The growth of renewable electricity capacity across the world is set to break records again this year and to accelerate in coming years.
A new report from the International Energy Agency (IEA) says 290 gigawatts of power from new wind, solar and hydro will have been added by the end of this year.
The increase of renewables is expected to continue, with capacity from the sector expected to rise 60% from 2020 levels by 2026 to reach 4,800GW. That is equal to the total current output from fossil fuel and nuclear plants.
Renewables are forecast to account for 95% of new power capacity over the next years.
"This year's record renewable electricity additions of 290 gigawatts are yet another sign that a new global energy economy is emerging," said IEA Executive Director Fatih Birol.
"The high commodity and energy prices we are seeing today pose new challenges for the renewable industry, but elevated fossil fuel prices also make renewables even more competitive."
Rising materials costs and energy prices are making new solar panels and wind turbines more expensive but also making renewable sources more competitive with fossil fuel plants.
The growth of renewables is forecast to increase in all regions compared with the 2015-2020 period.
China remains the global leader in the volume of capacity additions: it is expected to reach 1200 GW of total wind and solar capacity in 2026 – four years earlier than its current target of 2030. India is set to come top in terms of the rate of growth, doubling new installations compared with 2015-2020. Deployments in Europe and the United States are also on track to speed up significantly from the previous five years. These four markets together account for 80% of renewable capacity expansion worldwide.
"The growth of renewables in India is outstanding, supporting the government's newly announced goal of reaching 500 GW of renewable power capacity by 2030 and highlighting India’s broader potential to accelerate its clean energy transition," said Dr Birol.
"China continues to demonstrate its clean energy strengths, with the expansion of renewables suggesting the country could well achieve a peak in its CO2 emissions well before 2030."
Solar PV remains the powerhouse of growth in renewable electricity, with its capacity additions forecast to increase by 17% in 2021 to a new record of almost 160 GW. In the same time frame, onshore wind additions are set to be almost one-quarter higher on average than during the 2015-20 period. Total offshore wind capacity is forecast to more than triple by 2026.
The IEA report expects this record growth for renewables to take place despite today’s high commodity and transport prices.
However, should commodity prices remain high through the end of next year, the cost of wind investments would go back up to levels last seen in 2015 and three years of cost reductions for solar PV would be erased.
Despite rising prices limiting growth, global biofuel demand in 2021 is forecast to surpass 2019 levels, rebounding from last year’s huge decline caused by the pandemic. Demand for biofuels is set to grow strongly to 2026, with Asia accounting for almost 30% of new production. India is expected to rise to become the third largest market for ethanol worldwide, behind the United States and Brazil.
Governments can further accelerate the growth of renewables by addressing key barriers, such as permitting and grid integration challenges, social acceptance issues, inconsistent policy approaches, and insufficient remuneration.
High financing costs in the developing world are also a major obstacle. In the report’s accelerated case, which assumes some of these hurdles are overcome, average annual renewable capacity additions are one-quarter higher in the period to 2026 than is forecast in the main case.
However, even this faster deployment would still fall well short of what would be needed in a global pathway to net zero emissions by mid-century.
That would require renewable power capacity additions over the period 2021-26 to average almost double the rate of the report’s main case. It would also mean growth in biofuels demand averaging four times higher than in the main case, and renewable heat demand almost three times higher.