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Global Electricity Review 2021: record fall in global coal power in 2020

Ember's annual Global Electricity Review analyses electricity data providing a snapshot of global electricity demand and showing progress towards a transition to fossil-free energy. The 2021 edition presents a global dataset in 217 countries from 2000 to 2020. The 2020 data cover 90% of the world's electricity production.

The pandemic has influenced the global energy market in general and the electricity sector was no exception. In 2020, due to the COVID-19, the world's electricity demand fell by -0.1%. In the US, electricity demand fell by 2.5%, in the EU-27 by 3.5%, and India by 2.3%. This trend did not affect China, where electricity demand grew by 4%. Although the overall global decrease is small, it was the first fall since 2009. However, this pause was relatively short-lived and by December 2020, electricity demand rose again and was even higher than in December 2019.

In 2020, wind and solar power have shown growth by 15% (+314 TWh) and have risen to 9.4% of the world's electricity, compared to 4.6% in 2015. Meanwhile, some countries get about a tenth of their electricity from wind and solar: the USA (12%), Turkey (12%), Brazil (11%), Japan (10%), China (9.5%), India (9%). Europe leads with Germany at 33% and the UK at 29%.

Overall, 61% of the world's electricity was still generated from fossil fuels in 2020, of which 23% still came from gas and another 4% from other fossil fuels, such as oil, for example.

A particular focus of the review is on the coverage of coal consumption. The year 2020 saw a record 4% fall (-346 TWh) in global coal power. It is worth noting that this happened on the one hand because the pandemic halted the growing global demand for electricity and on the other hand in many countries the growth of electricity generated by new wind and solar plants contributed to the fall in coal. Significant coal decrease was seen in the US (-20%), EU (-20%) and even India (-5%). Since 2015, EU-27 coal generation has almost halved (-48%), and a similar fall (-43%) can be observed in the USA.

China, where electricity demand grew by 4%, was the only G20 country to see growth in coal-fired generation (+1.7%). The country now accounts for 53% of the world's coal-fired electricity generation, up from 44% in 2015.

According to the review, even with a record drop of 4% in 2020, global coal generation in 2020 was only 0.8% lower than in 2015. The fall in coal consumption over the last half-decade in some countries has been almost entirely overshadowed by growth in China, Indonesia, and India. This means that despite the global clean energy growth, the world's transition away from coal power is too slow to prevent a climate crisis. Power sector CO2 emissions were about 2% higher in 2020 than in 2015. Coal power needs to be reduced by 80% by 2030 to avoid dangerous levels of warming above 1.5 degrees. «We need to build enough clean electricity to simultaneously replace coal and electrify the global economy. World leaders have yet to wake up to the enormity of the challenge», remarked Dave Jones, Ember coal-to-clean analyst.