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Renewables are expanding quickly – but not quickly enough to satisfy a strong rebound in global electricity demand this year, according to the latest report from the International Energy Agency.

And the Electricity Market Report from the IEA highlights a sharp rise in the use of coal power to meet rapidly increasing demand for electricity, which risks pushing carbon dioxide emissions from the electricity sector to record levels in 2022.

“Renewable power is growing impressively in many parts of the world, but it still isn’t where it needs to be to put us on a path to reaching net-zero emissions by mid-century,” said Keisuke Sadamori, the IEA Director of Energy Markets and Security.

“As the economy rebounds after the pandemic, we’ve seen a surge in electrical generation from fossil fuels. To shift to a sustainable trajectory, we need to massively step up investment in clean energy technologies – especially renewables and energy efficiency.”

The report states that global electricity demand is set to grow by close to 5% in 2021 and 4% in 2022 due to the post-pandemic recovery.

In good news, based on current policy settings and economic trends, electricity generation from renewables – including hydropower, wind and solar PV – is on track to grow strongly around the world over the next two years – by 8% in 2021 and by more than 6% in 2022.

However, even with this strong growth, renewables will only be able to meet around half the projected increase in global electricity demand over those two years, according to the IEA report.

Fossil fuel-based electricity generation is set to cover 45% of additional demand in 2021 and 40% in 2022, with nuclear power accounting for the rest.

As a result, CO2 emissions from the electricity sector – which fell in both 2019 and 2020 – are forecast to increase by 3.5% in 2021 and by 2.5% in 2022, which would take them to an all-time high.

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Coal-fired electricity generation is set to increase by almost 5% this year and by a further 3% in 2022, potentially reaching an all-time high. This runs contrary to the pathway set out in IEA’s recent Roadmap to Net Zero by 2050, which sees nearly three-quarters of global emissions reductions between 2020 and 2025 take place in the electricity sector.

To achieve this decline, the pathway calls for coal-fired electricity generation to fall by more than 6% a year – presenting a conundrum indeed.

The full report can be viewed online.