Despite the global COVID-19 induced economic slowdown, more than 260GW of renewable energy capacity was added around the world in 2020, beating the previous record by almost 50%.
According to the International Renewable Energy Agency’s (IRENA) annual Renewable Capacity Statistics 2021, renewable energy’s share of all new generating capacity rose considerably for the second year in a row. More than 80% of the new electricity capacity added last year was from renewable sources. Solar and wind accounted for 91% of the new renewable energy.
Renewable energy’s rising share of electricity capacity is partly attributed to net decommissioning of fossil fuel power generation in Europe, North America and, for the first time, across Eurasia (Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Russian Federation and Turkey). Total fossil fuel additions fell to 60GW in 2020 from 64GW in 2019, highlighting a continued downward trend of fossil fuel expansion.
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IRENA director-general Francesco La Camera, commented: “These numbers tell a remarkable story of resilience and hope. Despite the challenges and the uncertainty of 2020, renewable energy emerged as a source of undeniable optimism for a better, more equitable, resilient, clean and just future. The great reset offered a moment of reflection and chance to align our trajectory with the path to inclusive prosperity, and there are signs we are grasping it.”
The benefits of renewable energy have never been so clear
La Camera continued: “Despite the difficult period, as we predicted, 2020 marks the start of the decade of renewables. Costs are falling, clean-tech markets are growing and never before have the benefits of the energy transition been so clear. This trend is unstoppable, but as the review of our World Energy Transitions Outlook highlights, there is a huge amount to be done.”
“Our 1.5-degree outlook shows significant planned energy investments must be redirected to support the transition if we are to achieve 2050 goals. In this critical decade of action, the international community must look to this trend as a source of inspiration to go further,” said La Camera.
The 10.3% rise in installed capacity represents expansion that beats long-term trends of more modest growth year on year. At the end of 2020, global renewable generation capacity amounted to 2,799GW, with hydropower still accounting for the largest share (1,211GW) although solar and wind are catching up fast. The two variable sources of renewables dominated capacity expansion in 2020 with 127GW in the US were the two outstanding growth markets from 2020.
China, already the world’s largest market for renewables added 136GW last year with the bulk coming from 72GW wind and 49GW solar. The US installed 29GW of renewables last year, nearly 80% more than in 2019, including 15GW solar and around 14GW wind.
Africa continued to expand steadily with an increase of 2.6GW, slightly more than in 2019, while Oceania remained the fastest-growing region (+18.4%), although its share of global capacity is small and almost all expansion occurred in Australia.
Highlights by technology
Hydropower: Growth in hydro recovered in 2020, with the commissioning of several large projects delayed in 2019. China added 12GW of capacity, followed by Turkey with 2.5GW.
Wind energy: Wind expansion almost doubled in 2020 compared to 2019 (111GW compared to 58GW last year). China added 72GW of new capacity, followed by the US (14GW). Ten other countries increased wind capacity by more than 1GW in 2020. Offshore wind increased to reach around 5% of total wind capacity in 2020.
Solar energy: Total solar capacity has now reached about the same level as wind capacity thanks largely to expansion in Asia (78GW) in 2020. Major capacity increases in China (49GW) and Vietnam (11GW). Japan also added over 5GW and India and the Republic of Korea both expanded solar capacity by more than 4GW. The US added 15GW.
Bioenergy: Net capacity expansion fell by half in 2020 (2.5 GW compared to 6.4 GW in 2019). Bioenergy capacity in China expanded by over 2GW. Europe the only other region with significant expansion in 2020, adding 1.2GW of bioenergy capacity, similar to 2019.
Geothermal energy: Very little capacity added in 2020. Turkey increased capacity by 99MW and small expansions occurred in New Zealand, the US and Italy.
Off-grid electricity: Offgrid capacity grew by 365MW in 2020 (2%) to reach 10.6GW. Solar expanded by 250MW to reach 4.3GW and hydro remained almost unchanged at about 1.8GW.
Read more about the Renewable Capacity Statistics 2021 report.