says the global electricity sector is the first sector that needs to be decarbonised, in parallel with electricity demand rising, as electrification unlocks emissions cuts throughout the entire economy.

The London-based think tank points out that the IEA Net Zero Emissions scenario points to a 2040 net zero power sector; ten years ahead of a net zero economy in 2050. Therefore Ember says tracking the electricity transition is critical to assess climate progress.

The report claims decarbonisation of the power sector is underway, as record growth in wind and solar drove the emissions intensity of the world’s electricity to its lowest-ever level in 2022.

Electricity at its Cleanest

The carbon intensity of global electricity generation fell to a record low of 436 gCO2/kWh in 2022, the cleanest-ever 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; 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.

Limited Coal Increase While Gas Plateaus

Power sector emissions rose in 2022 (+1.3%), reaching an all-time high. Electricity is cleaner than ever, but we are using more of it Ember says.

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

Gas power generation fell marginally (-0.2%) in 2022–for the second time in three years–in the wake of high gas prices globally. 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 back-up capacity, even as the transition picks up speed.

2022 Might See Peak Power Emissions

Wind and solar are slowing the rise in power sector emissions. If all the electricity from wind and solar instead came from fossil generation, power sector emissions would have been 20% higher in 2022.

The growth alone in wind and solar generation (+557 TWh) met 80% of global electricity demand growth in 2022 (+694 TWh). Clean power growth is likely to exceed electricity demand growth in 2023; this would be the first year for this to happen outside of a recession.

With average growth in electricity demand and clean power, we forecast that 2023 will see a small fall in fossil generation (-47 TWh, -0.3%), with bigger falls in subsequent years as wind and solar grow further. That would mean 2022 hit “peak” emissions. A new era of falling power sector emissions is close.

#solar decarbonisation #windpower

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