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Global renewable energy capacity additions in 2020 beat earlier estimates and all previous records despite the economic slowdown that resulted from the COVID-19 pandemic. According to data released by the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) the world added more than 260GW of renewable energy capacity last year, exceeding expansion in 2019 by close to 50%.
IRENA’s annual Renewable Capacity Statistics 2021 shows that renewable energy’s share of all new generating capacity rose for the second year in a row. More than 80% of all new electricity capacity added last year was renewable, with solar and wind accounting for 91% of new renewables.
Renewables’ rising share of the total is partly attributable to net decommissioning of fossil fuel power generation in Europe, North America and for the first time across Eurasia (Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Russian Federation and Turkey). Total fossil fuel additions fell to 60GW in 2020 from 64GW the previous year highlighting a continued downward trend of fossil fuel expansion.
At the end of 2020, global renewable generation capacity amounted to 2 799GW with hydropower still accounting for the largest share (1 211GW) although solar and wind are catching up fast. The two variable sources of renewables dominated capacity expansion in 2020 with 127GW and 111GW of new installations for solar and wind respectively.
China and the United States were the two outstanding growth markets from 2020. China, already the world’s largest market for renewables added 136GW last year with the bulk coming from 72GW of wind and 49GW of solar. The United States installed 29GW of renewables last year, nearly 80% more than in 2019, including 15GW of solar and around 14GW of wind. Africa continued to expand steadily with an increase of 2.6GW, slightly more than in 2019, while Oceania remained the fastest growing region (+18.4%), although its share of global capacity is small and almost all expansion occurred in Australia.
Highlights by technology:
  • Hydropower: Growth in hydro recovered in 2020, with the commissioning of several large projects delayed in 2019. China added 12GW of capacity, followed by Turkey with 2.5GW.
  • Wind energy: Wind expansion almost doubled in 2020 compared to 2019 (111GW compared to 58GW last year). China added 72GW of new capacity, followed by the United States (14GW). Ten other countries increased wind capacity by more than 1GW in 2020. Offshore wind increased to reach around 5% of total wind capacity in 2020.
  • Solar energy: Total solar capacity has now reached about the same level as wind capacity thanks largely to expansion in Asia (78GW) in 2020. Major capacity increases in China (49GW) and Viet Nam (11GW). Japan also added over 5GW and India and Republic of Korea both expanded solar capacity by more than 4GW. The United States added 15GW.
  • Bioenergy: Net capacity expansion fell by half in 2020 (2.5GW compared to 6.4GW in 2019). Bioenergy capacity in China expanded by over 2GW. Europe the only other region with significant expansion in 2020, adding 1.2GW of bioenergy capacity, a similar to 2019.
  • Geothermal energy: Very little capacity added in 2020. Turkey increased capacity by 99MW and small expansions occurred in New Zealand, the United States and Italy.
  • Off-grid electricity: Off-grid capacity grew by 365MW in 2020 (2%) to reach 10.6GW. Solar expanded by 250MW to reach 4.3GW and hydro remained almost unchanged at about 1.8GW.
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