The world’s renewable electricity capacity is forecast to rise more than 60% from 2020 levels to over 4,800GW by 2026 – equivalent to the current total global power capacity of fossil fuels and nuclear combined, the International Energy Agency (IEA) said.

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Renewables by that date are set to account for nearly 95% of global power capacity increases, with solar PV alone providing more than half of that, the IEA said in its latest Renewables Market Report.

The agency expects the amount of renewables capacity added in the 2021-26 period to be 50% higher than in the 2015-20 period, driven by stronger government policy support and more ambitious clean energy targets announced in the wake of the recent COP26 climate conference in Glasgow, Scotland.

Despite rising costs for key materials used to make solar panels and wind turbines, renewables additions in 2021 are seen rising to a new all-time high.

“This year’s record renewable electricity additions of 290GW are yet another sign that a new global energy economy is emerging,” said IEA executive director Fatih Birol.

“The high commodity and energy prices we are seeing today pose new challenges for the renewable industry, but elevated fossil fuel prices also make renewables even more competitive.”

China, India, Europe and the US together will account for 80% of the global renewables expansion, the IEA reckons.

China alone is expected to reach a total wind and solar capacity of 1,200GW in 2026, four years earlier than its current target of 2030. The other Asian heavyweight, India, is set to double new installations compared with the 2015-20 period.

“The growth of renewables in India is outstanding, supporting the government’s newly announced goal of reaching 500GW of renewable power capacity by 2030 and highlighting India’s broader potential to accelerate its clean energy transition,” Birol said.

“China continues to demonstrate its clean energy strengths, with the expansion of renewables suggesting the country could well achieve a peak in its CO2 emissions well before 2030.”

This year, global PV additions alone are forecast to increase by 17% to a new record of 160GW, while onshore wind additions are set to be almost a quarter higher on average than during the 2015-20 period, and offshore wind capacity is seen tripling by 2026.

“Wind will account for around 30% of growth – following solar PV which is around 60% – in renewables, said Heymi Bahar, IEA senior analyst and lead author on the report, responding to a question from Recharge during a media briefing.

Offshore wind's updraft

“The important news is that there is an emerging offshore wind market that is growing very fast. In our forecast we expect the offshore wind market to triple by 2026, [when it] will account for 20% of all wind capacity growth. So it’s a sizeable market [step up] from 5% today.

Bahar highlighted the “regional change” in the global market that meant while “Europe remain[ed] a large market... the growth is moving outside of Europe: Asia [led by] China, but also Japan, Taiwan, South Korea, and new capacity growth in the US”.

The IEA called upon government to further speed up the growth of renewables by removing key barriers such as permitting and grid integration challenges, social acceptance issues, inconsistent policy approaches, or insufficient remuneration. In the developing world, high financing costs also present a major obstacle.

Despite the forecast for a strong rise in capacity additions, the increase would still fall well short of what would be needed in a global pathway to net zero emissions by mid-century, the IEA warns.

For that, renewable power capacity additions over the 2021-26 period would need to average almost double the rate of the report’s main case.