Renewables- The Success Story of the Covid-19 Era: IEA Report

A new report by the International Energy Agency (IEA) has found that the renewables sector has remained the success story of the Covid 19 era and is set to provide more than half of the increase in global electricity supply in 2021, of which China alone is likely to account for almost half of the global increase in renewable electricity generation.

The report shows that renewable energy use increased by 3% in 2020 as demand for all other fuels declined. The primary driver was an almost 7% growth in electricity generation from renewable sources. Long-term contracts, priority access to the grid, and continuous installation of new plants underpinned renewables growth despite lower electricity demand, supply chain challenges, and construction delays in many parts of the world. Accordingly, the share of renewables in global electricity generation jumped to 29% in 2020, up from 27% in 2019. Bioenergy use in industry grew 3%, but was largely offset by a decline in biofuels as lower oil demand also reduced the use of blended biofuels.

Renewable electricity generation in 2021 is set to expand by more than 8% to reach 8 300 TWh, the fastest year-on-year growth since the 1970s. Solar PV and wind are set to contribute two-thirds of renewables growth. China alone should account for almost half of the global increase in renewable electricity in 2021, followed by the United States, the European Union and India.

According to the study, wind is set for the largest increase in renewable generation, growing by 275 TWh, or almost 17%, which is significantly greater than 2020 levels. Policy deadlines in China and the United States drove developers to complete a record amount of capacity late in the fourth quarter of 2020, leading to notable increases in generation already from the first two months of 2021. Over the course of 2021, China is expected to generate 600 TWh and the United States 400 TWh, together representing more than half of global wind output.

While China will remain the largest PV market, expansion will continue in the United States with ongoing policy support at the federal and state level. Having experienced a significant decline in new solar PV capacity additions in 2020 as a result of Covid-related delays, India’s PV market is expected to recover rapidly in 2021, while increases in generation in Brazil and Viet Nam are driven by strong policy supports for distributed solar PV applications. Globally, solar PV electricity generation is expected to increase by 145 TWh, almost 18%, to approach 1 000 TWh in 2021.

Going by the findings of the report, hydropower generation is likely to increase further in 2021 through a combination of economic recovery and new capacity additions from large projects in China. Energy from waste electricity projects in Asia will drive growth of bioenergy, thanks to incentives. Increases in electricity generation from all renewable sources should push the share of renewables in the electricity generation mix to an all-time high of 30% in 2021. Combined with nuclear, low-carbon sources of generation well and truly exceed output from the world’s coal plants in 2021.

The report concludes that in 2021, the biofuels market is likely to recover and approach 2019 production levels as transportation activity slowly resumes and biofuel blending rates increase. Biofuels are consumed mostly in road transportation, blended with gasoline and diesel fuels, and thus are less affected by continued depressed activity in the aviation sector.

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Soumya Duggal

Soumya Duggal

Soumya is a master's degree holder in English, with a passion for writing. It's an interest she has directed towards environmental writing recently, with a special emphasis on the progress being made in renewable energy.