A recent report from the International Energy Agency says global emissions targets for this year will increase by 1%, compared to 2021’s 6%, and that this is mainly due to the widespread adoption of renewable energies and the increasing popularization of electric vehicles.
The news provides hope with respect to humanity’s decarbonization goals: last year was a disaster, with a post-pandemic recovery from the lockdowns and cutbacks of 2020 leading to much higher energy needs, which in many cases were obtained through coal-fired plants, producing more than two billion tons of carbon emissions, the largest annual increase in absolute terms in history. In 2021, renewables made up 10% of total power generation, a record, but clearly still insufficient.
This year’s slowdown comes despite being in the midst of a global energy crisis triggered by the Russian invasion of Ukraine and soaring oil and gas prices. The reason is that the increase in energy demand is not being offset by coal, diesel and gas consumption, but by growing renewable energy installations: tensions with Russia have focused minds on achieving higher levels of energy independence, specifically onshore and offshore wind farms, and on the other hand, solar power farms and solar home installations, which result in lower stresses on the generation fabric.
While solar and wind power make up the bulk of the gap in demand, the small increase in coal consumption in some countries is clearly a cyclical issue, especially given the lack of interest generated by such a high-cost energy in the face of increasingly cheaper renewables. Since 2020, renewables have been by far the cheapest form of power generation.
This year, the capacity contributed by new renewable energy installations reached a total of 700 TwH, representing savings in emissions of more than 600 million tons of carbon dioxide. Growth in solar and wind accounted for two-thirds of new renewable capacity, while hydropower, having a bad year due to major droughts around the world, offset the remaining third. In the United States alone, renewables contributed 25% of the total in the first half of the year, and accounted for 71% of new power installations between January and July.
It is time for truth, to put an end to myths that have been peddled for too long, and to understand that the world is in the midst of an unstoppable renewable energy revolution: by 2026, 95% of the increase in installed capacity will come from renewable energies. Theoretically, the planet could be able to supply itself 100% with renewable electricity by 2030, and to do so with much lower storage requirements than initially anticipated. Germany aims to achieve this by 2035, and many other countries are also aiming for similar targets. But beyond the climate emergency goals, we now also know that moving away from fossil fuels is something that could realistically be done and earn back its investments in as little as six years, generating global savings of $12 trillion.
Decarbonization is an urgent need, but we now also know that it is possible and that we are on the right track. We just need to understand the gravity of the situation, to imagine a world without the smoke of fossil fuels in the air… and to take the necessary steps to achieve that faster and faster. We can do it.
This article is also published on the author's blog. Illuminem Voices is a democratic space presenting the thoughts and opinions of leading Sustainability & Energy writers, their opinions do not necessarily represent those of illuminem.
Enrique Dans is Professor of Innovation at IE Business School in Madrid, and Senior Advisor for Innovation and Digital Transformation at IE University. He writes daily in Spanish on enriquedans.com, and in English on Medium. He has written two books: “Todo va a cambiar” (2010) and “Living in the Future” (2019).