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In a nutshell: The amount of global electricity generated by wind and solar energy power reached a record 12% last year, up from 10% in 2021, according to a new report. It also states that last year could have marked peak emissions from the power sector, the world's largest producer of carbon dioxide.
Independent energy think tank Ember reports that global electricity production last year was the cleanest ever, as the carbon intensity of global electricity generation fell to a record low of 436 gCO2/kWh. In total, all clean sources, including renewables and nuclear power, reached 39% of global electricity.
Wind generation grew 17% last year, an increase that could have powered almost all of the UK. While solar generation's 24% YoY increase could have met the annual electricity demand of South Africa. Solar's growth made it the fastest-growing electricity source for 18 years in a row.
The increase in wind and solar generation in 2022 met 80% of the rise in global electricity demand. And while gas-fired power generation declined by 0.2% due to high prices, coal generation grew by 1.1%, though that increase, a result of the energy crisis, wasn't as bad as many feared.
The less welcome stat is that fossil generation rose by 183 TWh (+1.1%) in 2022, setting a new record and causing power sector CO2 emissions to rise by 160 million tonnes, a 1.3% YoY increase slowed by solar and wind. Coal power remained the single largest source of electricity, producing 36% of all power in 2022.
The report said that if all electricity from wind and solar generation came instead from fossil fuels, power sector emissions would have been 20% higher last year.
Probably the most positive news is that, following last year's peak, fossil fuel use is predicted to fall slightly this year before experiencing greater declines in subsequent years as wind and solar grow further.
In order for the world to achieve economy-wide net zero by 2050, the electricity sector needs to become the first sector to reach net zero emissions globally by 2040.
"2022 will be remembered as a turning point in the world's transition to clean power. Russia's invasion of Ukraine made many governments rethink their plans amid spiking fossil fuel prices and security concerns about relying on fossil fuel imports," states the report.
"It also accelerated electrification: more heat pumps, more electric vehicles, more electrolyzers. These will drive reductions in emissions for other sectors, and will put more pressure to build clean power more quickly."
Ember's electricity data comes from 78 countries, representing 93% of global electricity demand.