Coal generation rising despite global net-zero ambition

Australia generated a quarter of its electricity from solar and wind in 2022, more than double the global average, a think tank says.

Wind and solar are also accelerating worldwide, research released on Wednesday shows, with last year’s global rise in solar generation enough to have met the annual electricity demand of Australia.

The report by independent energy think tank Ember found last year may have been the peak of electricity emissions and the final year of fossil power growth, with clean power forecast to meet all demand growth this year.

But the report also found global coal-fired generation was still rising (up 1.1 per cent) even as wind and solar surged (19 per cent).

The electricity sector, in Australia and worldwide, is the biggest greenhouse gas emitter and must decarbonise if international net zero goals are to be met.

A cleaner power supply is also expected to trigger the electrification of big polluters in heavy industry and transport.

“Tracking progress on how our electricity is generated is critical, as it is not only a huge source of greenhouse gases, it is also needed as an enabler of a cleaner and more efficient energy system overall,” Ember’s chair Baroness Bryony Worthington said.

While 2022 may be seen as the turning point, fossil fuels are still providing the backbone of the electricity system in many large economies including Australia, according to the Global Electricity Review 2023.

However, the carbon intensity fell to a record low in 2022 on record growth in wind and solar, which counted for 12 per cent of the global electricity mix – up from 10 per cent in 2021.

Solar generation rose by almost a quarter (24 per cent), making it the fastest-growing electricity source for 18 years in a row, while wind generation grew by 17 per cent.

Gas power generation eased 0.2 per cent in 2022, falling for the second time in three years as high gas prices continue.

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, but it also accelerated electrification with rising consumer demand for electric cars and heat pumps.

Gas-to-coal switching was limited in 2022 because gas was already mostly more expensive, with only 31 gigawatts of new gas power plants built in 2022, which was the lowest in 18 years.

A gas power phase-down is now within reach for the first time, the report said.

But last year also saw the lowest number of coal plant closures in seven years as countries relied on the fossil fuel to maintain back-up capacity.

Coal power remained the single largest source of electricity, producing more than a third (36 per cent) of global electricity in 2022.


Marion Rae
(Australian Associated Press)


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