In a world first, wind and solar met 10% of global electricity demand

The world is going green in literal terms.
Deniz Yildiran
Wind turbines
wind turbines and solar panels

iStock/MikeMareen 

The world is going green, and it’s doing it in many ways.

More than 10 percent of global electricity demand was met by wind and solar projects for the first time in 2021, a new report by BloombergNEF (BNEF) revealed.

It’s obviously promising news for our planet’s future; however, the 2022 Power Transition Trends report also stated that the overall electricity demand soared as well as coal-fired power plant generation and carbon emissions as the plans to reinvigorate the economy have been gaining momentum after the pandemic.

“New spikes in coal generation are a troubling sign for the economy, our health, and the fight against climate change. This report should be a rallying cry to leaders around the world that the transition to clean energy requires bigger and bolder actions, including actions that empower nations that have contributed the least to climate change – but bear many of its worst consequences – to make progress tackling it,” said Michael R. Bloomberg, UN Secretary General’s Special Envoy for Climate Ambition and Solutions, and Founder of Bloomberg LP and Bloomberg Philanthropies.

A great leap forward for renewables in a decade

Wind and solar combination made up 10.5% of nearly 3,000 terawatt-hours of electricity generated in 2021. Solar projects' contribution to the total energy demand increased to 3.7 percent, while wind set the bar higher to 6.8 percent. Compared to a decade ago, it's a fantastic increase as the two types of technologies combined accounted for less than 1 percent of total electricity production.

Broadly, 39 percent of all power produced worldwide in 2021 was carbon-free, while hydro and nuclear met just over a quarter of the world's electricity demand.

“Renewables are now the default choice for most countries looking to add or even replace power-generating capacity,” said Luiza Demôro, head of energy transitions at BloombergNEF. “This is no longer due to mandates or subsidies, but simply because these technologies are more often the most cost-competitive.”

Since 2017, the majority of new power-generating capacity joining global grids has come from wind and solar energy each year. In 2021, both technologies hit an all-time record high with three-quarters of 364 gigawatts of new capacity created. Zero carbon power, including hydro, nuclear, and others, made up 85 percent of all new capacity.

“It was a year of highs and highs, for the best and worst reasons,” said Ethan Zindler, head of Americas at BNEF. “Renewables grew very fast, but coal’s comeback and the fact that countries – including those that have pledged to achieve net-zero emissions – continue building coal is really disconcerting.”

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