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Global Electricity Review 2020: Wind and solar generate 8% of the world’s electricity

An independent climate think-tank, Ember, focused on accelerating the global electricity transition from coal to fossil-free has published its new Global Electricity Review, giving insights into electricity generation & demand worldwide. The report presents data for 2019 across 217 countries covering 85% of the world’s electricity production.

First and foremost, the report focuses on coal-fired electricity, which fell by 3% (-259 TWh) in 2019, adding 357 TWh, almost half the 2010-2019 average of +643 TWh. The top 10 coal-generating countries, which account for 87% of the world’s coal generation, are: China (50.2%); India (11%); United States (10.6%); Japan (3.1 %); South Korea (2.5%); South Africa (2.2%)­­; Germany (1.9%); Russia (1.8%); Indonesia (1.8%); and Australia (1.6%). Most of top 10 countries saw a decline in coal, except for China (+2%) and Indonesia (+11). As these numbers show, China is responsible for half of global coal generation; in 2019, the country built almost as many new coal capacities as wind and solar power combined. Since 2015 China’s coal generation has increased by 17%, whereas coal generation in the rest of the world has fallen by 9%.

The leaders in terms of coal generation decline were: Germany (-25%); USA (-16%); and South Korea (-5%). In the EU in general, сoal generation collapsed by 24% in 2019 and is now half the level of 2007. It should be noted that the USA coal collapse is mainly driven by a switch to gas (65% of replace), whereas in the EU decline is mainly due to an increase in wind and solar power installations.

In 2019, wind and solar generation rose by 15% (+270 TWh), producing 8% of the world’s electricity. It is the second highest year on record after 2017. The biggest growth was recorded in China (+86 TWh), followed by the EU (+64 TWh), USA (+41 TWh) and India (+13 TWh). The rest of the world generated only 4% of its electricity from wind and solar in 2019.The share of electricity coming from solar and wind was 18% in the EU, in the USA – 11%, China – 9% and India – 8%. In the EU in 2019, wind and solar generation exceeded coal generation for the first time.

Global gas generation rose by 4% in 2019, driven by almost all key regions – China (+11%), USA (+7%), European Union (+12%). In India, gas generation fell by 5% in 2019. However, since gas accounts for only a small part (3%) of India's electricity mix, this change is not significant. Notable is the 39% drop in gas generation in Turkey (-34 TWh), where hydroelectric power has increased on a large scale.

Due to restarts in Japan and South Korea, and also new plants installed in China, nuclear generation rose at the fastest rate this century – by 4% (+101 TWh). Hydro generation increased by about 1%. In China, where most new hydropower plants are being built, hydropower capacity increased by only 4 GW, compared to 16 GW on average the last decade.

Global electricity demand growth slowed to 1.4%, the slowest increase since the 2009 recession. Almost all the growth came from China, where electricity demand grew at 4.7%, over three times the global average.

According to the report, the current world’s electricity mix looks as follows: Coal contributes 35% of global electricity mix; gas makes up 24%; wind and solar – 8%. The remaining 33% comes from hydro, nuclear, waste, biomass and other renewables.