Chart: How much clean energy has been added globally since 2017?

Short answer: A lot. Solar has led the growth in renewable capacity around the world — especially in China.
By Eric Wesoff, Maria Virginia Olano

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Three men in street clothes install solar panels on a large outdoor array. Under the picture are the words chart of the week

Canary Media’s chart of the week translates crucial data about the clean energy transition into a visual format.

Renewable energy is being deployed at a fast clip around the globe — especially solar and especially in China. That’s the story behind new capacity figures from IRENA, the International Renewable Energy Agency.

At the end of 2022, global renewable generation capacity amounted to 3,372 gigawatts — although it’s time we start calling it 3.4 terawatts and accept that we’re in the terawatt age.

While hydropower accounts for the largest share of the new global total, solar is the real star of the show. Solar energy from photovoltaic panels has led the world’s renewables capacity expansion, with 192 gigawatts added from 2021 to 2022, a gaudy 22 percent increase.

Global solar capacity now exceeds 1,000 gigawatts, compared to just 100 gigawatts in 2012. It’s an astounding leap and a testament to the power of learning curves on product price and quality. These same learning curves are now working their magic on lithium-ion batteries and might soon apply to electrolyzers for cleaner hydrogen production.

China is leading global solar expansion, followed distantly by the United States, India, Brazil, the Netherlands and Germany, in that order. China deployed nearly half of all renewable energy capacity added in 2022, a jaw-dropping 141 gigawatts of the 295 gigawatts installed globally.

Renewables continue to gain in overall share of total generation capacity, rising from 38.3 percent in 2021 to 40.2 percent in 2022.

The dire, just-released synthesis report from the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change sounds the tocsin for a radical acceleration in the deployment of renewable energy in order to keep the planet from overheating. The global solar and wind industries are demonstrating that this type of acceleration is not only possible but actually starting to happen.

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Eric Wesoff is editorial director at Canary Media.

Maria Virginia Olano is editorial producer at Canary Media.