Global renewable capacity jumps 9% in 2021 amid green transition push

Clean energy commanded a record share in total power additions last year, Irena says

Wind turbines on a wind farm in Villar de los Navarros, Zaragoza province, Spain. New data released by Irena shows that renewable energy kept growing in 2021 despite global uncertainties. AFP
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Global renewable generation capacity rose 9 per cent to 3,064 gigawatts in 2021, as governments focus on cutting emissions to limit global warming, a report from the International Renewable Energy Agency (Irena) revealed on Monday.

Hydropower accounted for the largest share of the total renewable generation capacity with 1,230 gigawatts, while solar and wind continued to dominate new generating capacity, the report said. Together, both technologies contributed 88 per cent to all new renewable capacity in 2021.

In all, renewables accounted for a record 81 per cent of total capacity expansion last year.

“This continued progress is another testament of renewable energy’s resilience. Its strong performance last year represents more opportunities for countries to reap renewables’ multiple socio-economic benefits,” said Irena director general Francesco La Camera.

Despite the encouraging global trend, the energy transition is far from “being fast or widespread enough to avert the dire consequences of climate change”, he said.

A number of countries are building new renewable energy projects as they aim to become carbon neutral in the coming decades. The US, the world's largest economy, aims to become carbon neutral by 2050, while China, the second-largest economy, plans to reach the net-zero target by 2060.

Sixty per cent of the new capacity in 2021 was added in Asia, resulting in a total of 1.46 terawatts of renewable capacity, the report said. China was the biggest contributor, adding 121 gigawatts to the continent’s new capacity, while Europe and North America took second and third places respectively, with the former adding 39 gigawatts and the latter 38 gigawatts.

Renewable energy capacity also grew about 4 per cent in Africa and 3.3 per cent in Central America and the Caribbean, but the pace in both regions is much slower than the global average, the report said.

“Our current energy crisis also adds to the evidence that the world can no longer rely on fossil fuels to meet its energy demand,” Mr La Camera said.

“Money directed to fossil fuel power plants yields unrewarding results, both for the survival of a nation and the planet. Renewable power should become the norm across the globe. We must mobilise the political will to accelerate the 1.5°C pathway.”

Hydropower growth increased steadily in 2021 with the commissioning of several large projects. Total solar capacity, as well as bioenergy capacity, also increased amid energy transition efforts, Irena said.

Geothermal capacity, on the other hand, posted an "exceptional growth" with 1.6 gigawatts added in 2021. Wind expansion also continued, but at a lower rate compared with 2020, the report said.

Updated: April 11, 2022, 3:27 PM