Wind and solar on cusp of major milestone, but warning signs are ahead

13 Aug 2020

Image: © 一飞 黄/

While wind and solar are now a significant source of electricity for the world, the Covid-19 pandemic has slowed down construction of new sites.

A 2020 half-year report published by energy policy firm Ember has shown that wind and solar are soon to reach an important decarbonisation milestone. According to figures from 48 major countries across the world, wind and solar now contribute almost one-tenth (9.8pc) of the planet’s electricity, which is up from 8.1pc in the first half of last year.

Wind and solar generation rose 14pc in the first half of this year compared with the same period in 2019, generating almost as much electricity as nuclear power plants, which generated 10.5pc in the first half of 2020.

The total output from these renewables in the first half of this year amounted to 1,129 terawatts, versus 992 terawatts in the same period of 2019. Many of the world’s major nations now generate more than 10pc of their own electricity from wind and solar, bar Russia which generated just 0.2pc in this period.

Globally, coal generation fell by 8.3pc in the first half of 2020 compared with 2019, marking a new record for year-on-year decline. However, as the US and Europe reduce their coal use for electricity, China’s use of the fossil fuel continues to rise, increasing from 50pc in 2019 to 54pc so far this year.

The global coal decline, the authors of the report said, was in part due to the fall in demand for electricity globally (approximately 3pc) as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic. Ember estimated that 70pc of coal’s decline in the first half of this year was due to the pandemic, but 30pc was due to wind and solar developments.

Still far off track

In addition to its impact on coal, Covid-19 has also slowed the rate of solar and wind installations globally. It’s estimated that this rate will fall by 13pc in 2020 to its lowest level since 2015. The authors warned that despite promising figures for renewable electricity found in the report, they are still far from what’s needed to limit global temperature rises to 1.5 degrees Celsius as advised by climate experts.

It’s estimated that coal-sourced electricity needs to fall to just 6pc of global generation, but was 33pc in the first half of this year.

“Countries across the world are now on the same path – building wind turbines and solar panels to replace electricity from coal and gas-fired power plants,” said Dave Jones, senior electricity analyst at Ember.

“But to keep a chance of limiting climate change to 1.5 degrees, coal generation needs to fall by 13pc every year this decade. The fact that, during a global pandemic, coal generation has still only fallen by 8pc shows just how far off track we still are. We have the solution, it’s working, it’s just not happening fast enough.”

In Ireland, contracts were provisionally secured last week for 19 new windfarms and 63 solar projects across the country under the first Renewable Electricity Support Scheme auction. This scheme is part of the Government’s aims to meet its 2030 Climate Action Plan targets.

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic