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Solar and wind power can limit global warming to 1.5C, new report reveals

Wind farm appearing over the horizon.
Wind farm appearing over the horizon.   -   Copyright  Canva
By Maeve Campbell  with Reuters

Solar and wind power can grow enough to limit global warming to 1.5C if the 10-year average compound growth rate of 20 per cent can be maintained to 2030, according to a new report.

Independent climate think tank Ember announced the news on Wednesday, adding that solar generation rose 23 per cent globally in 2021, while wind supply gained 14 per cent over the same period. 

Together, both renewable sources accounted for 10.3 per cent of total global electricity generation, up 1 per cent from 2020.

The Netherlands, Australia and Vietnam had the fastest growth rates for the renewable sources, switching around 10 per cent of their electricity demand from fossil fuels to wind and solar in the last two years, they said.

If these renewable trends can be replicated globally, and sustained, the power sector would be on track for 1.5 degree goal.

"If these trends can be replicated globally, and sustained, the power sector would be on track for 1.5 degree goal," Ember said in its report.

Yves Herman/REUTERS
Wind energy is on the rise.Yves Herman/REUTERS

What is holding us back from more renewable growth?

The main issue currently slowing the growth rate is on-the-ground constraints like permitting. 

Plus, if governments want to supercharge growth they need to solve problems slowing deployment, Ember's global lead Dave Jones said.

Also, despite gains in wind and solar, coal-fired power generation saw its fastest growth since at least 1985, up 9 per cent in 2021 at 10,042 terawatt hours (TWh), or 59 per cent of the total demand rise, the report said.

This came in a year of rapid demand recovery, as 2021 saw the largest recorded annual increase in global electricity - the equivalent of adding a new India to global demand.

2021 saw the largest recorded annual increase in global electricity - the equivalent of adding a new India to global demand.

"We're getting closer to that break-even where wind and solar can cover new electricity demand, but we are still not quite there. If we maintain those growth rates we see, we will be there shortly," Jones said.

The biggest demand rise was recorded in China, up 13 per cent in 2021 compared to pre-pandemic levels in 2019, the data showed.

The country relies largely on coal for power production, but passed the one-tenth of power generation from wind and solar landmark for the first time in 2021 along with six other countries.

KHAM/REUTERS
We are on track to meet climate targets if renewable energy output increases in the next few years.KHAM/REUTERS

China "is installing not only record levels of wind and solar, but also installing record levels of clean electricity like hydro, nuclear and bioenergy which means their coal generation will start falling," Jones said.

"What's not clear is how quickly that will be," he added.

China plans to continue to use coal as a vital part of its energy strategy, as it bids to balance economic stability with its longer-term climate goals.