Clean electricity is beginning to displace fossil fuels
Fossil fuels are still used to make 62% of the world’s electricity, but the extraordinary growth rate of zero-carbon wind and solar power has put fossil power on a downward trend. Together wind and solar now generate more than 10% of the world’s electricity, twice the share compared to 2015 when the Paris Climate Agreement was signed.
The largest source of electricity is coal (36%), which is single-handedly responsible for a quarter of all energy-related CO2 emissions. However, when combined, clean electricity sources now generate 38% of the world’s electricity – including hydro (15%), nuclear (10%), wind (7%) and solar (4%) power.
Electricity demand continues to climb, growing 5.4% in 2021, a new record. More people are gaining access to electricity. Other sectors are electrifying, including transport and heat. This means clean power has to grow to meet new demand before it begins to reduce fossil fuel generation.
Wind and solar – cheap and quick to deploy – will provide most of the growth in electricity generation needed this decade to meet rising electricity demand whilst reducing coal power. Other sources of clean power are not currently growing fast enough – hydro is slowly increasing, whilst nuclear has experienced little growth outside of China.
Few countries yet understand the scale of the change in electricity grids due to happen over the next two decades. According to the International Energy Agency (IEA), coal power needs to fall by around two-thirds this decade to put us on track for 1.5 degrees, and all countries need a net-zero power system by at least 2040, phasing out both unabated coal and gas. Of all the fossil fuels, it is coal that is most off-track, and most threatens humanity’s ability to stabilise the climate.
Last updated: March 2022