London — Global renewable electricity sources grew at their fastest pace in 20 years in 2020, the International Energy Agency said in a report May 11.
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The annual surge in renewable energy capacity is set to become the new normal, the IEA said, after revising upwards its estimates for 2021 and 2022 by 25% from its previous forecast in November 2020.
"Wind and solar power are giving us more reasons to be optimistic about our climate goals as they break record after record," said IEA Executive Director Fatih Birol in a statement.
"Governments need to build on this promising momentum through policies that encourage greater investment in solar and wind, in the additional grid infrastructure they will require, and in other key renewable technologies such as hydropower, bioenergy and geothermal," Birol said.
The global capacity of renewable energy added in 2020 is equivalent to the entire installed power capacity of ASEAN – a group of 10 South-East Asian economies, the IEA said.
The increase in 2020 is set to become the "new normal" with about 270 GW of renewable capacity expected to be added in 2021 and almost 280 GW in 2022, despite an expected slowdown in China, the Paris-based agency said.
Those forecasts have been revised upwards by more than 25% from the IEA's previous forecasts in November 2020, as governments around the world have auctioned record levels of renewable capacity and companies have signed record-level power purchase agreements, even as the coronavirus pandemic spread macroeconomic uncertainties and suppressed demand, it said.
CO2 set to rise as coal power increases
A shift toward renewable power sources is a key pillar of global efforts to reach carbon neutrality, but CO2 emissions are set to rise in 2021 because of a parallel rise in coal use -- highlighting the major policy changes and investments in clean energy needed to meet climate goals, the IEA said.
Almost 200 countries have agreed under the 2015 Paris Agreement to limit global temperature increase to no more than 2 degrees Celsius by 2100 from pre-industrial levels, and to aim for no more than 1.5 C.
Growth in global electricity capacity is increasingly coming from clean sources, the IEA said.
"Last year the increase in renewable capacity accounted for 90% of the entire global power sector's expansion," said the IEA's Birol.
"A massive expansion of clean electricity is essential to giving the world a chance of achieving its net-zero goals," he said.
Global wind capacity additions almost doubled in 2020 to 114 GW, the IEA said.
That growth is set to slow down in 2021 and 2022 but the increases will still be 50% larger than the average expansion during the period 2017-2019, it said.
Solar PV installations, meanwhile, will continue to break new records, with annual additions forecast to reach over 160 GW by 2022, the agency said.
"That would be almost 50% higher than the level achieved in 2019 prior to the pandemic, affirming solar's position as the 'new king' of global electricity markets," the IEA said.
China drives renewables growth
China is at the center of global renewable demand and supply, accounting for around 40% of global renewable capacity growth for several years, and China's share rose to 50% for the first time in 2020 due to a rush to complete projects before government subsidies were phased out, the IEA said.
"Any slowdown in China in the coming years will be compensated for by strong growth in Europe, the United States, India and Latin America where government support and falling prices for solar PV and wind continue to drive installations," the agency said.
In the US, renewable capacity growth in 2021 and 2022 will mainly be spurred by the extension of federal tax credits, the IEA said. The forecast does not take into account the US administration's new emissions reduction target of 50%-52% by 2030 or its infrastructure bill.
"If enacted, the bill would drive a much stronger acceleration in the deployment of renewables after 2022," the IEA said.