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Global electricity demand expanding faster than renewables

Renewables are expanding quickly – but not enough to satisfy a strong rebound in global electricity demand.

Analysts at the International Energy Agency (IEA) have forecast a 5% rise in electricity demand this year, with almost half the increase being met by fossil fuels, including significant quantities of coal. The trend threatens to push CO2 emissions from the power sector to new record-high levels next year, says the latest edition of the IEA’s Electricity Market Report.  

The majority of the increase in electricity demand is expected to come from the Asia Pacific region, primarily China and India. Based on existing policies and economic trends, the IEA predicts that electricity generation from renewables – including hydropower – will grow by 8% this year and over 6% next year. 

However, in spite of this robust growth, renewables will still only be able to meet about half of the projected increase in electricity demand in the next two years. Fossil-based electricity will cover 45% of the additional demand in 2021 and 40% in 2022, according to IEA projections. Nuclear will account for the remainder. 

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, according to the Electricity Market Report. Gas-fired generation, which fell by 2% in 2020, is expected to increase by 1% in 2021 and by nearly 2% in 2022. Growth in fossil gas power will trail that of coal because of the significant role that coal plays in the fast growing economies of the Asia Pacific region.

While carbon emissions from the electricity sector fell in both 2019 and 2020, they’re forecast to increase by 3.5% this year and by 2.5% next year, which would take them to an all-time high. Growth in renewables has outpaced growth in power demand in just two years – 2019 and 2020. But the IEA attributes this to declines in demand, meaning that renewables exceeding demand growth in the electricity sector was an exception, rather than a new rule.

‘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,’ warns Keisuke Sadamori, the IEA Director of Energy Markets and Security. ‘As economies rebound, we’ve seen a surge in electricity 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.’

Earlier this year, the IEA said that development of new oil and gas fields must stop, and no new coal power stations should be built, if the world is to reach carbon neutrality by 2050. 

News Item details

Journal title: Energy World

Organisation: International Energy Agency - see IEA

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