This article was published by the International Energy Agency on July 21, 2023
Governments around the world should commit to tripling global renewable capacity by 2030 ahead of COP28
Scenes from a world baking in record heat in recent weeks present a grim reminder that limiting the rise in global temperatures to 1.5°C is crucial to avert the worst effects of climate change. Meeting this target demands strong action in the energy sector to drive a major reduction in the world’s greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 – and renewable power technologies such as solar and wind have a critical role to play.
The IEA’s global Roadmap to Net Zero by 2050, first published in May 2021 and to be updated this year ahead of the COP28 Climate Change Conference, sets out an energy sector pathway that would limit global warming to 1.5°C. The pathway makes clear that, in parallel with doubling progress on energy efficiency, massively scaling up a wide range of clean energy technologies this decade is necessary to drive down demand for fossil fuels and reach net zero quickly enough.
Within that portfolio of technologies, the single most important lever to bring about the reduction in carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions needed by 2030 is to triple the global installed capacity of renewable power by the end of the current decade. This has been a key and recurring element in our data and modelling since May 2021. Expanding renewable capacity on this scale would avoid about 7 billion tonnes of CO2 emissions between 2023 and 2030. That would be comparable to eliminating all the current CO2 emissions from China’s power sector.
Impressive progress has already been made, with renewable power capacity additions expected to post their largest absolute increase ever in 2023. And renewables are on track to cover all the growth in global electricity demand over the next two years. To that end, we at the IEA have been strengthening our call for governments worldwide to commit to tripling renewable capacity by 2030 ahead of COP28.
It is encouraging to see COP28 President-Designate Sultan Al Jaber place the renewables goal – alongside the objective of doubling energy efficiency progress – high on the agenda. Now, governments need to step up with clear commitments on these targets.
Swift expansion of renewable capacity can build on strong recent momentum
The world has made huge strides in expanding renewable energy capacity in recent years – with the global energy crisis sparked by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine providing fresh impetus by underscoring the energy security benefits of renewables in addition to their climate credentials.
The amount of renewable power capacity added worldwide rose by almost 13 per cent in 2022. In 2023, it’s expected to jump by a third as growing policy momentum, elevated fossil fuel prices and ongoing energy security concerns drive strong deployment of solar PV and wind power, according to the IEA’s Renewable Energy Market Update published last month. And global electricity generation from renewables could overtake coal as early as next year, depending on weather conditions.
Yet more progress is needed. As the IEA’s Net Zero Roadmap has laid out since 2021, achieving net zero emissions from the energy sector by 2050 rests on the world’s ability to triple renewable energy capacity by 2030.
Expansion at that speed would allow renewable power generation growth to outpace total electricity demand, which is expected to increase strongly in the coming years – supported by the electrification of energy systems, the increasing use of cooling as temperatures climb, and robust demand growth in emerging and developing economies. Tripling renewable capacity by the end of the decade would also lead to unabated coal-fired power generation, the single-largest source of energy-related CO2 emissions, dropping by half between 2022 and 2030.
Solar PV and wind power are the driving forces
Tripling renewable capacity by 2030 is an ambitious yet achievable goal. Annual capacity additions have more than doubled from 2015 to 2022, rising by about 11 per cent per year on average. Just a slightly higher annual growth rate would put renewables on track to meet the 2030 capacity target – though it will require stronger policy actions by governments, notably to ensure resilient technology supply chains, secure and cost-effective system integration of solar PV and wind, and renewables deployment in many more emerging and developing economies.
Solar PV in particular is providing grounds for optimism on the pace of renewable expansion. It is on course to account for two-thirds of this year’s increase in global renewable power capacity and further strong growth is expected in 2024. At the same time, manufacturing capacity for all solar PV production segments is expected to more than double, reaching 1 000 GW a year by 2024, led by China and a growing number of projects in the United States, India and Europe. Based on those trends, the world will have enough solar PV manufacturing capacity in 2030 to meet the level of annual demand envisaged in the IEA’s net zero pathway.
This impressive progress shows what’s possible, but many challenges remain elsewhere. Wind power is set for a strong year in 2023, but further growth next year will depend on whether governments can provide greater policy support to address challenges in terms of permitting and auction design. In contrast to solar PV, wind turbine supply chains are not growing fast enough to match accelerating demand over the medium-term. This is mainly due to rising commodity prices and supply chain challenges, which are reducing the profitability of manufacturers.
Rapid renewables growth is at the centre of a comprehensive Net Zero Roadmap
While it is absolutely critical, the rapid building out of renewable capacity is not the only piece that must fall into place for the world to achieve net zero emissions by 2050.
As mentioned above, a major acceleration in energy efficiency improvement progress globally is the other key pillar of emissions reductions between now and 2030. The IEA’s Global Conference on Energy Efficiency last month rallied 45 governments behind the goal of doubling annual energy efficiency progress from around 2 per cent to over 4 per cent by the end of the decade. Nuclear power will have to expand further worldwide, in part by bringing small modular reactors to market, while overcoming some of its recent difficulties in advanced economies. Electric vehicles need to continue their rapid expansion – especially beyond the major markets of China, Europe and the United States. The availability and use of low-emissions hydrogen and ammonia in power generation would help reduce emissions from coal- and gas-fired power plants.
And the oil and gas industry must show it is serious about tackling climate change, notably by committing to and delivering on a major reduction in greenhouse gas emissions from its operations – which today account for around 15 per cent of total energy-related emissions globally – between now and 2030. The list goes on – and our updated Net Zero Roadmap will shed further light on exactly what is needed to reach net zero by 2050.
Yet progress on efficiency, nuclear power, hydrogen, oil and gas emissions and all the other areas will be insufficient if the world does not triple renewable capacity by 2030. This target is both vital and possible – and governments need to commit to it going into COP28 to keep alive the goal of limiting global warming to 1.5°C.