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Two-thirds of new generation capacity came from wind and solar last year

Last year wind and solar PV accounted for the majority of the world’s new power generation for the first time in history. According to BloombergNEF (BNEF)’s Power Transition Trends 2020 report, PV was by far the top performer in 2019 with a total of 118 GW installed.

The report underlines the fact that solar has made significant capacity leaps in the last decade – from 44 GW in 2010 to 651 GW as of the end of last year. Solar has also surpassed wind (644 GW) to become the fourth largest source of power on a capacity basis, behind coal (2,089 GW), gas (1,812 GW), and hydro (1,160 GW).

However, BNEF analysts found that, on a generation basis, solar’s contributions are considerably smaller when compared to fossil fuels. In 2019, solar accounted for 2.7% of electricity generated worldwide, up from 0.16% a decade ago. Yet while there are more coal plants online today than a decade ago, the report found that these plants are now running less frequently.

From 2018 to 2019, power produced from coal dropped 3% – marking the first fall in coal generation since 2014–15. However, over 113 GW of net coal retirements in developed nations during the 2010s did not offset the 691 GW flood of net new coal in emerging markets.

‘Wealthier countries are moving quickly to mothball older, largely inefficient coal plants because they can’t compete with new gas or renewables projects,’ explains 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.’

During the first half of the decade, wind and solar development was largely concentrated in higher-income nations, though this trend has begun to reverse in recent years. In a group that includes nearly all OECD 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.

‘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.’ 

News Item details

Journal title: Energy World

Subjects: Wind power - Solar power - Electricity generation - Net zero - Renewables -

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