2021 will be an all-time, record-breaking year for clean energy installations

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Despite the pandemic, supply chain challenges, and rising costs of materials, 2021 is going to be a record year for clean energy, the International Energy Agency (IEA) announced today in a new report.

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Global clean energy records

In fact, 2021 is expected to set an all-time record for new clean energy installations, according to the IEA’s annual “Renewables 2021” report. The addition of new clean energy capacity is forecast to rise to 290 gigawatts (GW) in 2021.

The IEA writes:

By 2026, global renewable electricity capacity is forecast to rise more than 60% from 2020 levels to over 4,800 GW – equivalent to the current total global power capacity of fossil fuels and nuclear combined.

Renewables are set to account for almost 95% of the increase in global power capacity through 2026, with solar PV alone providing more than half.

The amount of renewable capacity added over the period of 2021 to 2026 is expected to be 50% higher than from 2015 to 2020.

This is driven by stronger support from government policies and more ambitious clean energy goals announced before and during the COP26 Climate Change Conference.

Rising costs of fossil fuels are also making clean energy more competitive.

When it comes to solar and wind, the IEA reports:

Solar PV remains the powerhouse of growth in renewable electricity, with its capacity additions forecast to increase by 17% in 2021 to a new record of almost 160 GW.

In the same time frame, onshore wind additions are set to be almost one-quarter higher on average than during the 2015-20 period. Total offshore wind capacity is forecast to more than triple by 2026.

China, India, Europe, and the US

In regards to the four markets that make up 80% of clean energy expansion worldwide:

  • China is the global leader. It’s expected to install 1,200 GW of total wind and solar capacity by 2026. That’s four years earlier than its current target of 2030.
  • India is set to have the highest rate of growth, doubling new installations compared with 2015-2020.
  • Europe and the US are also expected to escalate up significantly from the previous five years. 

IEA executive director Fatih Birol said of India and China:

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

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.

Yet, more growth is needed

The IEA then recommends how countries can spur further renewable growth, because despite record-breaking growth, it’s still not enough to meet Paris Agreement targets of net zero by 2050:

Governments can further accelerate the growth of renewables by addressing key barriers, such as permitting and grid integration challenges, social acceptance issues, inconsistent policy approaches, and insufficient remuneration.

High financing costs in the developing world are also a major obstacle. In the report’s accelerated case, which assumes some of these hurdles are overcome, average annual renewable capacity additions are one-quarter higher in the period to 2026 than is forecast in the main case.

However, even this faster deployment would still fall well short of what would be needed in a global pathway to net zero emissions by mid-century. That would require renewable power capacity additions over the period 2021-26 to average almost double the rate of the report’s main case.

It would also mean growth in biofuels demand averaging four times higher than in the main case, and renewable heat demand almost three times higher.

Read more: IEA zero emissions roadmap’s bombshell: no new fossil-fuel investment beyond 2021


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