Clean energy nearing fossil fuel phaseout

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By Creative Media News

  • Ember predicts renewable energy dominance in global electricity by 2024
  • Solar and wind growth drive renewables, reducing fossil fuels’ share
  • China leads in renewable energy but faces criticisms over subsidies

For the first time this year, renewable energy will reduce fossil fuels’ dominant share in the global electricity market.

This is the primary conclusion of Ember, a prominent London-based energy think tank, which published its first comprehensive Global Electricity Review analyzing data from 215 countries on Wednesday.

Since five years ago, the rapid expansion of solar and wind capacity has predominantly driven the increase in electricity demand towards renewable sources, while fossil fuels have experienced relative stagnation.

However, Ember also announced that they will reduce the market share of fossil fuels by 2 percent this year, marking the start of a decade-long effort to eliminate them from electricity generation in 32 developed economies.

The renewable energy sector experienced a yearly average growth rate of 3.5 percent over the last decade, up from 1.5 percent in the preceding decade. This increase is due to the declining costs of photovoltaic panels and wind turbines and their increased productivity.

Ember found that carbon-free sources produced 30 percent of the world’s electricity the previous year.

Dave Jones, one of the report’s principal authors, opined that 2024 would be a turning point due to several supplementary factors.

One contributing factor to the underperformance of installed capacity was the impediment imposed by light winds and droughts on hydroelectricity production; these circumstances are not anticipated to persist.

Jones told that 2023 will mark a significant turning point. “We didn’t fully experience the solar generation buildout until the end of the year, and we won’t see its full impact in generation until 2024.”

Jones predicted that a 50 percent decline in solar panel prices during the final months of 2023 would result in unprecedented new installations and the fully operational capacity effect.

Ember predicts that the significant increase in electricity supply from renewable sources will reach 1,221 terawatt hours this year, compared to the 513 TWh added the previous year.

Jones predicted, “What will occur in 2024 will be an unprecedented renewables boom, which will result in a decline in fossil fuel generation for the first time.”

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He stated that this is problematic for coal-fired power plants and potentially for natural gas.

Jones stated, “There will be a little bit of an abrupt awakening regarding gas.” “Previously, the gas industry eagerly anticipated coal’s demise because it would create a new market for them, but wind and solar energy are now replacing coal and gas.”

Ember’s forecast is contingent on the recovery of hydroelectric power from a five-year drought and the continued contribution of nuclear power to the global energy balance, which is slightly over 9 percent.

Theoretically, Europe’s leadership in clean energy production could have advanced even more rapidly if Germany had not chosen to shut down its nuclear power plants following the 2011 Fukushima accident in Japan, according to Trevelyan Wing, an energy-focused fellow at Cambridge University’s Centre for Geopolitics.

He stated, however, that the very forces that brought about the demise of nuclear power also propelled renewable energy.

The anti-nuclear movement significantly contributed to the energy transition in Germany. “[It] enabled the near-exponential expansion of renewable energy in that region by facilitating the installation of solar and wind farms, biogas plants, and contributing to the launch of the citizen energy movement.”

The critical function of China

China’s influence is substantial in both aspects of the energy transition narrative.

In the previous year, it produced roughly 29 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions, twice as much as the United States, the runner-up.

However, it also installed 60% of the world’s wind turbines and 50% of the world’s solar panels, solidifying its position as the leader in the green energy transition—up to 85% of the solar panels installed globally come from its production.

After electricity generation, transportation and heating are two of the most polluting sectors of the economy; in these areas, it is a leader in electrifying these sectors. Last year, it installed more heat pumps in residences and more electric vehicles than the rest of the world combined, and it was responsible for nearly all new electricity demand.

Ember applauds this, stating, “China’s need to find new export markets presents a tremendous opportunity for nations to capitalize on the accessibility and cost-effectiveness of solar energy compared to other generation sources.”

However, not all are satisfied with China’s state-led approach to renewable energy development.

“China’s huge subsidies for photovoltaic infrastructure are contributing to the widespread adoption of renewable energy sources, particularly solar,” energy analyst Miltiadis Aslanoglou explained.

Its objective is to eradicate all competitors so it will have a technology monopoly in the coming years.

According to Aslanoglou, the European Union, and the United States, major Chinese photovoltaic purchasers are both beneficiaries and casualties.

As a result of the numerous state subsidies, it is alleged that the added value created in China comes at the expense of a competitive market for renewable energy for all others.

According to Aslanoglou, this has repercussions such as unprepared electricity infrastructures for rising loads and the potential derailment of the business strategies of costly gas terminals, pipelines, and distribution networks, the recovery of which can take decades.

Nikos Tsafos, the chief energy counsel to Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis, considers this issue incomparably more favorable than climate change.

“We know that renewable energy is the cheapest way to generate new energy in most countries,” he told Al Jazeera. “When considering a nation such as Greece, which relies on fossil fuel imports, the cost-effectiveness and dependability of renewable energy sources generate an almost unstoppable momentum.”

Greece has rapidly transitioned under Mitsotakis, generating 57 percent of its electricity from renewable sources in 2018 and setting a target of 80 percent by the end of the decade. This provides Greece, which formerly relied on imports for nearly all of its energy, with pricing stability and supply security, which serve as the foundation for its anticipated economic recovery from its bankruptcy in 2010 within the next decade.

Following an arduous process of initiating and expanding a renewable energy sector, Tsafos asserts that Europe has finally confronted a highly favorable dilemma: how to assimilate the environmentally friendly electricity it produces.

Tsafos stated, “There are hours when renewable energy has no market value.” “However, rather than whether renewables are competitive, the question is how to reform the system to accommodate them.”

Compared to China, the United States and Europe have chosen state-led solutions.

The EU’s 2020 Recovery and Resilience Fund allocated subsidies and loans totaling 270 billion euros ($290 billion) for renewable energy installations and grid enhancements. Two years later, US President Joe Biden signed the Inflation Reduction Act into law, allocating $783 billion for climate change mitigation and renewable energy.

“While some businesses cease operations, others emerge,” predicted Tsafos. “We should not postpone or thwart the energy transition, as it is inevitable.” You must manage the trade-offs if something introduces a new dependency.

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