Renewable Energy Growth Continues At A Blistering Pace

This article is the fifth in a series on the BP Statistical Review of World Energy 2020. The Review provides a comprehensive picture of supply and demand for major energy sources on a country-level basis. Previous articles covered overall energy consumptionpetroleum supply and demand, natural gas, and coal.

Today, I want to cover the production and consumption of renewable energy.

Renewable energy continued its blistering growth pace in 2019, globally increasing by 12.2% over 2018. Over the past decade, renewable energy consumption has grown at an average annual rate of 13.7%.

Renewables were the only category of energy that grew globally at double digits over the past decade. For perspective, in 2009 the world consumed 8.2 exajoules of renewable energy. In 2019, that had nearly quadrupled to 29.0 exajoules.

The Review breaks the consumption of renewables into two broad categories. The “Renewables” category consists of wind power, solar power, biofuels. The category “Other” includes geothermal energy and power produced from biomass.

The Review reports “Hydroelectricity” as a separate category. That’s because hydroelectricity represents a mature category of energy production that is growing globally at a much slower rate than modern renewables like solar power. Over the past decade, hydroelectricity consumption grew at an average annual rate of 1.9%.

Globally, hydroelectricity represented 6.4% of the world’s primary energy consumption in 2019. Modern renewables accounted for 5.0% of the world’s primary energy consumption in 2019, but this category will likely surpass hydroelectricity within five years.

The Renewables category is further broken down into Renewable Power, which accounted for 86% of all renewable energy consumption. Within this category, wind (51%) and solar (26%) accounted for most of the consumption. Although wind consumption maintains a healthy lead over solar consumption, solar power consumption is growing at about twice the rate of wind power, and is likely to overtake it as the leading source of renewable power this decade.

China overtook the U.S. as the world’s top consumer of renewable energy in 2018, and continues to extend its lead. Not only does China have the top spot for overall renewable consumption, their growth rate over the past decade vastly exceeds all other members of the Top 10. Cumulatively, the Top 10 consumers accounted for 76% of the world’s renewable energy consumption in 2019.

On the bright side, per capita consumption of renewables in the U.S. is still well ahead of China’s, but if the U.S. growth rate continues to be less than a third of China’s, it’s just a matter of time before they surpass us in that category as well.

This all sounds promising, but it’s also important to keep in mind that overall global energy consumption is growing. Even though global renewable energy consumption has increased by about 21 exajoules in the past decade, overall energy consumption has increased by 101 exajoules. Increased fossil fuel consumption made up most of this growth, with every category of fossil fuels showing increased consumption over the decade.

Thus, while renewables have helped reduce the growth of carbon dioxide emissions, global carbon emissions continue to grow due to the overall growth rate of fossil energy consumption.

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