- By Matt McGrath
- Environment correspondent
The world will likely use fewer fossil fuels to generate electricity this year at a “turning point” for planet-friendly energy, according to a new report.
It would be the first-ever annual decline in the use of coal, oil and gas to generate electricity, outside of a global recession or pandemic.
As a result, less heating gases would be released during power generation.
The authors attribute the expected change to a renewable energy boom led primarily by China.
Wind and solar now produce 12% of the world’s electricity with enough wind turbines added in 2022 to power almost all of the UK.
Electricity generation is the biggest contributor to global warming, responsible for more than a third of energy-related carbon emissions in 2021.
Phasing out coal, oil and gas in this sector is therefore considered essential to help the world avoid dangerous levels of climate change.
This new study examines data from countries representing 93% of global electricity demand.
This fourth edition of Ember’s Global Electricity Review indicates that significant progress is being made in reducing the role of fossil fuels in electricity generation.
Major developments are the continued rise of solar and wind as economically viable sources of electricity. Around the world, solar power increased by 24% last year, enough to meet the annual needs of a country as large as South Africa.
Combined with nuclear and hydroelectricity, clean sources produced 39% of the world’s electricity in 2022. The report reveals that the electricity produced last year was, indeed, the cleanest ever produced.
But despite this, the sector’s carbon emissions also continued to rise, as the use of coal increased slightly.
According to the authors of the report, this is due to the fact that the global demand for electricity has increased and has not been met entirely from clean sources.
There have also been problems with nuclear and hydroelectric power in 2022, with many French reactors offline and European rivers too low in many places for hydropower generation.
However, the report says that in 2023, wind and solar growth will outpace demand growth – and that will start to turn the tide on gas warming.
“When you stop adding more fossil fuels to generate your electricity, you start to see emissions drop,” said Malgorzata Wiatros-Motyka, the report’s lead author.
“This is extremely important in the context of increasing electrification, because we have more electric vehicles, more heat pumps, so cleaning up the electricity sector will also reduce emissions in other sectors.”
While the decline in fossil fuel emissions in electricity this year is expected to be small, around 0.3%, the authors estimate that the decline will continue and accelerate in the years to come. Key to this is a decline in gas use, which fell slightly last year, although some countries like Brazil reduced their use by 46% in 2022.
“We have now reached this next turning point as we begin to see a new era of declining emissions from the fossil fuel sector. We know wind and solar are the answer and we just need to step up with a sheet. road to build them as quickly as possible,” said Dave Jones of Ember, one of the report’s authors.
China is an important player having an impact on the general trend. About 50% of the world’s wind power addition comes from China and about 40% of the world’s new solar comes from the country which is also the world’s largest user of coal power.
“There is a chance that at the rate China is building wind and solar and all types of clean generation, it will hit that peak in coal production before 2025, which would be significant,” Jones said.
Energy experts agree that reducing fossil fuels in electricity generation could well be a “turning point”, but there is still much to be done.
“The first peak of coal-fired power generation was in the UK in 1979,” said Professor Jessica Jewell of the University of Bergen, who was not involved in the study.
“Nevertheless, it has taken decades to completely phase out coal power, for example the UK was still using some coal in 2022, 43 years after the peak. we’re not 40 or even 30 years old, we need to completely decarbonize electricity in a much shorter time.”
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