Report suggests renewable energy is not expanding quickly enough to cover global demand

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A report from the International Energy Agency suggests that renewables are expanding quickly but not enough to satisfy a strong rebound in global electricity demand this year, resulting in a sharp rise in the use of coal power that risks pushing carbon dioxide emissions from the electricity sector to record levels next year. 

After falling by about 1 per cent in 2020 due to the impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic, global electricity demand is set to grow by close to 5 per cent in 2021 and 4 per cent in 2022, driven by the global economic recovery, according to the latest edition of the IEA’s semi-annual Electricity Market Report. The majority of the increase in electricity demand is expected to come from the Asia Pacific region, primarily China and India.

Based on current policy settings and economic trends, electricity generation from renewables, including hydropower, wind and solar, PV is on track to grow strongly around the world over the next two years, by 8 per cent in 2021 and by more than 6 per cent in 2022. But even with this strong growth, renewables will only be able to meet around half the projected increase in global electricity demand over those two years.

Fossil fuel-based electricity generation is set to cover 45 per cent of additional demand with nuclear power accounting for the rest. As a result, carbon emissions from the electricity sector, which fell in both 2019 and 2020, are forecast to increase by 3.5 per cent, which would take them to an all-time high.

Renewable growth has exceeded demand growth in only two years but this was largely due to exceptionally slow or declining demand, suggesting that renewables outpacing the rest of the electricity sector is not yet the new normal.

“Renewable power is growing impressively in many parts of the world, but it still isn’t where it needs to be to put us on a path to reaching net-zero emissions by mid-century,” Keisuke Sadamori, the director of energy markets and security at IEA, said. “As economies rebound, we’ve seen a surge in electricity generation from fossil fuels. To shift to a sustainable trajectory, we need to massively step up investment in clean energy technologies, especially renewables and energy efficiency.”

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