Chart: Coal-fired electricity may have peaked in 2023

The global energy mix is rapidly shifting away from the dirtiest fossil fuel and toward renewables, but the change is not everywhere — or fast enough.
By Maria Virginia Olano

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

The dirtiest source of electricity — coal — may have reached its peak in 2023.

Coal-fired power generation is set to plateau in the coming years as more and more solar and wind surges onto grids around the world, per Rystad Energy.

For decades, coal has made up the bulk of power generation around the world, and it is still the largest source of electricity globally. But it is also the most harmful fuel when it comes to climate change, producing more planet-warming emissions and local pollution than other sources.

Coal-fired power plants produced about 10,373 terawatt-hours (TWh) of electricity worldwide in 2023, according to Rystad. That figure could decline by 41 TWh in 2024 — a small drop, but one that signals the beginning of the renewable energy era in the power market,” according to Carlos Torres Diaz, Rystad Energy senior vice president.

As coal declines, so too will carbon emissions from electricity generation, which today is the largest source of climate pollution worldwide — accounting for about 40 percent of global emissions. That’s in part because as coal-fired power plateaus, a combination of new clean energy policies and plummeting costs have enabled wind and solar to rapidly add carbon-free capacity to the grid. As a result, the total share of fossil fuel generation is forecast to fall below 60 percent this year, and renewables’ share is expected to reach over 30 percent of global electricity generation.

But the shift away from coal is not happening everywhere — or quickly enough. Europe and North America have reduced coal capacity by more than 200 gigawatts since 1990, mostly due to the switch from coal to gas in the U.S. and strict emissions policies in Europe. But Asia has yet to reach peak coal, having added more than 40 GW of coal capacity every year since 2018 — a trend Rystad expects to continue through 2027. China, India and Indonesia are the main drivers of the continent’s coal consumption.

For the world to decarbonize as fast as the climate crisis demands, coal-fired power will have to not just plateau in some regions but rapidly decline everywhere.

Maria Virginia Olano is editorial producer at Canary Media.