Renewables rise as coal falls in the first half of 2020

A field of sunflowers is within sight of the Mehrum coal-fired power station, wind turbines and high-voltage lines in Mehrum, Germany. (KEYSTONE / AP DPA / Julian Stratenschulte)

According to a report by Ember, a London-based climate think-tank, wind and solar energy around the world produced nearly 10% of global electricity in the first half of the year — 14% higher than the production in the first semester of 2019.

Why this is encouraging. The share of electricity generated from wind and sun this year has more than doubled from 4.6% in 2015, right when the Paris Climate Agreement was signed. Leading the charge are the UK and Europe at 33% and 21%, respectively. Other countries were also observed to produce good levels of wind and solar electricity of around 10-12%.

The fall of Old “King Coal”? As the global demand for electricity dropped by 3%, the think-tank also reported that global coal production fell by 8.3% in the first half of 2020, the highest drop since at least 1990. The reason behind this is somewhat particular to this year. As the report has mentioned,

“Although 70% of coal’s fall in H1-2020 can be attributed to lower electricity demand due to Covid-19, 30% can be attributed to increased wind and solar generation.”

Reality hits. Despite these changes, the needle is very difficult to move in the right direction. The world’s energy-mix is still largely dominated by traditional sources such as coal, oil, and gas.

Moreover, the shift to renewables is not the same everywhere. For example, though the UK has achieved to bring down the annual consumption of coal to its lowest level in 250 years, countries such as Poland, who depend mostly on coal for electricity, will face greater challenges in shifting (though the pandemic might give them a new reason to do so.)

“Off-track for 1.5 degrees.” Although the numbers may be encouraging, achieving the goal of limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees will take more than this. As Dave Jones, senior electricity analyst at Ember, mentioned, coal generation still needs to fall by 13% every year this decade. With a fall of only 8% — during a global pandemic, bear in mind — much more needs to be done. Jones:

“Countries across the world are now on the same path – building wind turbines and solar panels to replace electricity from coal and gas-fired power plants… We have the solution, it’s working, it’s just not happening fast enough.”