Solar and Wind Generated 9.4% of the World’s Electricity in 2020

With a drop in electricity demand, coal consumption saw a record fall of 4% in the same period


The strong growth in wind and solar power capacity additions in 2020, despite the pandemic, resulted in a record fall in coal power globally, according to the climate and energy think tank Ember. Ember has released a report, Global Electricity Review 2021, which gives an account of the electricity data from around the world.

Wind and Solar Give Tough Competition to Coal

The report revealed that almost a tenth of global electricity was generated by wind and solar in 2020, showing a robust increase of 15% (+314 TWh) compared to what they accounted for in 2019. The two green power modes doubled their presence globally in the last five years.

Wind and solar produced 9.4% of the world’s electricity in 2020. Its share has more than doubled from 4.6% in 2015 when the Paris Climate Agreement was signed.

Over the last five years, wind and solar power’s combined market share increased by 4.8 percentage points (from 4.6% to 9.4%), and coal’s market share fell by 3.9 percentage points (from 37.8% to 33.8%).

The global market share of most other fuel types has not changed significantly.

The growing share of wind and solar resulted in a record fall of 4% (-346 TWh) in coal power consumption, the report explained. The drop was similar to the rise in wind and solar power of 314 TWh, more than the U.K.’s entire electricity production. This overshadowed the aggregate changes across global electricity: demand fell 23 TWh, gas and oil fell 12 TWh. A rise in hydro of 94 TWh was mostly countered by a fall of 104 TWh of nuclear. In comparison, coal collapsed almost everywhere, with large falls in the U.S. (-20%), European Union (EU) (-20%), and even India (-5%).

Ember Wind Solar 2020

The study further detailed that the reason behind the green trend is the drop in electricity demand (-0.1%) due to the Covid-19 pandemic that kept 2020 in its grip, adding that this was the first fall since 2009.

In a report released in February this year, Ember had pointed out that renewables overtook fossil fuels as the EU’s primary source of electricity due to the rapid growth of clean energy and decline of coal power. The report said that renewables generated 38% of Europe’s electricity in 2020, while fossil fuels like gas and coal produced 37% of power in 2020.

Renewables Supplied a Third of Africa’s Electricity Demand

According to the report, among Africa’s leading economies, Morocco and Kenya had the highest levels of wind and solar, generating 16% and 15% of their electricity, respectively, from wind and solar in 2019.

However, many of Africa’s leading economies are yet to realize the potential of wind and solar power, said the survey. In 2019, Nigeria and Algeria generated less than 1% of their electricity from wind and solar, while Egypt increased to 3% in 2019 after recent growth in solar power. South Africa generated 6% of its electricity from wind and solar in 2020, tripling since 2015, but still below the world average of 9.4%, the report noted.

Global Shift from Coal Power Needs to Pick Up Pace

The report suggested that clean electricity is not yet being produced fast enough to keep pace with rising electricity demand. Even as wind and solar have risen to nearly a tenth of world electricity, their growth has slowed in recent years, the study pointed out. The 4% dip in coal generation during the pandemic year of 2020 is still insufficient to meet climate targets, the report analyzed.

According to the report, many countries under the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development umbrella are witnessing coal collapse. The study noted that in EU-27, coal generation has almost halved since 2015 (-48%), and the U.S. saw a similar fall (-43%). Smaller, more recent falls have happened in Japan, South Korea, Australia, Canada, and Mexico.

However, these falls over the last half-decade were almost entirely offset by rises in Indonesia, Turkey, China, and India. That meant, even including 2020’s record 4% fall, global coal generation was only 0.8% lower in 2020 than in 2015.

Industry experts believe that governments and financial institutes have an important role in bridging the gap and ensuring a green transition. With investors such as Sumitomo Mitsui Financial Group, JP Morgan Chase, Mizuho Financial Group, among others, pledging to stop funding new coal-fired power projects, more policies seem to be committing to green energy.

Srinwanti is a copy editor at Mercom India, where she writes and edits news stories across the clean energy spectrum. Prior to Mercom, she has worked in book publishing at Macmillan Publishing House and Integra and honed her editorial and writing skills in both online and print media such as Reuters, Times Group Books, The Times of India, and Pune Mirror, covering local to international stories. More articles from Srinwanti Das.