HomeRegional NewsBRICSWind and solar generation are cutting down coal use

Wind and solar generation are cutting down coal use

Climate think tank Ember’s new half-year analysis of global electricity use shows wind and solar energy generation has increased in most countries to the point where it is successfully reducing the use of coal.

However, the reduction in the use of coal is still not falling fast enough to effect the minimum 1.5 degrees Celcius temperature reduction recommended by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) to reduce the global impact of climate change.

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Ember’s half-year analysis aggregates national electricity generation for 48 countries which make up 83% of global electricity production. It builds on Ember’s annual Global Electricity Review, which was released in March 2020.

The report shows that wind and solar generation rose by 14% in the first half of this year, compared to the same time period in 2019. Thus, wind and solar generation now make up 9.8% of global electricity production. This has more than doubled from 4.6% in 2015 when the Paris Climate Agreement was signed.

Wind and solar generated almost as much carbon-free power as nuclear power plants, which generated 10.5% of global electricity in the first half of 2020, the same figure as 2019.

Global generation from coal fell 8.3% in the first half of this year, compared to last year, breaking a new record – the decrease year-on-year in 2019 of 3% was the biggest fall since 1990.

This year’s big decrease is because electricity demand fell globally by 3% in the first half of 2020 due to COVID-19 pandemic induced lockdowns, coupled with a rise in wind and solar energy production.

Ember judges that although 70% of the reduction in coal usage can be attributed to a lockdown induced lower electricity demand, 30% can be attributed to increased wind and solar generation.

Countries by the coal numbers

The US reduced its coal usage by 31%, pipped by the EU at 32%, but China’s coal usage only fell by 2%. China’s share of global coal generation actually rose to 54% so far this year, up from 50% last year and 44% in 2015.

Still, China now generates around a tenth of its electricity from wind and solar, as does India, Japan and Brazil. The US sits at 12%, the EU at 21% and the UK at 33%. Within the EU, Germany rose to 42% but next-door Russia has not climbed onboard the renewables train, with only 0.2% of its electricity coming from wind and solar.

India’s usage of coal was by far the most dramatic – their usage of wind and solar rose from 3% of total generation in 2015 to 10% in the first half of 2020. At the same time their use of coal fell from 77% to 68% of the country’s generation capacity. On a global level, the world’s coal fleet ran at less than half its capacity for the first half of 2020.

Senior electricity analyst at Ember, Dave Jones said countries across the world are now on the same path, building wind turbines and solar panels to replace electricity from coal and gas-fired power plants, but the global electricity transition is still off track.

Jones said: “To keep a chance of limiting climate change to 1.5degrees, coal generation needs to fall by 13% every year this decade. The fact that, during a global pandemic, coal generation has still only fallen by 8% shows just how far off-track we still are.”

The IPPC 1.5degree scenario shows that the use of coal needs to fall to just 6% of global generation by 2030 from 33% at the beginning of 2020. The IPPC shows in all scenarios most of coal’s replacement is with wind and solar.

“We have the solution, it’s working. It’s just not happening fast enough,” said Jones.

The half-year analysis builds on Ember’s Global Electricity Report released in March.

Ember is a London based independent think tank focused on accelerating the global electricity transition.

Theresa Smith
Theresa Smith is a content producer for Clarion Events Africa.