Wind and Solar Responsible for 10% of World’s Electricity Generation in 2021, According to New Report

In 2021, 10% of all electricity generated in the world came from solar and wind, with all clean sources accounting for 38% of the total supply of electrical power.

In late March, Ember, an energy think tank, released a report that also revealed that 50 countries, including the United States, generated at least 10% of their electricity needs from solar and wind in 2021, with three of them generating more than 40% each―Denmark, Luxembourg, and Uruguay. The quickest clean energy transformations since the pandemic occurred in Vietnam, Australia, and the Netherlands, where in just the past two years, 8% of electricity generation switched to solar and wind from fossil fuel sources.

Ember further said solar, and wind power production could increase enough to ultimately limit warming to 1.5-degrees Celsius if the current 10-year average compound growth rate of 20% for those power sources can be maintained through 2030.

Dave Jones, the global lead at Ember, said in explaining the report’s findings that there are roadblocks that still exist in reaching these goals. First and foremost, there are problems currently slowing the deployment of wind and solar arrays. To supercharge energy production growth in these areas, governments would need to overcome (or reduce) the constraints standing in their way, such as the permitting process.

Public approval is another factor to consider, especially in the United States. According to an analysis of America’s current wind and solar footprint by The New York Times, landscapes in the west and coastlines will play an essential role in reaching net-zero emissions by 2050. Specifically, renewable energy production will need to surge in the southwest and along the Rocky Mountains to leverage the abundant sun and wind resources, in addition to continued growth in the northeast, such as Rhode Island, where companies like Green Development LLC are already making a positive impact.

Despite hurdles currently facing the renewable energy industry, Ember also revealed that last year saw a rapid recovery in demand for electricity, with the annual demand amounting to a 5.4% increase, i.e., the equivalent of adding another country similar to India to the world’s demand.

As Jones explained, wind and solar energy production are coming close to a “break-even” point where it can meet the new demand for electricity, but it’s not quite there yet.

The report shined a promising light on a tenuous situation, as there is a crunch between a significant increase in demand and a decrease in supply due to many countries seeking alternatives to oil and gas provided by Russia. The problem is most pronounced in European countries, which in the past relied on Russian exports more than other nations did.

While wind and solar made impressive gains in the study period of 2000 to 2020, coal-based electricity increased as well. In 2021, the conversion of this fossil fuel into electricity increased by 9%, the most significant increase since 1985.

Generation of gas increased only 1% last year, though the overarching increase in usage of fossil fuel ticked emissions of carbon dioxide to all-time highs last year.

China experienced the largest increase in demand for coal power, with a 13% increase in 2021 compared to demand levels before the COVID-19 pandemic. At the same time, it became one of seven countries in the world to join the list of 50 countries having at least 10% of all power generated from wind and solar.

Jones commented that he believes China’s reliance on coal will start to drop in the coming years, as the country is developing not only new arrays of wind and solar power but also other clean electricity sources such as bioenergy, nuclear and hydro.

If other countries are able to follow suit, it’s possible that the shift to renewable, clean energy sources could help stave off what could be highly damaging global warming.