Global renewable energy capacity grew by 10.3% in 2020, Irena says

Solar and wind accounted for 91% of additional capacity last year

A Diffuse Energy Hyland 920 small wind turbine system on a farm in Melville, New South Wales, Australia, on Thursday, March 25, 2021. Even as the largest wind companies build ever-bigger turbines to power a shift away from fossil fuels, startups in Australia and the U.K. also see potential in thinking small. Less than a meter (3.3 feet) wide and lighter than a pickup truck tire, the equipment can help replace the use of diesel as a power source, and can also be deployed at isolated locations like remote mines or farms. Photographer: Brendon Thorne/Bloomberg

Global renewable energy capacity rose by 10.3 per cent to 2,799 gigawatts in 2020, according to the International Renewable Energy Agency.

More than 260 gigawatts of capacity were added, a 50 per cent increase compared with 2019, the agency said in a report.

Solar energy made up more than 48 per cent of last year’s renewable capacity additions, accounting for 127 gigawatts.

Solar capacity grew by 22 per cent from the previous year, while wind power capacity grew by 18 per cent to 111 gigawatts.

Collectively, wind and solar accounted for 91 per cent of renewable energy capacity added last year, Irena said.

"Along with the renewed growth of hydropower, this exceptional growth in wind and solar led to the highest annual increase in renewable generating capacity ever seen," the Abu Dhabi-based agency said in its Renewable Capacity Highlights report.

Despite the Covid-19 pandemic, the pace of growth in renewable energy capacity increased last year as governments around the world set targets to reduce carbon emissions.

“Despite the difficult period, as we predicted, 2020 marks the start of the decade of renewables,” said Irena director general Francesco La Camera.

“Costs are falling, clean technology markets are growing and never before have the benefits of the energy transition been so clear. This trend is unstoppable.”

The growing share of renewables is also supported by the decommissioning of fossil fuel-backed power generation in Europe and North America.

The Eurasian region – which includes countries such as Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Russia and Turkey – witnessed the decommissioning of hydrocarbon-based power generation for the first time, Irena said.

Total capacity additions to conventional power generation fell from 64 gigawatts in 2019 to 60 gigawatts last year.

Hydroelectric power capacity grew by 2 per cent last year to 20 gigawatts, while bioenergy capacity also increased by 2 per cent to 2 gigawatts.

Geothermal energy, which uses the earth’s heat to generate power, contributed to 164 megawatts of capacity last year.

Hydroelectric power accounted for the largest share of renewable energy capacity, with 1,211 gigawatts of total volumes at the end of 2020.

China and the US, the world’s two biggest economies, were the best-performing countries in terms of renewable energy growth.

China, the biggest market for renewables, added 136 gigawatts of clean energy capacity in 2020.

Wind power accounted for 72 gigawatts of the country's new capacity while solar power contributed 49 gigawatts.

The US added 29 gigawatts of renewable energy capacity in 2020, an 80 per cent increase from the previous year.

The world’s biggest economy added 15 gigawatts of solar energy capacity and 14 gigawatts of wind capacity.