Global power sector emissions plateau as wind and solar continue to grow

  • London

  • 5 October 2023

A report published today by energy think tank Ember reveals that global power sector emissions plateaued in the first half of 2023, with a slight increase of 0.2% compared to the same period last year, as wind and solar continue to grow. However, adverse hydro conditions–likely exacerbated by climate change–prevented emissions from falling.

The report analyses electricity data from January to June 2023, compared to the same period last year, across 78 countries representing 92% of global electricity demand.

Wind and solar were the only two electricity sources that significantly increased their share of global electricity, together providing 14.3% of global electricity in the first half of 2023, compared to 12.8% in the same period last year. Solar in particular is growing rapidly (+16%, +104 TWh), with 50 countries setting new monthly records for solar generation in the first half of 2023. China continues to be the leader in solar generation providing 43% of global growth in solar generation, while the EU, US and India accounted for about 12% each. 

Despite this growth in solar and wind, adverse hydro conditions prevented emissions from falling. The first half of the year saw a historic fall in hydro generation (-8.5%, -177 TWh) due to droughts, with China accounting for three-quarters of this. As a result, fossil generation increased slightly to meet the deficit created by hydro. Power sector emissions would have fallen by 2.9% had global hydro generation been at the same level as last year.

Amid these hydro issues, low electricity demand growth helped to suppress emissions growth. Global electricity demand rose only 0.4% in the first half of 2023 compared to the same period last year, which is much lower than the 10-year historic average (+2.6%). Falls in demand in some major economies led to significant declines in coal power, most notably in the EU (-23%). As a result, emissions fell in the EU (-17%), Japan (-12%), the US (-8.6%) and South Korea (-3%). Moderate demand growth in India led to slow growth in coal generation, which slowed down the country’s emissions rise to 3.1% in the first half of 2023 compared to 11% in the same period last year.

It’s still hanging in the balance if 2023 will see a fall in power sector emissions. While it is encouraging to see the remarkable growth of wind and solar energy, we can't ignore the stark reality of adverse hydro conditions intensified by climate change. The world is teetering at the peak of power sector emissions, and we now need to unleash the momentum for a rapid decline in fossil fuels by securing a global agreement to triple renewables capacity this decade.

Malgorzata Wiatros-Motyka Senior electricity analyst, Ember

The message is simple: tripling renewable energy capacity by 2030 is the clear route to reducing emissions from the power sector, along with building a new energy system that delivers clean, secure and just power to the world. With hydro conditions now being affected by climate change, the challenge to world leaders and policy makers is growing; COP28 is the time for the world to rise to that challenge and deliver a clear target of tripling renewable capacity by the end of the decade and set the world on the course for net zero by 2050.

Bruce Douglas CEO, Global Renewables Alliance