The adoption of renewables, especially wind and solar, continues grow — though certainly not fast enough. In 2022, solar and wind power accounted for an impressive 12% of electricity generated worldwide. According to Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF) and the International Energy Agency (IEA) in 2023 solar adoption surged above 50 percent. Going forward, the IEA’s Net Zero Scenario (NZS) calls for an anticipated 25% growth rate for solar generation annually through by the end of the decade. To ensure this happens, during COP28 in Dubai, many nations agreed to set a goal of tripling renewable capacities by 2030. While certainly the world faces many challenges to hold to only 1.5 degrees of heating – as lead blogger Michael Buchsbaum relates, the necessary rapid build out of renewables looks like it’s starting to happen.
Growth of solar
In 2010 it took an average of one month to install a gigawatt of solar capacity. By 2015, this pace had quickened to a week. And in 2023, solar growth is now expected to exceed one gigawatt per day.
Illustrative of the pace of adoption, between 2018 and 2022, the annual solar capacity growth averaged 18%. But solar is expected to surge above 50 percent, potentially marking the highest annual increase in a decade, as reported by the IEA and BNEF.
According to BNEF projections, the total new solar installation for 2023 is expected to reach approximately 392 gigawatts.
With another 100-plus gigawatts (GW) of new wind farms coming online this year too, together wind and solar now account for over 80% of the added global capacity.
BNEF also reports that during the first half of 2023, investments in renewables jumped 22% year-on-year to US$358bn, setting a new record for any half-year period.
Today energy from the sun is becoming the leading source of new electricity production globally in terms of both capacity and energy.
2023’s expansion means solar energy will grow from having the capacity to generate an equivalent of 6.2% to about 8% of overall global electricity.
However, given the variability of solar radiation, it’s challenging to forecast the solar share in the electricity mix accurately. Additionally, significant portion of global solar production occurring within residential and commercial properties, where reliable statistics are more elusive, meaning actual totals may be higher.
Globally more than 70 countries have set targets to cut their greenhouse gas pollution to zero, including China, the US, and Europe. But getting there will require a massive and rapid adoption of renewables.
In the same way that scientists discuss climate tipping points, the acceleration of clean energy also have points of no return. A 2022 analysis by BNEF reveals that almost 90 countries have surpassed the tipping point where they draw at least 5 percent of their electricity from wind and solar.
The United States hit 5 percent capacity in 2011 and surged past 20 percent in renewable electricity in 2022. If the country follows the trend set by others at the leading edge, then wind and solar will account for half of U.S. power-generating capacity just 10 years from now. That would be years—or even decades—earlier than other major forecasts.
As more countries have tipped into mass adoption, wind and solar have become the cheapest sources of new electricity capacity worldwide, according to BNEF data.
Throughout this period, costs for solar and wind have declined so much that financing is no longer the biggest obstacle to expansion.
“Now it’s about permitting, interconnecting, central planning around grids,” says Logan Goldie-Scot, head of clean power research at BNEF.
“These processes aren’t always able to keep up with the economics.”
China leads the world
Developed countries and China account for more than 80% of the total investment to date in renewables.
China alone represents a significant portion, contributing 52% of the global investment in clean energy in 2022.
While China leads in volume, solar power in Europe has become a significant part of the electricity system – and adoption is growing.
Since the beginning of 2023, Germany has installed 14.1 GW of new solar capacity, taking the top spot in the European rankings. The runner-up is Spain, with 8.2 GW, followed by Italy (4.8 GW), Poland (4.6 GW), and the Netherlands (4.1 GW).
According to SolarPower Europe, the installed solar capacity in Europe has increased by approximately 120 gigawatts since 2020, indicating that about half of the current capacity in Europe was added in the last three years.
2023 has seen a record 55.9 GW of new solar installations in Europe, a 40% increase over last year, according to the European Market Outlook for Solar Power 2023-2027, published by SolarPower Europe.
This is the third year in a row with an annual growth rate of at least 40%, across the continent the report said. However, the group also warned that solar capacity additions in 2024 may slow down significantly.
The total solar capacity in the European Union (EU) now amounts to 263 GW, according to the SolarPower Europe report.
The 55.9 GW of new solar in 2023 enabled almost 17 million more European homes to be powered by the sun.
Growth almost met the 60 GW target recommended by the IEA in order to offset the phaseout of Russian gas.
However, going forward in 2024, the year-on-year growth rate is expected to be just 11%, translating into 62 GW of new solar power capacity in Europe. But that rate would be the lowest in years.
“Solar has continued to deliver for Europe in crisis with record-breaking installations. Now as solar hits its own turning point, Europe must deliver for solar. We are not yet installing the average 70 GW annually needed to meet our 2030 solar targets. It’s clear policymakers can’t afford to be complacent for the rest of the decade,” said Walburga Hemetsberger, CEO of SolarPower Europe.
However among Asian countries, only India, South Korea, and Vietnam made the top 10 list for renewable capacity additions from 2013 to 2022, with India being the sole country to retain its Top 10 position in 2022.
Large parts of the world, particularly the Global South, as well as emerging and less developed economies, are clearly lagging behind.
Grants and concessional loans accounted for less than 1% of global renewables financing.
COP28’s unreliable promises
Though COP28 participants vowed to triple renewables and reverse deforestation — these promises might be easier to make than to keep.
“COP28 needed to deliver an unambiguous statement about the rapid phase-out of fossil fuels. That would represent a rupture from previous COPs and business as usual – which is what is needed now, given record-breaking global temperature and greenhouse gas emissions. Unfortunately, that did not happen,” said James Dyke, from the Global Systems Institute at the University of Exeter, in a statement.
“While the agreement’s call to transition away from fossil fuels is welcome, it has numerous caveats and loopholes that risk rendering it meaningless when it comes to our efforts to limit warming to well below 2 degrees Celsius,” he added.