• Chart: Renewables generated a record 30% of global electricity in 2023
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Clean energy journalism for a cooler tomorrow

Chart: Renewables generated a record 30% of global electricity in 2023

Solar and wind are cleaning up the global power grid — so much so that research firm Ember says global power sector emissions may have peaked last year.
By Eric Wesoff

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For the first year ever, renewable energy sources generated 30 percent of the globe’s electricity in 2023 — driven by a decade of consistent, spectacular growth in solar and wind power.

This surge in clean generation helped slow the growth of fossil fuels by almost two-thirds over the last 10 years, according to energy analysis firm Ember’s Global Electricity Review 2024.” It’s likely that enough clean energy progress has been made that power sector emissions will begin to fall from here, Ember writes.

The power sector is the world’s leading carbon emitter and will have to completely decarbonize by 2035 in major developed countries and by 2045 in the rest of the world in order to meet international emissions targets.

World leaders agreed to triple global renewables capacity by 2030 at the most recent U.N. climate conference, a goal that would see the world reach 60 percent renewable electricity by 2030 and nearly cut power sector emissions in half.

Back in 2000, renewables — almost entirely hydropower — accounted for 19 percent of global electricity generation. But in the decades since, solar and wind have burst onto the scene and gone from virtually zero to almost half of the clean energy total. Meanwhile, growth in hydropower has been stagnant for decades, and a global drought is now causing a five-year low in water-powered electrical generation. If you include nuclear power (which is not renewable), almost 40 percent of global electricity came from low-carbon sources in 2023.

But if the world is to achieve its goal of tripling renewables, it will largely be thanks to solar energy. Solar has been the fastest-growing source of electricity generation for 19 years in a row — despite a global pandemic and trade wars. Solar generation expanded by a stunning 23 percent last year, while fossil generation growth was less than 1 percent.

In the gap between those growth figures, Ember sees evidence that carbon emissions from the power sector reached their peak in 2023 — a milestone that indicates the global energy transition is well underway.

Eric Wesoff is editorial director at Canary Media.