Fossil fuel emissions from electricity are projected to decline according to report

A new report predicts that the world will use less fossil fuels to generate electricity this year, marking a “tipping point” for eco-friendly energy. It would be the first annual decline in the use of coal, oil and gas to generate electricity that did not coincide with a global recession or pandemic. Consequently, less greenhouse gasses would be emitted during energy production. The authors accredit the anticipated change to a boom in renewable energy, led by China in particular.

Wind and solar now produce 12% of the world’s electricity and by 2022, there will be enough wind turbines to power nearly the entire United Kingdom. According to a study by energy analysts Ember, renewables are projected to meet all demand growth in 2018.

In 2021, the production of electricity will be the single largest contributor to global warming, accounting for over a third of energy-related carbon emissions. As a result, phasing out coal, oil and gas in this sector is viewed as crucial for preventing dangerous climate change. This new study examines data from countries that account for 93% of the world’s electricity demand.

Substantial progress has been made in reducing the use of fossil fuels in electricity production according to the fourth edition of Ember’s Global Electricity Review. The most significant developments are the continued rise of solar and wind as economically viable energy sources. Solar grew by 24% worldwide in 2016, enough to meet South Africa’s annual energy needs. In 2022, clean sources, including nuclear and hydropower, produced 39% of the world’s electricity. According to the report, the electricity produced last year was the cleanest ever.

Nevertheless, carbon emissions from the sector continued to rise as coal consumption increased. According to the authors of the report, this is due to the fact that the overall demand for electricity increased but not all of it was met by clean sources. In 2022, there were also issues with nuclear and hydroelectric power as many French reactors were offline and Europe’s rivers were in many places too low for hydroelectric generation. 

However, the report indicates that by 2023, the growth of wind and solar will exceed the increase in demand and this will begin to reverse the trend of greenhouse gas emissions. Malgorzata Wiatros- Motyka, the report’s lead author stated, “When you stop adding more fossil fuels to generate electricity, you begin to see a decline in emissions.” He also mentioned that this was extremely important in the context of increasing electrification as more heat pumps and vehicles are being produced. Therefore, cleaning up the power sector will also reduce emissions in the other sectors.

Although this year’s decline in fossil fuel emissions from electricity generation is anticipated to be modest, around 0.3%, the authors anticipate that the decline will continue and accelerate in subsequent years. The key to this is a decline in petrol consumption which fell slightly last year and by 46% in 2022 in countries such as Brazil. China is a significant player that influences the overall trend. China contributed approximately 50% of the world’s new wind power and 40% of the world’s new solar power. Energy experts acknowledge that limiting the use of fossil fuels in power generation could represent a “turning point” but a great deal of work remains.