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Solar and wind energy grew quickly enough in 2023 to push renewables up to 30% of global electricity supply and begin pushing fossil fuels off the power grid, a climate consultancy concluded in a report released earlier this month.

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Solar and wind energy grew quickly enough in 2023 to push renewables up to 30 percent of global electricity supply and begin pushing fossil fuels off the power grid, the Ember climate consultancy concludes in a report released May 8.

The report projects that fossil-fuelled electricity generation will decline 2 percent next year, because while demand is expected to grow rapidly, renewables will grow even faster.

“With record construction of solar and wind in 2023, a new era of falling fossil generation is imminent,” the London, UK-based think tank writes. Renewable energy growth is “breaking records and driving ever-cleaner electricity production,” bringing the world to “a turning point where solar and wind not only slow emissions growth, but actually start to push fossil generation into decline.”

Already, “the rollout of clean generation, led by solar and wind, has helped to slow the growth in fossil fuels by almost two-thirds in the last 10 years,” the report states. “As a result, half the world’s economies are already at least five years past a peak in electricity generation from fossil fuels,” with OECD countries leading the charge since 2007.

Ember’s analysis covers 215 countries, including the 80 that account for 92 percent of global electricity demand and the top six countries and regions that produce 72 percent of the world’s power sector emissions. It shows solar generation growing by 23 percent and wind power by 10 percent last year, while fossil-generated electricity essentially stalled out at 0.8 percent growth — contrary to persistent oil and gas industry claims that the years and decades ahead will see rising demand for their product.

“The renewables future has arrived,” said Dave Jones, director of Ember’s global insights program. “Solar in particular is accelerating faster than anyone thought possible,” making a decline in power sector emissions “inevitable” and 2023 “likely the pivot point.” An emissions peak across the sector would be “a major turning point in the history of energy,” he said.

While “the pace of emissions falls depends on how fast the renewables revolution continues,” Jones added, “we already know the key enablers that help countries unleash the full potential of solar and wind.” That points to an “unprecedented opportunity for countries that choose to be at the forefront of the clean energy future.”

Already, the think tank says the carbon intensity of electricity generation — the emissions produced per unit of power generated — is down 12 percent from its peak in 2007.

Consistent with other recent analysis, the Ember report shows renewable energy surging from 19 percent of global electricity supply in 2000 to 30 percent in 2023, powered mainly by an increase from 0.2 to 13.4 percent for solar and wind. China accounted for 51 percent of the new solar generation and 60 percent of the new wind. Solar was the fastest-growing source of new generation for the 19th year in a row, and edged out wind as the biggest source for the second year running, adding more than twice as much new electricity as coal.

“The record surge in installations at the very end of 2023 means that 2024 is set for an even larger increase in solar generation,” Ember says.

Hydropower production, by contrast, fell to a five-year low due to widespread drought. Those missing electrons prompted some countries to turn back to coal, with 95 percent of the increase coming from China, India, Mexico, and Vietnam.

Electricity demand grew by only 2.2 percent in 2023, but Ember warns there are larger increases ahead. “More than half of the electricity demand rise in 2023 was from five technologies: electric vehicles, heat pumps, electrolysers, air conditioning, and data centres,” the report states. “The spread of these technologies will accelerate the growth in electricity demand, but overall energy demand will decline as electrification is much more efficient than fossil fuels.”

On Wednesday evening, fossil industry newsletter Rigzone reported that oil and gas supergiant Saudi Aramco posted a 14.4 percent drop in quarterly profits compared to the same three months last year, as lower oil sales offset higher prices per barrel.

This story by Mitchell Beer was originally published by The Energy Mix and is part of Covering Climate Now, a global journalism collaboration strengthening coverage of the climate story.

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