June 13th, 2024

Global renewables reach new milestone, generating 30% of electricity in 2023

Despite a reduction in hydropower due to severe droughts, which temporarily increased coal usage, the year is poised to be the turning point for declining fossil fuel reliance.

The increase in renewables' share, driven largely by China’s substantial contributions to solar and wind sectors, has significantly reduced the carbon intensity of global power generation.
The increase in renewables' share, driven largely by China’s substantial contributions to solar and wind sectors, has significantly reduced the carbon intensity of global power generation.

2023 marked a significant turning point in global electricity production, with renewable energy sources—principally solar and wind—contributing an unprecedented 30% to the global electricity mix. This shift, driven by extensive growth in solar and wind capacities, signals a pivotal moment likely denoting the peak of power sector emissions, according to Ember's 2024 Global Electricity Review.

The Big Picture: A Transformative Year for Energy

  • Record Renewable Integration: The increase in renewables' share, driven largely by China’s substantial contributions to solar and wind sectors, has significantly reduced the carbon intensity of global power generation.

  • Solar Leads the Charge: Solar energy emerged as the fastest-growing electricity source for the 19th consecutive year, outpacing all other forms of generation in new capacity and operational output.

  • Hydropower’s Dip and Coal’s Resurgence: Despite the gains in renewables, a global decline in hydropower due to severe drought conditions saw a temporary increase in coal usage, particularly in nations heavily affected by water shortages, such as China, India, Vietnam, and Mexico.

A Closer Look at Demand and Supply Dynamics

  • Demand Dynamics: While global electricity demand rose to record levels in 2023, the rate of increase slowed compared to previous years, influenced by economic factors and energy efficiency improvements in developed economies. However, this trend is set to reverse, with demand expected to surge driven by new technologies and further electrification.

  • Supply Shifts: The electricity supply landscape saw significant growth in solar and wind, which compensated for most of the demand increases. However, the underperformance of hydropower and the modest rise in coal use underscored the complex interplay of factors influencing global energy trends.

Forecast: A New Era of Declining Fossil Generation

Experts anticipate that 2024 will commence a downward trajectory for fossil fuel generation, propelled by robust growth in clean energy installations and a resurgence in hydropower. This transition is bolstered by international commitments, such as those from the COP28 conference, which aim to triple global renewable capacity by 2030, setting a course to significantly reduce power sector emissions.

Policy and Innovation: Key Drivers of Change

The rapid adoption of renewable technologies globally is supported by strong policy frameworks, financial incentives, and technological advancements, particularly in leading nations like China, Brazil, and the Netherlands. These elements are crucial for sustaining the momentum towards a low-carbon future.

Implications and Strategic Directions

The shift towards a renewable-dominant energy landscape is not only imperative for meeting climate goals but also critical for enhancing energy security and economic stability globally. Policymakers and industry leaders must continue to focus on integrating renewable energy, optimizing grid infrastructure, and promoting energy efficiency to navigate the challenges of the next decade effectively.

Steering Towards a Sustainable Future

2023 stands as a landmark year that likely represents the peak of carbon emissions from the power sector, heralding a new era of declining fossil fuel use and a shift towards a sustainable and resilient global energy system. As the world leans into this transformative phase, the collective efforts of nations, guided by forward-thinking policies and innovative technologies, will be pivotal in shaping a sustainable energy future.