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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
  • 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

Ben Geman, author of Generate
Nov 5, 2020 - Energy & Environment

China's challenging path to become "carbon neutral" by 2060

The Bao Steel mill in the morning, in Baotou, Inner Mongolia, China. Photo: Ryan Pyle/Corbis via Getty Images

A new(ish) International Energy Agency analysis outlines the importance — and immense challenge — of China's pledge to become "carbon neutral" by 2060.

Why it matters: Its recommendations get to the scope of the tech deployment needed, and what a seismic shift it would represent for China's economy.

Caitlin Owens, author of Vitals
4 hours ago - Health

Biden taps ex-FDA chief to lead Operation Warp Speed amid rollout of COVID plan

Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images

President-elect Joe Biden has picked former FDA chief David Kessler to lead Operation Warp Speed, a day after unveiling a nearly $2 trillion pandemic relief plan that includes $400 billion for directly combatting the virus.

Why it matters: Biden's transition team said Kessler has been advising the president-elect since the beginning of the pandemic, and hopes his involvement will help accelerate vaccination, the New York Times reports. Operation Warp Speed's current director, Moncef Slaoui, will stay on as a consultant.

The case of the missing relief money

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

A chunk of stimulus payments is missing in action, thanks to a mix up that put as many as 13 million checks into invalid bank accounts.

Why it matters: The IRS (by law) was supposed to get all payments out by Friday. Now the onus could shift to Americans to claim the money on their tax refund — further delaying relief to struggling, lower-income Americans.