2022 may have heralded the ‘peak’ of power-related emissions


Wind and solar generation reached a record 12 per cent of global electricity in 2022, which could push the world into a new era of falling fossil generation and power sector emissions, according to a new study from energy analysts Ember.

If all the electricity from wind and solar instead came from fossil generation, power sector emissions would have been 20 per cent higher in 2022. The growth alone in wind and solar generation, which amounted to an additional 557 TWh, met 80 per cent of global electricity demand growth in 2022.

Clean power growth is likely to exceed electricity demand growth in 2023; this would be the first year for this to happen outside of a recession. With average growth in electricity demand and clean power, Ember forecasts that 2023 will see a small fall in fossil generation, with bigger falls in subsequent years as wind and solar grow further. That would mean 2022 hit ‘peak’ emissions from power-related sources.

In this decisive decade for the climate, it is the beginning of the end of the fossil age. We are entering the clean power era, and the stage is set for wind and solar to achieve a meteoric rise to the top,” said Małgorzata Wiatros-Motyka, senior electricity analyst at Ember.

Clean electricity will reshape the global economy, from transport to industry and beyond. A new era of falling fossil emissions means the coal power phasedown will happen, and the end of gas power growth is now within sight. Change is coming fast. However, it all depends on the actions taken now by governments, businesses and citizens to put the world on a pathway to clean power by 2040.

According to Ember, the electricity sector needs to move from being the highest emitting sector to being the first sector to reach net zero emissions globally by 2040 so the world has a chance to achieve economy-wide net zero by 2050. 

Electricity generation is the single biggest contributor to global CO2 emissions, responsible for over a third of the world’s total energy related emissions in 2021. As of 2021, about three-quarters of power sector emissions were from coal, and almost a quarter from gas. With proven solutions already available to tackle this challenge, decarbonising the power sector offers one of the most cost-effective routes to achieving rapid emissions reductions.

Across all models, wind and solar are set to lead this shift, offering low cost and quick-to-deliver clean capacity. The IPCC showed that wind and solar can deliver over a third of the emissions cuts required this decade, and half of those emissions reductions would actually save money compared to the reference scenario. In many countries, wind and solar are also economically attractive: lower cost than fossil fuels, and without the potential energy security risks of dependence on the global fossil fuel market.

However, keeping global heating to 1.5 degrees means delivering on the huge expectations set for wind and solar, and picking up speed on other clean electricity sources – including nuclear and hydro – that are currently being built too slowly. There remains much work to be done to achieve the rapid falls in power sector emissions needed this decade.

“We still have a long journey to travel, with many challenges ahead and with a clear objective: we must act quickly, always putting people at the centre,” concluded Chile’s minister of energy, Diego Pardow. “There are no more excuses.”

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