Wind and Solar Reach a Milestone in Global Electricity Generation

The world is shifting to cleaner and greener sources of electricity, as wind and solar power reached a record 10% of global electricity generation in 2021, according to a new analysis by the International Energy Agency (IEA). This marks a significant milestone in the global energy transition, as wind and solar have doubled their share of electricity since the Paris climate agreement was signed in 2015.

Europe Leads the Way in Renewable Power

The analysis, based on data from a website by, shows that 50 countries now get more than a tenth of their electricity from wind and solar sources, with seven new countries joining the club in 2021: China, Japan, Mongolia, Vietnam, Argentina, Hungary and El Salvador. The European Union is leading the way, with wind and solar accounting for 27% of its electricity mix in 2021, up from 21% in 2015. Denmark is the most reliant country on wind and solar, getting more than half of its electricity from these sources.

Wind and Solar Reach a Milestone in Global Electricity Generation
Wind and Solar Reach a Milestone in Global Electricity Generation

Coal Power Sees a Temporary Rebound

However, the growth of renewable power is not enough to offset the rising demand for electricity, which increased by 2.3% in 2021, the equivalent of adding a new India to the world’s grid. As a result, coal power also saw a remarkable rise in 2021, increasing by 9%, the fastest rate since 1985. Coal power still represents about a third of global electricity generation, and is the main source of CO2 emissions from the power sector.

The increase in coal use was mainly driven by Asian countries, especially China and India, where demand for electricity surged amid economic recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic. The high prices of natural gas also made coal more competitive in some regions. However, the IEA expects this trend to be temporary, as more countries adopt policies to phase out coal and boost renewables.

Renewables Need to Sustain High Growth Rates

The IEA warns that renewables need to sustain very high growth rates to replace coal and reduce emissions in line with the goals of the Paris agreement. To keep global warming below 1.5 degrees Celsius, wind and solar need to grow by 20% every year until 2030, reaching over 40% of global electricity generation by then.

The IEA also highlights the potential of nuclear power to provide low-carbon and reliable electricity, especially in light of the recent disruptions at the Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant in Ukraine and the shutdowns of four reactors in France due to safety issues. Nuclear power accounts for about 10% of global electricity generation, but its share has declined over the past decades due to public concerns, high costs and ageing plants.

Electricity Systems Face Challenges to Affordability and Security

The IEA notes that electricity systems faced a number of challenges to affordability and security in 2021, as extreme weather events, supply chain bottlenecks and geopolitical tensions affected power supply and demand. The agency estimates that the global average cost of electricity supply increased by almost 30% in 2022 compared to 2021. The European Union faced particularly high pressures, as wholesale electricity prices tripled in the first half of 2022 compared to the previous year.

The IEA urges governments to take action to improve the resilience and flexibility of electricity systems, by cutting red tape, accelerating permitting, providing incentives for renewables deployment, enhancing grid infrastructure and interconnections, expanding energy storage and demand response options, and ensuring adequate backup capacity.

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