Emissions from the electricity sector could have peaked in 2022, says a new report from climate and energy think-tank Ember.
The power sector is the largest source of climate-contributing emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2) globally.
Clean power growth is likely to exceed electricity demand growth in 2023; this would be the first year for this to happen outside a recession, said Ember.
“As soon as 2023, wind and solar could push the world into a new era of falling fossil generation, and therefore of falling power sector emissions,” said the report.
With average growth in electricity demand and clean power, Ember forecasts that 2023 will see a small fall in fossil generation (-47 TWh, -0.3%), with bigger falls in subsequent years as wind and solar grow further.
In short, wind and solar are slowing the rise in power sector emissions. If all the electricity from wind and solar instead were from fossil generation, power sector emissions would have been 20% higher in 2022.
But although electricity is cleaner than ever, the world is using more of it, noted Ember.
Even so, wind and solar power achieved a record 12% proportion of global power generation in 2022, up from 10% the year before, said the report.
Together, all clean electricity sources – renewables and nuclear – reached 39% of global electricity, a new record high, continued Ember in its fourth annual Global Electricity Review.
Solar generation rose by 24% in 2022, making it the fastest-growing electricity source for 18 years in a row. Wind generation grew by 17%.
The increase in global solar generation in 2022 could have met South Africa’s annual electricity demand, and the rise in wind generation could have powered almost all of the UK.
The change in global wind and solar generation increased by 19% in 2022 compared with 2021. Coal generation was up 1.1%, in line with the average annual increase over the past decade, and global gas generation was down 0.2% in the wake of high gas prices globally.
Of coal generation, Ember said: “The ‘coal power phasedown’ agreed at [the UN’s] COP26 [meeting] in 2021 may not have begun in 2022, but also the energy crisis didn’t lead to a major increase in coal burn as many [had] feared.”
More than 60 countries now generate more than 10% of their electricity from wind and solar. However, other sources of clean electricity dropped for the first time since 2011 due to a fall in nuclear output and fewer new nuclear and hydro plants coming online.
The IEA Net Zero Emissions scenario points to a 2040 net-zero power sector, 10 years ahead of a net-zero economy in 2050.