Rising global electricity demand in the first half of 2021 outpaced growth in clean electricity that led to an increase in both coal power and global power emissions beyond pre-pandemic levels, a report from London-based think tank Ember found Wednesday.
The mid-year update to the Global Electricity Review by Ember analyzes electricity data from 63 countries, representing 87% of electricity demand, and compares the first six months of 2021 to the same period of 2019 to show how the electricity transition has changed as the world rebounds from the impacts of the pandemic in 2020.
The report revealed that global power sector emissions rebounded in the first half of this year, increasing from the lows seen in the same period of 2020 so that emissions are now 5% higher than pre-pandemic levels in the first half of 2019.
In early 2020, when the majority of the world was in lockdown electricity demand and carbon emissions were both lower than in 2019 at 3% and 7%, respectively. By the second half of 2020, global carbon emissions returned to pre-pandemic levels as electricity demand rebounded.
Global electricity demand also grew by 5% in the first half of 2021 compared to pre-pandemic levels, of which 57% was met by wind and solar power. However, 43% of the demand growth was met by an increase in emissions-intensive coal power.
Gas was almost unchanged, while hydro and nuclear saw a slight fall. For the first time, wind and solar power generated over a tenth of global electricity and overtook nuclear generation.
'Catapulting emissions in 2021 should send alarm bells across the world,' Dave Jones, Ember's global lead pointed out.
'We are not building back better, we are building back badly. A lightning-fast electricity transition this decade is critical to limit global heating to 1.5 degrees. The electricity transition is happening but not with the urgency required. Emissions are going in the wrong direction,' he warned.
Rising carbon emissions show that the global electricity transition is so far off track that it is putting 1.5 degrees at risk, the report said.
- No country achieves a truly 'green recovery' in the power sector
Despite the fact that many countries pledged to build back better and propel their economies into a new green normal, Ember's report showed that no country has yet achieved a truly green recovery for their power sector with structural changes.
Several countries, including the US, European Union (EU), Japan and Korea achieved lower power sector carbon emissions compared to pre-pandemic levels, with wind and solar replacing coal, but only in the context of suppressed electricity demand growth, the report disclosed.
Clean power generation in the US rose by 3% in the first half of this year while electricity demand rebounded to pre-pandemic levels.
'That meant fossil generation needed fell only slightly. Coal generation was only 7% lower in the first half of 2021 than the same period of 2019 meanwhile gas generation was almost exactly unchanged. That led to a slight fall of 4% in US power sector carbon emissions,' the report found.
In the EU, power sector carbon emissions in the first half of this year were 12% below the first half of 2019 with coal generation falling by 16%.
This was driven by a substantial increase in wind and solar generation making up over 20% of electricity generation in the EU-27, according to the report.
Countries with rising electricity demand also saw higher emissions, as coal generation increased as well as wind and solar.
These countries categorized as 'grey recovery' countries are mostly in Asia, including China, Bangladesh, India, Kazakhstan, Mongolia, Pakistan and Vietnam.
These countries have yet to decouple emissions and electricity demand growth, the report found.
The fastest electricity demand growth was in Mongolia, China and Bangladesh, which all saw coal meet a large amount of this rise.
According to the report, Bangladesh was the only country with no increase in clean electricity.
Vietnam was the only 'grey recovery' country where solar and wind met all of the increase in electricity demand, but power sector carbon emissions still rose 4% because of a switch from gas to coal generation.
'Developing Asia must focus its attention on meeting all demand growth with new zero-carbon electricity as a first initial step of the region’s journey towards 100% clean electricity before mid-century,' Ember’s senior analyst Muyi Yang said.
He recommended that developing Asia leapfrog fossils and move straight to cheap, clean renewables. However, he said this would be contingent on whether the region can further accelerate its inexorable march of clean electricity while at the same time use electricity more efficiently.
By Nuran Erkul Kaya