The world installed more than 260GW of renewable energy capacity in 2020, an increase from 2019 levels by close to 50%, according to International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA)’s annual Renewable Capacity Statistics 2021.
More than 80% of all new electricity capacity added last year was renewable, states the report.
Despite the COVID-19 pandemic affecting the supply chain of renewables equipment and installations, additions in 2020 have beat earlier estimates and all previous records.
Renewable energy’s share of all new generating capacity rose considerably for the second year in a row, with solar and wind accounting for 91% of new renewables. Solar and wind accounted for 127GW and 111GW of new installations respectively.
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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 60GW in 2020 from 64GW the previous year highlighting a continued downward trend of fossil fuel expansion.
China and the US installed the highest capacity. China, the world’s largest market for renewables added 136GW of which 72GW was wind and 49GW was solar.
The US increased its portfolio of renewables by 80% from 2019 levels by installing 29GW including 15GW of solar and around 14GW of wind.
Africa continued to expand steadily with an increase of 2.6GW, 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.
At the end of 2020, global renewable generation capacity amounted to 2 799GW with hydropower still accounting for the largest share (1 211GW).
Other key study findings:
- Hydropower: Growth in hydro recovered in 2020, with the commissioning of several large projects delayed in 2019. China added 12GW of capacity, followed by Turkey with 2.5W.
- Wind energy: Wind expansion almost doubled in 2020 compared to 2019 (111GW compared to 58GW last year). China added 72GW of new capacity, followed by the United States (14GW). Ten other countries increased wind capacity by more than 1GW in 2020. Offshore wind increased to reach around 5% of total wind capacity in 2020.
- Solar energy: Total solar capacity has now reached about the same level as wind capacity thanks largely to expansion in Asia (78GW) in 2020. Major capacity increases ocured in China (49GW) and Viet Nam (11GW). Japan also added over 5GW and India and Republic of Korea both expanded solar capacity by more than 4GW. The United States added 15GW.
- Bioenergy: Net capacity expansion fell by half in 2020 (2.5GW compared to 6.4GW in 2019). Bioenergy capacity in China expanded by over 2GW. Europe the only other region with significant expansion in 2020, added 1.2GW of bioenergy capacity, similar to 2019.
- Geothermal energy: Very little capacity added in 2020. Turkey increased capacity by 99MW and small expansions occurred in New Zealand, the United States and Italy.
- Off-grid electricity: Off-grid capacity grew by 365MW in 2020 (2%) to reach 10.6GW. Solar expanded by 250MW to reach 4.3GW and hydro remained almost unchanged at about 1.8GW.
IRENA Director-General Francesco La Camera, said: “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.
“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.”
Learn more about the report.