Ember’s third annual Global Electricity Review(CC BY-SA 4.0) provides a current overview of changes in the global electricity power industry in 2021. The database presented includes annual electricity production and import data for 209 countries from 2000 to 2020. For 2021, data were added for 75 countries, which together represent 93% of global electricity demand.
At +5.4%, 2021 saw the fastest growth in electricity demand since 2010, with many advanced economies returning to pre-pandemic levels after falling in 2020. The biggest growth was in China, where demand was 13% higher in 2021 than in 2019.
Along with an overall growth in energy demand, the energy sector also hit an all-time high in emissions, which rose 7% (778 million tons), beating the previous 2018 record by 3%.
In 2021, a record 10.3% of the world's electricity came from wind and solar power (9.3% in 2020), which are the fastest-growing sources of electricity; taken together, clean sources produced 38% of the world's electricity in 2021, more than coal (36%).
As can be seen from the figure above, in 50 countries, more than a tenth of electricity was generated by wind and solar, with European countries leading the way. By comparison, there were 43 in 2020, which means that in 2021 seven countries crossed the threshold for the first time: China (11.2%), Japan (10.2%), Mongolia (10.6%), Vietnam (10.7%), Argentina (10.4%), Hungary (11.1%) and El Salvador (12.0%). The leaders in technology for high grid integration of renewables are Denmark, Luxembourg and Uruguay, reaching 52%, 43% and 47%, respectively.
In 2021, coal-fired electricity rose 9.0% to 10,042 TWh, a new historical record since at least 1985 with new coal records across Asia, primarily due to a sharp increase in total electricity demand – China (+9%), India (+11%), Kazakhstan (+6%), Mongolia (+13%), Pakistan (+8%), and the Philippines (+8%). China's share of global coal power has grown from 50% in 2019 to 54% in 2021.
The figure below provides data on the sources of electricity production, as well as the dynamics of changes in the sources of electricity from 2000 to 2021.
Ember's sixth annual report on the EU power sector analyzes electricity generation data for 2021 across the EU-27 to understand the region's progress in the transition from fossil fuels to clean electricity. The report compares electricity generation data in 2021 both to 2020 and to pre-pandemic benchmarks in 2019, providing a first look at how the gas crisis is affecting the power sector after it recovers from the Covid-19 pandemic.
EU electricity demand data reveal that the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic was very limited in 2021. After falling by 3.5% (-100 TWh) between 2019 and 2020, it reached almost the same levels as before the pandemic, increasing by 3.4%. The figure below shows electricity demand in the seven largest electricity consumers in the EU.
In 2021, wind and solar energy reached a new record (547 TWh), producing more electricity than gas (524 TWh) for the first time. Solar power was doing well in both the north and south of Europe, producing 27% more electricity in 2021 than in 2019.
In 2021, fossil-fuel electricity production in the EU-27 increased by 4% (+43 TWh) to 1,069 TWh, but remained 6% lower (-64 TWh) than before the pandemic in 2019.
Nuclear power plants in the EU produced 7% (+47 TWh) more in 2021 than in 2020, but nuclear output remained 4% lower (-32 TWh) than in 2019, mainly due to planned closures in France (-18 TWh), Sweden (-13 TWh) and Germany (-6 TWh). In Belgium, on the other hand, nuclear power generation increased by 7 TWh.
Looking at the overall percentage distribution of electricity generation sources in the EU in 2021, renewables account for 37% of production, nuclear power for 26% (733 TWh), and fossil fuels for 37% of production, of which 18% (524 TWh) comes from fossil gas and 15% (436 TWh) from coal.
In general, Ember's analysis of the EU electricity transition in 2021 indicates a paradigm shift, with renewable energy, namely wind and solar, on its way to gradually replacing high-cost gas. At the same time, due to the natural gas crisis and the fact that the main effort is focused on replacing it, there has been a break in the EU's phase-out of coal and a corresponding slowdown in emissions reductions. As can be seen from the figure below, while from 2011 to 2019 more than 80% of new renewable generation replaced coal, since 2019 52% of renewables replaced gas electricity, one-third nuclear power, and only one-sixth replaced coal. As the gas crisis will continue in the next years, “action is needed to ensure Europe’s coal phase-out stays on track. Legislation is the only way to guarantee that coal plants are closed by 2030,” says Charles Moore, Ember's European Programme Lead.