Wind and solar reached a record 12% of global electricity in 2022, and power sector emissions may have peaked

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  • Ember’s fourth annual Global Electricity Review provides an up-to-date 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.

The report analyses 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. Here are the highlights:

Wind and solar record growth

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.

Gas and coal

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. 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.

Paradigm shift?

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 they 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.

Link to the full report: Global-Electricity-Review-2023

Author: Bryan Groenendaal


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