IEA: Renewables on Track to Be Largest Source of Global Electricity in Five Years

offshore wind

Renewables are on track to soon displace coal from its role as the largest source of electricity generation worldwide, the International Energy Agency said Tuesday. (Photo: Axel Schmidt/AFP/Getty Images)

The International Energy Agency on Tuesday laid out how clean energy is booming in the face of the coronavirus crisis, revealing that auctioned renewable capacity from January to October was a record-breaking 15% higher than the same period last year.

The Paris-based agency's Renewables 2020 report comes as the oil sector faces plummeting prices amid the Covid-19 pandemic.

Net installed renewable capacity is forecast to grow by nearly 4% globally in 2020, and renewables will account for almost 90% of the increase in total power capacity worldwide, according to the IEA.

Looking further ahead, "total installed wind and solar PV capacity is on course to surpass natural gas in 2023 and coal in 2024," the report says.

Carbon Brief, in its analysis of the agency's report, noted that "wind and solar capacity will double over the next five years globally and exceed that of both gas and coal." The outlet added:

Last year, Carbon Brief analysis of the IEA's data found that it only expected renewables to overtake coal output over the next five years under its more optimistic "accelerated case" scenario.

However, this year—even in its less ambitious "main case" scenario—wind, solar, hydro, and biomass are projected to take the lead within the next five years.

"Renewable power is defying the difficulties caused by the pandemic, showing robust growth while others fuels struggle," IEA executive director Fatih Birol said in a statement.

"The resilience and positive prospects of the sector are clearly reflected by continued strong appetite from investors—and the future looks even brighter with new capacity additions on course to set fresh records this year and next," Birol said.

Birol also pointed to the United States and the impact the incoming Biden administration will have on the direction of energy policy. The IEA chief said that "if the proposed clean electricity policies of the next U.S. administration are implemented, they could lead to a much more rapid deployment of solar PV and wind, contributing to a faster decarbonization of the power sector."

Despite the recent growth in renewables and the IEA's projections, policymakers worldwide don't appear to be prioritizing clean energy in Covid-19 relief measures, even when faced with persistent calls from climate campaigners for a just, green recovery.

As the Guardian's environment editor Damian Carrington noted in his report on the agency's assessment:

Analysis for the Guardian, published on Monday, showed that far more of the coronavirus recovery funds being spent by governments was going to fossil fuels sectors than green projects.

"The natural environment and climate change have not been a core part of the thinking in the bulk of recovery plans," said Jason Eis, the chief executive of Vivid Economics. "In the majority of countries we are not seeing a green recovery coming through at all."

For some climate activists and experts, the IEA report underscored why governments should focus on funding renewables rather than fossil fuels.

Harvard professor Naomi Oreskes—a geologist, science historian, and author recognized globally as a leading voice on anthropogenic climate change—welcomed the IEA report in a tweet Tuesday.

"Today's good news: renewable energy continues to grow," Oreskes said. "Why? Because it's cheaper and better than fossil fuels. And when we eliminated subsidies to fossil fuels, renewables will do even better."

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