IEA: 2020 pace of renewable additions the 'new normal'

The International Energy Agency (IEA) reports accelerating growth for renewables capacity as climate targets begin to accumulate

The IEA found 280GW of renewable energy capacity was brought online last year (pic credit: Goldwind)

Electricity generation from renewable sources grew at the fastest pace for 20 years, with huge additions of solar and wind accelerating more quickly than estimated and becoming the ‘new normal’, according to a new report by the International Energy Agency (IEA).

CO2 emissions still rose last year because of a parallel rise in coal use, “underscoring the major policy changes and investments in clean energy needed to meet climate goals”, the agency stated. 

The 280GW of renewable electricity capacity brought online in 2020 represented a 45% rise on the previous year, the IEA’s latest market update finds, but this is set to become routine, with about 270GW of renewable capacity on course to be added in 2021 and almost 280GW in 2022.

Growth in Europe and the US is forecast to accelerate faster than previously thought, while China will have a temporary slowdown after exceptional growth in 2020

IEA forecasts have been revised upwards by more than 25% from previous estimates last November, thanks to governments auctioning record levels of renewable capacity and companies signing power purchase agreements at record levels. 

IEA’s executive director, Fatih Birol, welcomed the record-breaking growth of wind and solar power. “Governments need to build on this promising momentum through policies that encourage greater investment in solar and wind, and in the additional grid infrastructure they will require. A massive expansion of clean electricity is essential to giving the world a chance of achieving its net zero goals,’’ he said. 

Global wind capacity additions last year were 114GW and, despite an expected slowdown in 2021 and 2022, increases will continue to be much larger than growth during the 2017-19 period. Solar PV installations will continue to break records, making solar power the “new king” of global electricity markets, the report finds.

China, which has accounted for around 40% of global renewable capacity growth for several years, grew its share to 50% in 2020 due to a rush to complete projects before government subsidies were phased out. 

Any slowdown in China in the coming years will be compensated for by strong growth in Europe, the US, India and Latin America where government support and falling prices for solar PV and wind continue to drive installations, according to the IEA.

In the US, renewable capacity growth this year and next is mainly spurred by the extension of federal tax credits. The IEA’s forecast does not take into account the administration’s new emissions reduction targets or its infrastructure bill. “If enacted, the bill would drive a much stronger acceleration in the deployment of renewables after 2022,” the report finds. 

In India, where capacity additions halved last year compared with 2019, growth is set to rebound over the next two years, driven by the commissioning of delayed projects. However, there is uncertainty for this year due to the current surge in Covid-19 cases.