Solar energy stormed ahead last year to become the leading new power-generating source in the world, carrying clean-energy technologies including wind and hydro to overtake coal in global installed capacity, according to latest calculations by research consultancy BloombergNEF (BNEF).
PV added 118GW of new plant in 2019 on its way to reaching 651GW of capacity, outpacing wind’s total 644GW, to become the fourth largest power source on the planet, behind coal’s 2.1TW, gas’ 1.8TW and hydro’s 1.2TW.
Solar and wind together accounted for 67% of new capacity added globally in 2019, while fossil fuels slide to 25%, according to BNEF’s new Power Transition Trends 2020 report, which tracks capacity and generation data over the past decade. Taken together with hydro dams, the clean-energy sector has built out some 2.5TW of plant worldwide.
“Sharp declines in solar equipment costs, namely the modules that go on rooftops and in fields, have made this technology widely available for homes, businesses and grids,” said Luiza Demôro, BNEF analyst and lead author of the study. “PV is now truly ubiquitous and a worldwide phenomenon.”
PV eclipsed all-comes in new-build terms and was the most popular technology deployed in 33% of nations, with 81 countries building at least 1MW of solar during the last calendar year and representing nearly half of all new power generation capacity constructed worldwide.
Renewable-energy engines wind and solar totted up to over two-thirds of the 265GW of additional capacity deployed worldwide in 2019, up from less than a quarter of new plant in 2010, while for the first time the two technologies accounted for the majority of new generation recorded.
“Wind and solar build was mostly concentrated in wealthier nations during the first half of the 2010s but that has shifted recently,” noted Demôro.
“In a group that includes nearly all OECD [Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development] nations, wind and solar have accounted for the majority of new capacity built each year since 2011. Among a group of non-OECD nations plus Chile, Colombia, Mexico and Turkey, wind and solar have accounted for the majority of annual build each year since 2016.”
BNEF highlighted that the latest data offer “other important insights on how the world is generating electricity”, including that from 2018 to 2019 power produced from coal fell 3% as plants “ran less frequently” – marking the first occasion that coal generation had dropped since 2014-2015.
Average utilisation rate at lignite-fired power plants has slipped from 57% in 2010 to 50% in 2019, the BNEF report found, though the 9,200TWh produced from coal last year was up 17% from 2010.
Over 113GW of net coal retirements in developed nations during the 2010s did not however offset the 691GW “flood” in emerging markets that led to a 32% surge in global coal capacity since 2010 to 2.1TW last year.
“Wealthier countries are moving quickly to mothball older, largely inefficient coal plants because they can’t compete with new gas or renewables projects,” said Ethan Zindler, head of Americas at BNEF.
“However, in less developed nations, particularly in south and southeast Asia, new, more efficient coal plants continue to come on line – often with financial support from Chinese and Japanese lenders.”
BNEF estimates that global power sector CO2 emissions slipped 1.5% 2018-2019 as declines in the US and Europe more than counterbalanced an increase from China, which accounted for 37% of the 2019 total. The US followed with 14% and the EU with 6%.