Coal-powered energy heads for record highs

pollution rising from power station chimineys

Major rebound in global energy demand not being met by renewables, says IEA.

The International Energy Agency (IEA) has identified rapid growth in coal-fired power stations as the likely source of much of the world’s new energy over the next two years. This runs contrary to hopes of tackling climate change that requires a significant replacement of fossil-fuel energy over the next few years.

Renewable energy is expanding quickly but not enough to satisfy a strong rebound in global electricity demand, according to the IEA’s report on the global energy market. As a result, there is a sharp rise underway in the use of coal power that risks pushing carbon dioxide emissions from the electricity sector to record levels next year.

After global electricity demand fell by 1% in 2020 due to the impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic, demand is set to grow by 9% through 2021 and 2022. The majority of this increase in electricity demand is expected to come from the Asia Pacific region, primarily China and India.

Based on current policies and trends, electricity generation from renewables – including hydropower, wind and solar – is on track to grow strongly around the world over the next two years. It should expand by 8% in 2021 and 6% in 2022. But despite strong growth, renewables will only meet around half the projected increase in global electricity demand over those two years.

Almost all of the rest of the increase in energy use will be met by fossil fuel-based electricity. It will meet 45% of all increased demand in 2021 and 40% in 2022. That means carbon emissions from the energy sector will rise by 3.5% in 2021 and by 2.5% in 2022.

Keisuke Sadamori, the IEA director of energy markets and security, said: “Renewable power is growing impressively in many parts of the world, but it still isn’t where it needs to be to put us on a path to reaching net-zero emissions by mid-century. As economies rebound, we’ve seen a surge in electricity generation from fossil fuels. To shift to a sustainable trajectory, we need to massively step up investment in clean energy technologies – especially renewables and energy efficiency.”

The IEA’s own roadmap to net zero by 2050 requires around three-quarters of global emissions reductions between 2020 and 2025 to take place in the electricity sector. That would require coal-fired electricity generation to fall by more than 6% a year, which now looks impossible to achieve as coal power expands to record highs.

You can read the IEA Electricity Market Report in July 2021 here.