Quantcast
Business

World's Second Largest Source of Electricity Is Now Renewables

It probably surprises nobody to learn that coal produces more of the world’s electricity than any other fuel. But it may provide food for thought to realize that the second most widely-used fuels for power generation are now renewables.

The construction of a vast solar power plant in Germany. Photo credit: Bilfinger SE / Flickr

Electricity generation from renewable sources has overtaken natural gas to become the second largest source of electricity worldwide, the International Energy Agency (IEA) has announced.

In Europe, the main renewables used to generate electricity are wind and solar power. Since 1990, global solar photovoltaic power has been increasing at an average growth rate of 44.6 percent a year and wind at 27.1 percent.

The IEA reports that electricity production last year in the 34 members of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) fell slightly to 10,712 TWh (terawatt hours)—a decrease of 0.8 percent (86 TWh) compared with 2013. To put that in context, 1 TWh is 1 billion kilowatt hours and each KWh takes about 0.36 kilograms of coal to generate.

Partially Offset

This decline, the agency says, was driven by lower fossil fuel and hydro production, which were only partially offset by increases in non-hydro renewables. These grew by 8.5 percent and nuclear energy by 0.9 percent.

In 2014, solar photovoltaic power overtook solid biofuels—used in power plants that burn biomass—to become the second-largest source of non-hydro renewable electricity in OECD countries of Europe, with a share of 17.3 percent.

The IEA says overall growth in electricity generation continues to be driven by non-OECD countries. Its latest statistics, which show world electricity generation increasing by 2.9 percent between 2012 and 2013, reveal two distinct trends.

Electricity generation is leveling off within the OECD, while it is rising strongly in the rest of the world. In 2011, non-OECD countries for the first time produced more electricity than members of the OECD.

Read page 1

Other milestones were reached in 2013, when global non-hydro renewable electricity exceeded oil-fired generation for the first time and renewable electricity overtook natural gas to become the world’s second largest source of electricity, producing 22 percent of the total.

In the same year, electricity generated by coal reached its highest level yet at 9,613 TWh, representing 41.1 percent of global electricity production. The growth in coal generation was driven by non-OECD countries.

Globally, more renewable energy is consumed in the residential, commercial and public services sectors than elsewhere, but there are two distinct patterns of use.

In non-OECD countries, only 22.3 percent of renewables are used for electricity and heat production and 60.7 percent in homes, commercial and public sectors. In OECD countries, more than half of the renewable primary energy supply (58.5 percent) is used for electricity and heat.

Huge Challenge

The IEA’s data will encourage renewable energy’s supporters, but they also show how much the world continues to rely on fossil fuels for its electricity.

In 1971, coal produced about 2 TWh of global electrical power, but that figure is now almost five times higher. Replacing that much generation with clean fuels will be a huge challenge, despite the very rapidly accelerating growth of renewables.

Fatih Birol, the IEA’s director, has said that, without clear direction from the UN climate summit to be held in Paris in December, "the world is set for warming well beyond the 2°C goal,"—the internationally-agreed limit for global temperature rise that is intended to prevent climate change reaching dangerous levels.

The IEA World Energy Outlook 2014 said that, by 2040, the world’s energy supply mix is likely to divide into four almost-equal parts: oil, gas, coal and low-carbon sources.

This scenario, it said, "puts the world on a path consistent with a long-term global average temperature increase of 3.6°C."

YOU MIGHT ALSO LIKE

3 Reasons Why America Is Turning to Renewable Energy

Is Tidal Energy the World’s Next Renewable Powerhouse?

World’s Largest Solar Project and Floating Wind Turbine Signal Global Shift to Renewable Energy

Show Comments ()
Sponsored
Renewable Energy
Storage solutions, such as Tesla's Powerwall domestic battery, are "moving from the grid to the garage to the landing at home." Tesla Motors

Battery Storage Revolution Could 'Sound the Death Knell for Fossil Fuels'

If we want to accelerate the world's renewable energy transition, we'll have to modernize the electric grid and we'll need much better batteries. Just look at Germany, which generates so much clean energy on particularly windy and sunny days that electricity prices are often negative.

Sure this is good news for a German person's wallet, but as the New York Times noted, "Germany's power grid, like most others around the world, has not yet adapted to the increasing amounts of renewable energy being produced."

Keep reading... Show less

The Future of Food: 8 Business Leaders Investing to End Slaughterhouses

From Silicon Valley tech moguls to business executives and entrepreneurs, these people know that the future of food means not slaughtering animals.

Keep reading... Show less

Oil Spill Spreading in East China Sea 'Now the Size of Paris'

By Andy Rowell

There are increasing environmental and health concerns surrounding the oil spill in the East China Sea from the Iranian registered tanker, the Sanchi, which sank on Monday carrying 136,000 tons, or one million barrels, of a highly flammable oil mix called condensate.

The tanker had burned for a week before exploding after colliding with another ship on Jan. 6, with all 32 crew now presumed dead or missing.

Keep reading... Show less

‘Tide Pod Challenge’ Highlights Danger of Colorful Laundry Packets

By Samara Geller

An unbelievably dumb and extremely dangerous dare has gone viral on social media. It's the "Tide Pod Challenge": biting down on the small, colorful—and potentially poisonous—packets of liquid laundry detergent until they burst in your mouth. Children, teens and young adults are posting videos of themselves taking the challenge—with the gagging, spitting and coughing that follows.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored
Popular
Arizona lost out on $27 million of revenue during the 2013 government shutdown, with the Grand Canyon alone amounting for $17 million of it. Anna Irene / Flickr

National Parks, Monuments May Remain Open But Unstaffed if Government Shuts Down

You might want to reconsider your plans if you intend to visit a national park this weekend. While the park might be open, there probably won't be any rangers on site, which could pose a serious risk to safety.

The Trump administration is reportedly planning to keep many national parks and monuments open if the government shuts down on Friday, the Washington Post reported. The move is meant to avoid the public outrage sparked by the closure of parks and memorials during the 2013 shutdown.

Keep reading... Show less
Adventure

Divers Discover World’s Largest Flooded Cave

Diving enthusiasts, could this be your next great adventure?

Archaeologists and divers with Gran Acuífero Maya (GAM)—a project dedicated to the study and preservation of the Yucatan peninsula—claim to have discovered the world's longest underwater cave just outside of Tulum, Mexico.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored
Pexels

3 Reasons to Be Hopeful About Our P​lanet in 2018

By Elizabeth Sturcken

Feeling down about our planet in 2018? Don't!

There are many reasons to be hopeful around environmental action in the new year—and if the following developments don't make you feel better, I've prescribed some action steps at the end that are guaranteed to set you on a healthier, happier path.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored

mail-copy

The best of EcoWatch, right in your inbox. Sign up for our email newsletter!