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Renewable Energy Sources Outperform Fossil Fuels Indicating a Shift in the Energy Landscape

A report from clean energy think tank, Ember, shows that last year, wind and solar power generated a record amount of the world’s electricity, producing 12% of global electricity, up from 10% the previous year. This development is beginning to spell the end of the fossil age and ushering in the clean power era, says Ember’s lead author, Malgorzata Wiatros-Motyka. Although coal power remained the largest source of electricity globally, producing 36% of all energy in 2022, analysts predict that this will be the peak of pollution as clean energy meets all new demands this year, with Ember’s report forecasting a slight fall in fossil generation in 2023. The fear of a return to coal during the global gas crisis did not happen, as wind and solar generation met 80% of the rise in global electricity demand last year. Coal generation rose by only 1.1%, and gas power fell by 0.2%.

The report reveals that the fastest-growing electricity source for the 18th year was solar, which rose by 24% from 2021.

It is estimated that sun-powered renewables added enough electricity to power all of South Africa. Meanwhile, wind generation soared by 17%, enough to power almost all of the UK. Clean electricity sources (renewables and nuclear) reached 39% of global electricity, with hydropower producing 15% of this new record. According to Damilola Ogunbiyi, CEO and Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General for Sustainable Energy for All, despite the impressive growth of wind and solar energy, the adoption of renewable energy across countries is uneven, with developed nations and emerging economies in Asia being disproportionately benefited.

Suppose we are to achieve economy-wide net zero by 2050. In that case, electricity must be the first sector to reach net zero by 2040, which means wind and solar hitting 41% of global electricity by 2030, as per modelling by the International Energy Agency.

The report shows that over 60 countries generate more than 10% of their energy from wind and solar. European countries such as Denmark, Lithuania, and Luxembourg are surging ahead, producing the highest proportion of wind and solar power in their electricity mix. By metric, Germany produced the most wind and solar capacity of any European country, followed by Spain and the UK. At the same time, China generated 1,241 TWh, making it the 800-pound gorilla in the global power sector. The US, India, and Japan also significantly contributed to the global solar PV capacity.

With a new era of falling fossil emissions leading to the coal power phasedown and the end of gas power growth within sight, clean electricity will reshape the global economy. However, the power sector still needs to meet net-zero targets globally by mid-century, and there is still work to be done to ensure that developing countries stay caught up in climate change and are locked into a high-carbon future.

The report from Ember offers a ray of hope in the transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy sources. The rise of wind and solar energy is leading the way to a clean power era, and this trend is set to continue.

Though renewable energy adoption has increased considerably, much still needs to be done to keep developing countries up to par and achieve economic net zero by 2050.