The global demand for electric power generation, which rose 11% since 2015, has been boosted by the global demand for fossil-free electricity while emission remains around 2% higher in 2020 since the Paris agreement, said a report by independent climate think-tank Ember.
Despite the increase in clean energy driven by wind and solar, it was not quick enough to keep pace with rising electricity demand. As a result, this led to an increase in overall fossil generation - gas-fired electricity rose 11% (+562 TWh) and coal fell only 0.8% (-71 TWh).
The latest report released by Ember, a London-based research organisation that tracks coal to clean transitions in the power sector, reveals that almost every G20 country (which comprise 84% of world electricity generation) saw a rise in wind and solar generation and a fall in coal generation and this contributed to the record fall in global coal generation.
The fall in coal was also caused by a slight fall (01%) in electricity demand in 2020, the first since 0.3% fall 2009 due to the global recession, amid the coronavirus pandemic. But this pause has already ended: by December 2020, electricity demand was already higher than in December 2019 (India +5%, EU +2%, Japan +3%, South Korea +2%, Turkey +3%, US +2%).
The rise in fossil-free generation was led by wind and solar. Electricity generation through wind and solar rose robustly in 2020 by 15% (+314 TWh) meaning that wind and solar produced almost a tenth (9.4%) of the world's electricity last year, doubling from 4.6% in 2015.
According to the report, G20 countries now produce around a tenth of their electricity from wind and solar: India (8.9%), China (9.5%), Japan (10.1%), Brazil (10.6%), the US (11.6%) and Turkey (12.0%). Meanwhile, Germany and the UK are leading the way, with 33% and 28% respectively.
The increase in global wind and solar generation was the biggest ever in absolute terms and have shown steady growth every year, however, it's not yet accelerating in a way needed to reach climate targets.
Although wind and solar power's combined market share increased by 4.8 percentage points (from 4.6% to 9.4%) and coal's market share fell by 3.9 percentage points (from 37.8% to 33.8%) in the last five years, the global market share of most other fuel types has not changed significantly. Coal remains the world's single largest power source, generating 33.8% of global electricity in 2020.
Meanwhile, gas-powered electricity replaced coal to some extent in the US and Europe. Besides, the minor fall in coal's market share in France, Argentina and Brazil reflects coal's small role in the electricity mix in those countries.
Three G20 countries however didn't saw a fall in coal share. They are Turkey, which replaced gas with coal, and Russia and Indonesia, which built near-zero amounts of wind and solar.
Since 2015, many OECD countries saw coal collapse, combined 23 GW reduction in coal capacity in 2020, but these fall over the last half-decade were almost entirely offset by rises in Indonesia, Turkey, China and India. That meant, even including 2020's record 4% fall, global coal generation was only 0.8% lower in 2020 than in 2015.
Coal-fired electricity generation alone currently contributes around 30% of global CO2 emissions, according to the IEA.
Climate Analytics' analysis of IPCC 1.5 degree scenarios, reiterated by the UN Secretary General in March 2021, showed that OECD nations should end coal use entirely by 2030, and all coal-fired power stations must be shut by 2040 at the latest. In line with IPCC 1.5 degree scenarios, the EA's 'Net-Zero 2050 pathway' scenario from their 2020 World Energy Outlook shows global unabated coal generation must collapse by around 80% from 2020 to 2030. That implies falls of around 14% per year, compared to just a 4% fall in the pandemic year of 2020.
While the global focus needs to be on quickly phasing out coal generation, gas and oil generation also need to decline rapidly. 61% of the world's electricity still came from fossil fuels in 2020, 23% from gas and a further 4% from other fossil fuels, such as oil.
There are five G20 countries that had over three-quarters of their electricity supplied from fossil fuels in 2020: Saudi Arabia (100%), South Africa (89%), Indonesia (83%), Mexico (75%) and Australia (75%).
Under the overall scenario of demand and statistics, the global electricity transition is on a crash course with climate targets as clean electricity is not yet being built quickly enough to keep pace with rising electricity demand. Electricity demand that slowed temporarily might have led to record drops in coal generation but wasn't anywhere near the target.
The demand will undoubtedly pick up again soon which leaves the world with no choice but to focus on a quick transition out of burning coal for electricity.