Chart: The world is building renewable energy faster than ever before

Renewable energy installations jumped nearly 50% last year, the most rapid growth rate in two decades.
By Maria Virginia Olano

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Rows of white wind turbines atop a snowy mountain range. A graphic overlay reads "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 didn’t just grow last year — it expanded at a pace not seen in years.

An estimated 507 gigawatts of renewable electricity were added to grids around the world in 2023 — a new record, and an almost 50 percent year-over-year increase from 2022. That’s the fastest growth rate renewable additions have seen in over two decades.

Solar — both utility-scale and rooftop — is the undisputed leader when it comes to new generation. Over 370 gigawatts of solar power were installed around the world in 2023, equal to about three-quarters of the new renewable energy built last year, according to the latest report by the International Energy Agency.

From a geographic perspective, China continues to far outpace every other country; it built as much new solar capacity last year as the entire world did in 2022. That blistering growth is expected to continue in the years to come, with the European Union and the United States trailing behind as the second- and third-largest growth regions for renewables.

This record-setting growth helped push the global grid to a cleaner mix than ever before. Last year, renewables made up about 30 percent of total electricity generation, up from 25 percent in 2018.

At 14 percent of global electricity production, hydropower is still the largest source of renewable power. Wind is next up, accounting for 7.8 percent, while the fast-growing solar sector accounts for a meager 5.4 percent. But as more renewables come online, that is expected to rapidly change. The IEA projects that solar and wind together are set to overtake hydropower this year, and to surpass coal as the largest source of electricity globally by 2025. By 2028, renewables are expected to account for over 40 percent of global electricity.

Right now, the world is on track to reach about 7,300 gigawatts — or 7.3 terawatts, if you like — of total renewable capacity by 2028, a 75 percent increase over the cumulative 4.1 terawatts in 2023. And yet, despite this astounding growth, that would still fall short of the goal set at COP28 last year of tripling renewables by 2030 — a target that would require total renewable capacity to reach 11,000 gigawatts. 

Correction: This chart originally mislabeled the onshore and offshore wind categories. We regret the error.

Maria Virginia Olano is editorial producer at Canary Media.