Wind and solar, the fastest-growing sources of electricity, reached a record 10% of global electricity in 50 countries in 2021, according to a report released today by independent energy think tank Ember. Overall, clean sources generated 38% of the world’s electricity in 2021, beating coal, at 36%.

Unprecedented solar and wind growth

If the 10-year average compound growth rate of 20% can be maintained to 2030, solar and wind could grow enough to limit global warming to 1.5C, reports Ember’s third annual “Global Electricity Review.” The report covers electricity generation for 209 countries from 2000 to 2020, with the latest data for 2021 for 75 countries representing 93% of global power demand.

Globally, the share of wind and solar has doubled since 2015 when the Paris Agreement was signed.

Fifty countries generated more than one-tenth of their electricity from wind and solar in 2021, including all five of the world’s largest economies – the US, China, Japan, Germany, and the UK.

Seven new countries passed the landmark for the first time in 2021: China, Japan, Mongolia, Vietnam, Argentina, Hungary, and El Salvador.

The Netherlands, Australia, and Vietnam have adopted wind and solar the fastest, with around one-tenth of electricity demand switching from fossil fuels to wind and solar in the last two years. Ten countries generated more than 25% of their electricity from wind and solar in 2021, led by Denmark, Luxembourg, and Uruguay at 52%, 43%, and 47%, respectively.

Ember’s global lead Dave Jones said:

We’re getting closer to that break-even where wind and solar can cover new electricity demand, but we are still not quite there. If we maintain those growth rates we see, we will be there shortly.

Coal also made a comeback

However, electricity demand has rebounded to the largest-ever annual increase in 2021 (+1,414 TWh), the equivalent of adding a new India to the world’s electricity demand. And that’s driven up use of fossil fuels, particularly coal.

In 2021, coal power saw the fastest growth since at least 1985 (+9%), rising to a new all-time high of 10,042 TWh. The record rise in coal was not matched by global gas generation, which increased by only 1% in 2021. The increase in fossil fuels pushed global power sector emissions to an all-time high, beating the previous record in 2018 by 3%. 

It’s also noteworthy that despite net zero by 2050 promises, no oil major has emissions reduction targets for 2030 in line with the Paris Agreement, concludes ClimateAction100+, the world’s largest alliance of investors, in their Net Zero Company Benchmark released today.

Electrek’s Take

This hopeful report demonstrates that we are at an inflection point with both renewables and fossil fuels. Countries must surge ahead with renewables, thus shedding the need for fossil fuels, and they need to be embraced on a massive scale. Renewable leader Denmark has demonstrated that renewables can be successfully integrated into a grid.

But as the world adapts to living with COVID-19, power demand has surged, and with it, the use of coal. Ultimately, coal-fired power must be phased out in advanced economies by 2030, and globally by 2040.

There can also be no new oil and gas exploration and production if we are going to limit global warming to less than 1.5C.

Read more: Solar and battery storage make up 60% of planned new US electric generation capacity


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About the Author

Michelle Lewis

Michelle Lewis is a writer and editor on Electrek and an editor on DroneDJ, 9to5Mac, and 9to5Google. She lives in White River Junction, Vermont. She has previously worked for Fast Company, the Guardian, News Deeply, Time, and others. Message Michelle on Twitter or at michelle@9to5mac.com. Check out her personal blog.