Aug 13, 2020 - Energy & Environment

Wind and solar power hit record global market shares in first half of 2020

Reproduced from Ember; Chart: Axios Visuals
Reproduced from Ember; Chart: Axios Visuals

A steep decline in coal-fired power combined with rising wind and solar output drove the carbon-free sources to record global market share in the first half of 2020, per a new analysis from the environmental think tank Ember.

Why it matters: The report shows how the coronavirus pandemic is speeding the ongoing shakeup of the global power mix — but also how it's occurring too slowly to reach international climate goals.

Driving the news: Combined wind and solar generation rose 14% in the year's first six months compared to the same period last year, reaching a tenth of the electricity mix for the first time.

  • Their aggregate share has doubled since 2015. Meanwhile, the amount of coal-fired generation fell by over 8% compared to the first half of 2019.
  • Declines in coal-fired output were especially steep in the U.S. and Europe, while in China, the world's largest CO2 emitter and coal user, generation from the fuel fell just slightly.

The big picture: The pandemic is playing a big role in the changing shares of the power mix — but it's not the only force at play.

  • Ember's analysis finds that over two-thirds of the coal generation decline this year stems from lower overall power demand during the pandemic.
  • But 30% can be chalked up to wind and solar displacing the fuel worldwide. Forces including an increase in U.S. gas-fired generation also contributed.
  • Overall, wind and solar have taken 5% of coal's global market share in the last half-decade.

But, but, but: "[T]o keep a chance of limiting climate change to 1.5 degrees [Celsius], coal generation needs to fall by 13% every year this decade," Ember analyst Dave Jones said in comments alongside the report.

  • "The fact that, during a global pandemic, coal generation has still only fallen by 8% shows just how far off-track we still are," Jones said.
  • Limiting global temperature rise to 1.5°C (2.7°F) above preindustrial levels is the most ambitious target of the Paris climate deal.
  • But as this analysis reinforces, that's an immensely, immensely heavy lift that the world is nowhere near on track to achieve.

Of note: The review is based on 48 nations that together make up the overwhelming bulk of global generation.

Data: Ember; Chart: Danielle Alberti/Axios
Data: Ember; Chart: Danielle Alberti/Axios
  • The Ember analysis also shows how wind and solar were the only major electricity source to increase generation on a global basis during the pandemic.
  • Of note: It did not have reliable data from some key gas-generating nations, so the gas estimate has a higher error margin than other fuel types, Ember said.
Go deeper