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Wind and solar are ready to lead the global coronavirus recovery

by | Jul 7, 2020

As countries start entering Covid-19 recovery phases, governments are presented with a unique opportunity to step up wind and solar investment. This briefing compares the wind and solar industries in different regions of the world, and shows why wind and solar are ready for the big time. 

How much of the world’s electricity came from just solar panels and wind turbines last year? Take a guess!

Wind and solar generated 8.2% of the world’s electricity in 2019. China, USA and India were very slightly above the global average. The EU leads the way, generating 18% of its electricity from wind and solar – more than double the global average – and as high as 55% in Denmark. Countries that you probably wouldn’t expect are also among the leaders: Australia 15%, Morocco 17%, and Uruguay at an impressive 38%. Globally, wind generated more than solar, with a split of 5% and 3% respectively. But solar is catching up, thanks to its rapid growth in the last few years.

The growth in wind and solar generation has happened quickly, more than doubling in just 5 years: from 3% of the world’s electricity demand in 2013, to 8% in 2019 (see graphic below). This rise in five percentage points has fed more-than-less directly into coal, reducing coal’s market share from 40% to 35% in just six years.

But we will need a lot more wind and solar – firstly, to meet the world’s growing demand for electricity, especially as we move to electric cars, and secondly to reduce CO2 emissions from coal power plants. Last year, coal power plants were responsible for nearly a third of all CO2 emitted from the burning of fossil fuels; so quickly replacing them is vital to minimising climate change.

In the IPCC’s meta-analysis to limit temperature increase to 1.5 degrees, they show coal must fall from 35% market share in 2019 to just 8% in the next 11 years. Most of the models say that the most economic way to do this is by increasing 1:1 wind and solar’s share from 8% today, to around 29% by 2030. All whilst global electricity demand rises by a quarter.

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