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Renewables make up 67% of all new capacity added globally in 2019

Wind in Clouds
Credit: Photo by Thomas Richter on Unsplash

According to data by BloombergNEF (BNEF), photovoltaics (PV) was the main new power-generating technology source in countries ranging from Australia, to India, Italy, Namibia, Uruguay and the U.S., in 2019. With a record 118 gigawatt (GW) constructed, PV topped all other technologies in new-build terms and was the most popular technology deployed in a third of nations.

Overall, 81 countries built at least 1 megawatt (MW) of solar during the last calendar year and solar accounted for nearly half of all new power generation capacity constructed worldwide.

These findings are highlighted in BNEF’s new Power Transition Trends 2020 report and online tool, which tracks detailed capacity and generation data over the past decade. Both are based on country-level data compiled by BNEF analysts directly from primary country sources, current through 2019.

The report highlights solar advancements, as the renewable energy source rose from 43.7 GW of total installed capacity in 2010 to 651 GW as of 2019. In 2019, solar also moved past wind (644 GW) to become the fourth largest source of power on a capacity basis, behind coal (2,089 GW), gas (1,812 GW) and hydro (1,160 GW). There is now more wind and solar capacity online worldwide than total capacity from all technologies, clean or dirty, in the U.S.

“Sharp declines in solar equipment costs, namely the modules that go on rooftops and in fields, have made this technology widely available for homes, businesses and grids,” said Luiza Demôro, BNEF analyst and lead author of the study.

On a generation basis, contributions of solar are smaller due to PV’s lower capacity factors, when compared to fossil fuels. However, in 2019, solar accounted for 2.7% of electricity generated worldwide, BNEF found, up from 0.16% a decade ago. BNEF expects the market to continue to grow, with 140-178 GW of new solar to be built in 2022.

Additionally, from 2018 to 2019, power produced from coal dropped 3% as plants ran less frequently. This marked the first fall in coal generation since 2014-2015 and while the world has far more coal plants online today than a decade ago, those plants are running less often. The average utilization rate at coal-fired power plants has dropped from 57% in 2010 to 50% in 2019. Still, the 9,200 terawatt-hours (TWh) produced from coal in 2019 was up 17% from 2010.

Global coal capacity surged 32% over the decade to reach 2.1 terawatts (TW), in 2019. Over 113GW of net coal retirements in developed nations during the 2010s could not offset the 691GW flood of net new coal in emerging markets. In 2019, the world saw 39GW of net new coal capacity installed, up significantly from 2018 when 19GW of coal was completed.

“Wealthier countries are moving quickly to mothball older, largely inefficient coal plants because they can’t compete with new gas or renewables projects,” said Ethan Zindler, head of Americas at BNEF. “However, in less developed nations, particularly in south and southeast Asia, new, more efficient coal plants continue to come online – often with financial support from Chinese and Japanese lenders.”

Other findings from the new data include:

  • Wind and solar accounted for over two-thirds of the 265 GW of new capacity installed worldwide in 2019, up from less than a quarter of new build in 2010. For the first time, the two technologies also accounted for most of new generation recorded in 2019. Including hydro power and renewables, which made up three-fourths of 2019 commissioned capacity.
  • Wind and solar build were mostly concentrated in wealthier nations during the first half of the 2010s but that has shifted recently. In a group that includes nearly all OECD nations, wind and solar have accounted for most new capacity built each year since 2011. Among a group of non-OECD nations plus Chile, Colombia, Mexico and Turkey, wind and solar have accounted for most of the annual build each year since 2016.
  • BNEF estimates that global power sector CO2 emissions slipped 1.5% 2018-2019, as declines in the U.S. and EU more than offset an increase from China, which accounted for 37% of the 2019 total. The U.S. followed with 14% and the EU with 6%.
Bloomberg Solar PV Map
Figure 1: Most annual newly installed power-generating technology in 2010 (left) vs. 2019 (right)
Source: BloombergNEF. Note: Map colored by which technology was most installed in 2010 and in 2019 alone. Solar includes small-scale PV.

The Power Transition Trends 2020 report and tool are based on data collected from 138 nations through 2019. This data encompasses every country in the world

Separately, BNEF has been tracking power production in 25 of the world’s largest developed markets daily in 2020. Based on those preliminary data, BNEF expects total global generation, coal generation and power sector CO2 emissions to fall further in 2020 due to economic difficulties during COVID-19.