The world is likely to use less fossil fuels to generate electricity this year as a green energy “tipping point,” says a new report.
It’s the first time the use of coal, oil and gas for power generation has declined in a year, outside of a global recession or pandemic.
As a result, less greenhouse gases are emitted during energy production.
The authors believe that the expected change is mainly due to China-led renewable energy boom.
Wind and solar currently produce 12% of the world’s electricity, with enough wind turbines added to power nearly all of the UK by 2022.
Power generation is the biggest contributor to global warming, accounting for more than a third of energy-related carbon emissions in 2021.
Therefore, phasing out coal, oil and gas in this sector is believed to help the world avoid dangerous levels of climate change.
This new study looks at data from countries that account for 93% of the world’s electricity demand.
This is the fourth edition of Ember’s Global Electricity Review and shows that significant progress is now being made in reducing the role of fossil fuels in electricity production.
A major development is the continued rise of solar and wind power as economically viable sources of electricity. Solar power grew 24% worldwide last year. This is enough to meet the annual demand of a large country like South Africa.
Combining nuclear and hydropower, 39% of the world’s electricity was produced by clean energy sources in 2022.
However, despite this, carbon emissions from the sector also continued to rise as coal use increased slightly.
China added about 40% of the world’s new solar panels last year, with numerous rooftop installations
According to the report’s authors, this was due to an increase in overall demand for electricity, not all of which came from clean sources.
2022 also had problems with nuclear and hydropower, with many reactors in France shutting down and European rivers in many places too low for hydropower.
But by 2023, the growth of wind and solar will outpace demand growth, starting to turn the tide of greenhouse gases, according to the report.
“When we stop adding fossil fuels for power generation, emissions start to fall,” says Malgorzata Wiatros-Motyka, lead author of the report.
“This is very important in the face of electrification, with more electric vehicles and more heat pumps, so cleaning up the power sector will also reduce emissions in other sectors.”
The decline in fossil fuel emissions in electricity this year is expected to be small, around 0.3%, but the authors believe the decline will continue and accelerate thereafter. The key to that is the decline in gas usage, which fell slightly last year, while in some countries such as Brazil, usage in 2022 fell by 46%.
Responding to the increasing demand for electricity with renewable energy is the key to reducing the use of fossil fuels
“We have now reached the next tipping point where we are beginning to see a new era of declining fossil fuel power sector emissions. We need to start working on a roadmap to build it, as much as possible,” said Dave Jones of Ember, one of the authors of the report.
One of the key players influencing the overall trend is China. About 50% of the world’s added wind power comes from China, and about 40% of the world’s new solar power comes from a country that is also the world’s largest user of coal power.
“At the pace China is building wind, solar and clean power of all kinds, coal power could peak before 2025,” Jones said.
Energy experts acknowledge that reducing the use of fossil fuels in power generation could be a ‘tipping point’, but much more remains to be done.
“The earliest peak of coal power was in the UK in 1979,” said Jessica Jewell, a professor at the University of Bergen who was not involved in the study.
“Nevertheless, it took decades to fully phase out coal power. For example, the UK was still using a small amount of coal in 2022, 43 years after its peak. We won’t reach our energy goals in 40 or 30 years, we need to fully decarbonize electricity in a much shorter time frame.”