Ann Arbor (Informed Comment) – The Ember energy analysis shop, which prioritizes ending the use of coal to combat the climate emergency, has issued a new report on where we stand with green energy.
Among their important findings is that all low-carbon sources of energy were responsible for 38% of the world’s electricity last year, for the first time outstripping coal (36%).
This is excellent news, but it isn’t enough. Coal is a planet-killer and if we don’t end its use almost immediately we will roar past the safe limits of climate change, risking climate chaos and serial disasters.
Obviously, regarding the 38%, these renewables include hydroelectricity, which has been around for some time and which accounts for almost half (45%) of renewable energy generation. Hydroelectric power cannot meet the challenge of the climate emergency and anyway wind and solar are now cheaper.
Ember is not shy about branding certain regions as laggards. They write, “Only 1% of global solar generation is in African countries and 2% in Middle Eastern countries (having 3% and 4% of global electricity demand respectively).”
It should be noted that Saudi Arabia could be the, well, Saudi Arabia of solar. Despite greenwashing and vague plans, it shows no sign of moving rapidly in that direction. The UAE’s Masdar green energy company has some good projects, and Dubai has some impressive solar farms, but the Emirates is a largely hydrocarbon-based society.
I believe I am correct is saying that the only Middle Eastern country that has gotten really serious about wind and solar is Morocca, which gets 37% of its electricity from renewables. Egypt and some other countries have some solar and wind farms, but the percentage of total electricity generated by them is still small.
Wind and solar alone generated 10.3% of the world’s electricity, up a point from 2020 and having doubled since 2015. One promising thing about these two technologies is that they can be ramped up quickly. It takes years to build a nuclear plant, but a wind or solar farm can come online in just a couple of years.
Ember notes, “In the Netherlands, the share of wind and solar rose from 14% to 25% in just two years, whilst the share of fossil fuels fell from 78% to 63%.” Similar progress was made in Australia.
I would add that what is remarkable is that wind and solar have surged so strongly in these two countries even though their political elites have dragged their feet on renewables. In both cases the market, and perhaps state rather than central government policies, have driven these successes.
Three countries in the world now get over 40% of their electricity from wind and solar, the report says — Uruguay, Denmark and Luxembourg. Here is a video about Denmark’s planned “energy island,” to provide wind power to a number of European countries:
Tomorrow’s Build: “Denmark’s $34BN Energy Islands Could Solve Europe’s Power Problem”
I would add that the United Kingdom says it comprises four “countries,” one of which is Scotland. About 70 percent of Scotland’s electricity comes from wind alone, and almost all of its electricity now comes from low-carbon sources.
Among larger, industrialized states, Germany got 23% of its electricity from wind in 2021, and 8.5% from solar, for a total of 31.5%.
Ember notes that Japan and China exceeded the 10% mark for wind and solar power generation for the first time in 2021, and that the United States and the UK have also passed that benchmark.
Aside from China and Japan, the other five countries that surpassed 10% wind and solar for the first time in 2021 were Mongolia, Viet Nam, Argentina, Hungary and El Salvador.
In fact, 50 countries now get at least 10 percent of their electricity from wind and solar alone.
Wind and solar need to grow 20% a year for us to remain on track to meet the Paris climate goals, Ember points out. The report observes that in recent years, that is exactly how fast wind and solar have grown.
This finding is a rare note of optimism in the sustainable energy field, and we should celebrate this impressive and skyrocketing growth.