World adds record new renewable energy capacity in 2020

The world added more than 260 GW of renewable energy capacity last year, exceeding expansion in 2019 by close to 50%, despite the economic slowdown that resulted from the COVID-19 pandemic, according to data from the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA).

IRENA’s annual Renewable Capacity Statistics 2021 shows that renewable energy’s share of all new generating capacity rose considerably 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. However, hydropower still accounts for the largest share of renewables in the total mix.

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 60 GW in 2020 from 64 GW the previous year.

“These numbers tell a remarkable story of resilience and hope. Despite the challenges and the uncertainty of 2020, renewable energy emerged as a source of undeniable optimism for a better, more equitable, resilient, clean and just future,” said IRENA Director-General Francesco La Camera. “The great reset offered a moment of reflection and chance to align our trajectory with the path to inclusive prosperity, and there are signs we are grasping it.

“Despite the difficult period, as we predicted, 2020 marks the start of the decade of renewables. Costs are falling, clean tech markets are growing and never before have the benefits of the energy transition been so clear. This trend is unstoppable, but as the review of our World Energy Transition Outlook highlights, there is a huge amount to be done. Our 1.5 degree outlook shows significant planned energy investments must be redirected to support the transition if we are to achieve 2050 goals. In this critical decade of action, the international community must look to this trend as a source of inspiration to go further.”

The 10.3% rise in installed capacity represents expansion that beats long-term trends of more modest growth year-on-year. At the end of 2020, global renewable generation capacity amounted to 2,799 GW, with hydropower still accounting for the largest share at 1,211 GW. Solar and wind dominated capacity expansion in 2020 with 127 GW and 111 GW of new installations, respectively.

China and the U.S. were the two outstanding growth markets from 2020. China added 136 GW last year, with the bulk coming from 72 GW of wind and 49 GW of solar. The U.S. installed 29 GW of renewables last year, nearly 80% more than in 2019, including 15 GW of solar and around 14 GW of wind. Africa continued to expand steadily with an increase of 2.6 GW, 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.

Growth in hydropower capacity recovered in 2020, with the commissioning of several large projects that were delayed in 2019. China added 12 GW of capacity, followed by Turkey with 2.5 GW.

IRENA is an intergovernmental agency for the global energy transformation that supports countries in their transition to a sustainable energy future and serves as the principal platform for international co-operation, a center of excellence, and a repository of policy, technology, resource and financial knowledge on renewable energy.

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