Energy Transition

‘Decarbonization of the power sector is underway’: Power sector emissions may have peaked in 2022 as wind and solar reached record heights

Wind and solar are slowing the rise in power sector emissions.

Wind and solar are slowing the rise in power sector emissions. Image: Unsplash/karsten_wuerth

Cristen Hemingway Jaynes
Environmental Journalist, EcoWatch
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  • The power sector is the biggest source of carbon dioxide emissions, but these may have peaked last year, think tank Ember says.
  • Renewable sources plus nuclear power made up 39% of global energy generation last year, with solar up by almost a quarter on the year.
  • Wind and solar met 80% of last year's increase in worldwide electricity demand, and Ember expects big drops in fossil fuel generation as solar and wind continue to grow.

According to a new report by climate and energy independent think tank Ember, global emissions from the power sector — the biggest source of planet-warming carbon dioxide — may have peaked last year.

In its fourth annual Global Electricity Review, the think tank studied power sector data from 78 countries, which represent 93 percent of global power demand.

“It is the beginning of the end of the fossil fuel age,” said Ember lead author Malgorzata Wiatros-Motyka, as Bloomberg reported.

The report found that wind and solar energy made up a record 12 percent of total global electricity generation in 2022, an increase of two percent from 2021, reported Reuters.

Last year, total energy from all renewable sources and nuclear power combined made up 39 percent of global energy generation, the report concluded. Solar was up 24 percent and wind rose by 17 percent from the year before.

“Clean power growth is likely to exceed electricity demand growth in 2023; this would be the first year for this to happen outside of a recession,” the report from Ember said.

Eighty percent of the increase in worldwide electricity demand was met by wind and solar.

“The decarbonisation of the power sector is underway, as record growth in wind and solar drove the emissions intensity of the world’s electricity to its lowest ever level in 2022. It will be an impressive moment when power sector emissions begin to fall year-on-year, but the world is not there yet, and emissions need to be falling fast,” according to the report.

As high gas prices made fuel more expensive, gas-fired power generation decreased by 0.2 percent last year, while coal generation increased by 1.1 percent.

Power sector carbon emissions went up by 1.3 percent in 2022, but solar and wind growth eased the impact.

“Wind and solar are slowing the rise in power sector emissions. If all the electricity from wind and solar instead came from fossil generation, power sector emissions would have been 20% higher in 2022,” the report said.

Ember predicts fossil fuel generation will decrease by 0.3 percent this year, assuming average growth in demand for electricity and clean energy.

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“That would mean 2022 hit ‘peak’ emissions. A new era of falling power sector emissions is close,” the report said.

The think tank forecasts even bigger drops as solar and wind continue to grow.

The International Energy Agency has said that the power sector must be the first sector to achieve net zero by 2040, as it is the biggest generator of carbon dioxide emissions. To achieve this milestone, wind and solar would have to make up 41 percent of worldwide electricity generation by 2030, Reuters reported.

“2022 will be remembered as a turning point in the world’s transition to clean power. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine made many governments rethink their plans amid spiking fossil fuel prices and security concerns about relying on fossil fuel imports. It also accelerated electrification: more heat pumps, more electric vehicles, more electrolysers. These will drive reductions in emissions for other sectors, and will put more pressure to build clean power more quickly,” the report said.

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