Soaring renewable energy installations the ‘new normal’

28th May 2021

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Daryl Heath

The International Energy Agency (IEA) has revealed that global renewable electricity capacity will expand at a “much faster pace” than prior to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The agency’s latest market update shows that capacity rose by 45% in 2020 to 280 gigawatts (GW) – the largest year-on-year increase since 1999. This is set to become the “new normal”, it says, with 270GW on course to be added in 2021 and 280GW in 2022. Renewables accounted for 90% of the global power sector’s expansion last year as governments auctioned record levels of renewable capacity and companies signed record-level power purchase agreements.

“Governments need to build on this promising momentum through policies that encourage greater investment in solar and wind, additional grid infrastructure, and other key renewable technologies such as hydropower, bioenergy and geothermal,” said Fatih Birol, IEA executive director.

Global wind capacity additions almost doubled to 114GW last year, and although that growth is forecast to slow in 2021 and 2022, the increases are still expected to be 50% larger than the average expansion during 2017-19.

The IEA says that solar PV installations will continue to break new records, with annual additions forecast to reach more than 160GW by 2022. This would be almost 50% higher than the level achieved in 2019.

Last year, China accounted for half of the world’s renewable electricity capacity for the first time, due to a rush to complete projects before government subsidies were phased out. Although this is set to stabilise during the next two years, additions will still be 50% above the 2017-19 period. Any slowdown in China is forecast to be compensated for by strong growth in Europe, the US, India and Latin America, where government support and falling prices for solar PV and wind continue to drive installations.

However, the IEA warned that carbon dioxide emissions are set to rise this year because of a parallel rise in coal use, underscoring the major policy changes and investments in clean energy that are needed. Birol added: “A massive expansion of clean electricity is essential to giving the world a chance of achieving its net-zero goals.’

Image credit: iStock

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