Solar and wind generation will soon pass nuclear, hydro

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Our ISES pv magazine column in April showed that the fastest energy change in history is continuing. In 2023, solar and wind together constituted 80% of global net power capacity additions. Growth in power capacity is followed by growth in annual energy generation.

Over the past decade, global solar generation has grown ninefold to reach 1,500 TWh per year while wind generation has tripled to 2300 TWh per year (Figure 1). This corresponds to compound growth rates of 22% and 11% per year respectively. In contrast, hydro, nuclear and coal generation had growth rates of about 1% per year, and gas 3%.

The solar growth rate of 22% per year is equivalent to doubling every 3 years. At this growth rate, solar generation will reach 100,000 TWh per year in 2042 which is enough to fully decarbonize the global economy.

 

Figure 1: Global low-emissions annual electricity generation (Ember, WNA)

Image: Ember, WNA

Nuclear has a global average capacity factor of 74%, followed by coal (50% to 70%), combined cycle gas (40% to 60%), wind (30% to 60%), large hydro (30% to 50%), and solar photovoltaics (12% to 25%).

Despite its relatively low capacity factor, solar generation is tracking to surpass nuclear generation in 2026, wind in 2027, hydro in 2028, gas in 2030 and coal in 2032.

Solar and wind are strongly dominating powerplant construction, whereas construction of all other generation technologies is both small and stagnant. Coal, gas and nuclear could be mostly gone by mid-century once retirements outpace new construction.

The leading countries for per capita solar and wind generation are all in Europe, except Australia (Figure 2). Also shown in Figure 2 is global per capita generation from hydro and nuclear. Combined generation from solar and wind in the leading countries is now fourfold larger than the global average generation from hydro and nuclear combined.


 Figure 2: Solar and wind electricity generation per person (Ember, WNA)

Image: Ember, WNA

Australia is a global pathfinder because, unlike in Europe, it cannot share electricity across national boundaries to reduce the effects of variable weather and demand. Australia must go it alone. Australia is convincingly demonstrating that change can happen quickly with good policies. Over the period 2020 to 2030, fossil generation is falling from 75% to 18%, while solar and wind generation is rising from 19% to 75%.

Brazil and Chile are middle income pathfinder countries, with about 81% and 60% respectively of electricity generation coming from hydro, wind and solar. Pathfinder countries are driven by a desire to reduce both electricity prices and emissions. There are few serious concerns about future grid stability because there will be sufficient investment in storage, transmission, and demand management.

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Authors: Prof. Ricardo Rüther (UFSC), Prof. Andrew Blakers /ANU

Andrew.blakers@anu.edu.au

rruther@gmail.com

ISES, the International Solar Energy Society is a UN-accredited membership NGO founded in 1954 working towards a world with 100% renewable energy for all, used efficiently and wisely.

 

rruther@gmail.com

ISES, the International Solar Energy Society is a UN-accredited membership NGO founded in 1954 working towards a world with 100% renewable energy for all, used efficiently and wisely.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own, and do not necessarily reflect those held by pv magazine.

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