Ten years ago, solar and wind didn’t even make up 1% of our global energy mix. Now, in just a decade, they’ve reached 10%. It may not seem like much, but becoming such a significant part of the global energy mix in such a short time is remarkable — though there’s still a long way to go.
The past couple of years have been horrendous in more ways than one, but that doesn’t mean all is bad in the world. In fact, renewable energy continued its impressive growth, according to research from Ember, a climate and energy think tank.
As the world recoiled after the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic, economies were eager to reopen, and demand for energy surged. Some of what growth was covered by coal, which experienced its fastest growth since 1985, but renewables also rose to the challenge.
While the “established” renewable sources like hydroelectric and nuclear power remain mostly stable in 2021, the new kids on the block (wind and solar) fared much better. In particular, Ember highlighted Australia, Vietnam, and the Netherlands as three countries where wind and solar are growing rapidly.
The three are remarkable for different reasons. The Netherlands, a northern latitude country that tends to be cold and damp, experienced growth not just in wind, but also in solar energy, showing that you don’t need to be a sunshine country to make solar work. Vietnam encouraged the deployment of solar panels with a policy through which the government paid households if they generated extra energy for the grid. Meanwhile, in Australia, politicians keep trying to push fossil fuels, but the falling costs of renewable energy are simply driving coal out. All three countries managed to shift over 10% of their energy from dirty fossil fuels to clean, renewable energy.
Globally, 29% of the share of energy demand growth in 2021 was met by wind and solar energy — which is encouraging because it shows that the two are growing faster than other sources, but it’s concerning because it shows that still, an important part of our energy comes from fossil fuels.
“Even as coal and power emissions hit another all-time high, there are clear signs that the global electricity transition is well underway,” says Dave Jones, Global lead at Ember. “More wind and solar is being added to grids than ever. And not just in a few countries, but across the world. They are able—and expected—to provide the majority of clean electricity needed to phase out all fossil fuels, at the same time helping to increase energy security. But with sustained high gas prices amid Russia’s war with Ukraine, there is a real risk of relapse into coal, threatening the global 1.5 degrees climate goal. Clean electricity now needs to be built on a heroic scale. Leaders are only just waking up to the challenge of how quickly they need to move to 100% clean electricity.”