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New report hails the decade of renewables as 2020 hits capacity record


A new report released by the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) has shown that global renewable energy capacity additions in 2020 have surpassed a range of prior estimate and all records from previous years. The majority of the year was impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, with supply chains, businesses and shipping all heavily disrupted, making the records even more remarkable.

IRENA found that global additions of renewables added up to 260 gigawatts, exceeding 2019’s value by nearly 50%. More than 80% of all new electrical capacity added in 2020 was renewable, and of that renewable energy 91% was wind and solar.

IRENA attributes this to a “net decommissioning” of fossil fuel power in Europe, North America and Eurasia (including the Russian Federation and Turkey). In Asia, the Middle East and Africa, there is a net expansion of fossil fuels. The expansion of fossil fuels continues, but is slowing, according to their data.

The data also highlight that China and the US were the two dominant players globally for these markets, with China adding a stunning 72 gigawatts of wind power and 49 gigawatts of solar power in 2020. The US installed 29 gigawatts of renewables, “nearly 80% more than 2019, including 15 GW of solar and around 14 GW of wind”. However, most other countries “continued to increase renewable capacity at a similar rate to previous years”, the report adds.

The new additions put the renewable share of total generation capacity in the world from 24.6% in 2019 to 36.6% in 2020. “An energy transition requires that the use of renewables expands by more than the growth in energy demand, so that less non-renewable energy needs to be used”, write the authors of the report. “Many countries still have not reached this point, despite dramatic increases in their use of renewables for generating electricity”. 

Of the various regions reported upon, the highest increase in capacity was Oceania (18.5%), almost all of which occurred in Australia. However, the region is a small share of global totals and Australia remains heavily dependent on world-leading quantities of coal-fired power, as reported in another recent analysis of 2020 electricity data. Another Australian government report suggested that Australia’s growth could be heading for a downturn.

“Despite the difficult period, as we predicted, 2020 marks the start of the decade of renewables,” said IRENA Director-General Francesco La Camera. “Costs are falling, clean tech markets are growing and never before have the benefits of the energy transition been so clear. This trend is unstoppable, but as the review of our World Energy Transition Outlook highlights, there is a huge amount to be done. Our 1.5 degree outlook shows significant planned energy investments must be redirected to support the transition if we are to achieve 2050 goals. In this critical decade of action, the international community must look to this trend as a source of inspiration to go further”.

A recent preview of the 2021 IRENA “World Energy Transition Outlook” report, to be released in full later this year, found that “proven technologies for a net-zero energy system already largely exist today”, and that “in anticipation of the coming energy transition, financial markets and investors are already directing capital away from fossil fuels and towards other energy technologies including renewables”.


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