Just two percentage points more in a decade: According to a new report, that’s the balance in the global energy transition. While in 2009 renewable sources such as wind power, photovoltaics and hydropower covered 10.6 percent of global energy requirements, the figure rose to 12.6 percent in 2020. On the other hand, the proportion of fossil fuels is almost unchanged at around 80 percent. Research center REN21, which compiled the study, said the report “sends a strong warning that energy transfer is not occurring.” This makes it increasingly unlikely that the world will meet critical climate goals this decade.
At first glance, the numbers in the “Global State of Renewables 2022 Report” don’t look that bad. In the last year alone, 314 gigawatts of renewable energy was connected to the grid, a new record in absolute terms. For the first time, wind turbines and solar systems provided more than ten percent of the world’s electricity needs. However, the recent expansion has not been enough to keep up with the growing thirst for energy.
According to the report’s authors, the increased demand since the recession caused by the Corona pandemic has been mainly offset by fossil fuels. Historic opportunity missed. “The reality is that many countries are turning to new fossil fuel sources and burning more coal, gas and oil in response to the crisis,” said Rana Adib, president of REN21. In fact, global greenhouse gas emissions jumped to a new record high in 2021.
Extension required three times faster
The situation is even better in the area of electricity supply, where renewables now contribute 28%. However, all appliances that consume electricity only account for 17 percent of global energy requirements. About twice the energy required – mostly in the form of gasoline and other fuels – to carry passengers and goods. Here, renewable energy, in this case primarily plant-derived biofuels, currently covers 3.7 percent of demand. According to the authors, the lack of progress in transport is particularly striking. Half of the energy consumed worldwide is required for heating, air conditioning and industrial processes – here the share of renewables was recently 11 percent.
According to the researchers, the expansion of carbon dioxide-neutral technologies must be about three times faster in order to achieve global climate goals and reduce greenhouse gas emissions to zero by mid-century. Accordingly, it will be necessary to increase 825 gigawatts each year, which comes mainly from photovoltaics and wind energy.
The report cites, among other things, high subsidies for fossil fuels, which the state currently subsidizes at 5.6 trillion euros annually, which is equivalent to seven percent of global gross national product, as reasons for the slow progress. At the same time, many governments have lukewarmly supported the expansion of renewable energies. For example, India cut financial aid to renewables by almost half between 2017 and 2020.
However, the authors point out, more money is now flowing into the expansion of renewable energies than into new nuclear or fossil power plants. In addition, 1,400 large investment companies have now committed to withdrawing their stakes in fossil projects. However, the observed price increases currently do not stop at renewable sources. The cost of PV modules more than halved in 2021 compared to the previous year – after prices had been steadily dropping for years. Bottlenecks in materials such as polysilicon and disrupted supply chains are now threatening expansion in the wind and solar sectors.