Russia sticks with fossil fuels, as G20 switches to clean power
A step change in renewable capacity growth is needed to drive coal and gas out of the electricity mix.
In 2020, fossil generation fell by 9% due to two temporary factors.
First, a 2.4% decrease in electricity demand due to Covid-19; second, a large increase in hydro generation due to record meltwater.
Russia’s share of fossil generation remains high at 59%.
It is just below the world average of 61%, with sizable hydro and nuclear capacity meeting the remaining share of electricity production.
Wind and solar generate almost none of Russia’s electricity.
In 2020, just 0.3% of Russia’s electricity came from wind and solar, far below the world average of 9.4%
There has been very little structural change to Russia’s electricity system over the last five years.
Growth in wind and solar capacity has been extremely limited; most changes to Russia’s electricity mix have been driven by weather-related factors.
While other G20 members are in a race to decarbonise their electricity grids with wind and solar, Russia has yet to begin. Large hydro and nuclear capacity put it at a favourable starting point, and although small increases in these have kept pace with the growth in electricity demand so far this century, Russia has made no signal yet that it will rapidly increase clean electricity investment to cut its fossil reliance. Long-term commitments to phase out coal and close inefficient gas plants are needed.
Trends in 2020
Comparison with G20
Russia’s electricity transition in spotlight: 2015-2020
Russia’s share of fossil generation remains high at 59%. This marks a 6% fall in market share since 2015. However, this fall in fossil generation does not indicate that a clean energy transition is underway: favourable weather conditions over the last two years led to large increases in hydro generation.
Russia’s share of renewable electricity stands at 21%—consisting almost entirely of hydro generation (20%). Wind and solar barely feature in Russia’s electricity system, making up just 0.3% of electricity production in 2020, compared with the world average of 9.4%. While hydro is responsible for the 4 percentage point increase in Russia’s renewables share since 2015, this has been driven by anomalous weather conditions rather than any significant increase in capacity. Last year showed some small promising signs of an uptick in wind and solar, with record capacity additions for both technologies. However, this growth is from a low starting point, and consistent acceleration is needed to catch up with the global renewables expansion.
Fossil generation in Russia is dominated by gas, making up 43% of total electricity production, while 15% comes from coal. Russia’s gas is more polluting than most: Karryos estimate that fugitive methane emissions—caused in part by extracting gas to power Russia’s gas power plants—increased by 32% in the last year alone. Until 2020, the share of Russia’s electricity coming from fossil fuels had remained largely constant over the last decade, as gas generation fell slightly while coal increased. In fact, in 2019 fossil generation made up 63% of Russia’s electricity, down only two percentage points from 65% in 2015. But by 2020 fossil generation was squeezed down to 59% of electricity generation as demand fell and hydro and nuclear generation increased. Electricity demand has grown slowly over the last few years, met by about 10 GW of new fossil capacity, and 10 GW of hydro and nuclear.
What happened in 2020?
Fossil generation decreased by 8.8% (-59 TWh) in 2020, driven by two main factors: a Covid-induced fall in electricity demand, and a record year for hydro generation. Electricity demand fell 2.4% (-25 TWh), by far the largest fall seen since the recession of 2009. Meanwhile hydro generation increased by 9% (+17 TWh), driven by weather-related factors. In January and February, temperatures were around 5 degrees above the historical average, leading to increased meltwater and large hydro output throughout the first half of 2020. Wind and solar generation showed small increases as new capacity was brought online (0.8 GW and 0.4 GW respectively), while nuclear generation also saw an increase of 3.5% (7 TWh).
Note: Fossil generation for Russia in 2020 is not broken down by fuel type, so it is assumed that the same percentage fall is seen across all fossil fuel types.
Russia’s transition in comparison with G20 countries
Russia has barely increased its share of wind and solar power
Whilst other G20 countries are radically transforming their electricity system with wind and solar, Russia stands out as one of three G20 members who have made little to no progress in the last decade. In fact, most G20 members generated more electricity using wind and solar in 2010 than Russia did in 2020. And while almost a tenth of global electricity came from wind and solar in 2020, just 0.3% of Russia’s electricity came from these cheap and renewable sources. Argentina is an example of what’s possible in a short space of time, increasing its share of renewables from 0.4% to 8% in the last five years alone. This highlights both the potential for Russia to transform its electricity mix with wind and solar, and the risk of the Russian power sector being left behind as other G20 members decarbonise their grids with cheap new technologies.
One-off hydro conditions allowed gas to fall in 2020, while coal has risen since 2015
Limited growth in wind and solar generation has muted potential declines in fossil generation, allowing coal’s share of production to slightly rise in the last five years, while other G20 members have seen large falls. And while gas generation has fallen in Russia’s electricity mix, the main driver of this has been weather-related increases in hydro generation. This means that structural changes in Russia’s electricity mix are small when compared to other G20 members. For example, the United Kingdom has added more than 10 GW of new wind power since 2015, which increased total wind capacity by 70%, and helped to knock coal out of the electricity mix in the process. In contrast, Russia’s hydro capacity increased by just 0.3 GW from 2015 to 2019, an increase of less than 1%.
Russia’s electricity has a similar fossil dependency as in the United States
Russia has historically had large hydro and nuclear capacity meaning that less of its electricity comes from fossil fuels than other G20 members. Notably, Russia produced a similar amount of its electricity from fossil fuels in 2020 as the United States, and sits just below the world average of 61%. President Biden’s administration is pushing for a commitment for the United States to switch its electricity system to 100% clean electricity, in just 14 years from now.
Russia’s electricity demand per capita overtakes the EU-27
Russian electricity demand per capita has slowly increased over the last decade and is now higher than that of the EU-27. While heavily subsidised gas production combined with regulated electricity prices have distorted the economic case for energy efficiency in Russia, other European neighbours have used energy efficiency to decouple economic growth from electricity demand.
Russia is one of only five G20 countries where coal generation has increased since 2015
This increasing electricity demand and a lack of build-up in renewables has meant that Russia is one of only five G20 members to increase its share of coal generation in the last five years.
Russia’s updated NDC outlines a target of at least a 30% reduction in emissions from 1990 levels by 2030. But as Russia’s emissions fell drastically in the 1990s, the country could increase its emissions significantly over the next decade whilst still meeting the target
To kick-start an electricity transition, Russia must start seeing wind and solar as contributors towards maintaining their energy security in an increasingly decarbonised world. The government must set out genuinely ambitious long-term goals, accompanied by a step change in the building of clean technologies. Until then, the electricity transition cannot begin, and Russia risks being left behind as other G20 members decarbonise their electricity grids.
Trends in 2020
Comparison with G20
This report showcases a global dataset for electricity generation & demand across 217 countries from 2000 to 2020. Data for 2020 covers 90% of the world’s electricity production.
Each year, we aim to be the earliest authoritative report to give insights into last year’s global electricity generation changes – offering an unbiased picture of the transition to fossil-free electricity.