Instead of putting renewables on the back burner and relying on fossil fuel subsidies, governments should directly finance the installation of renewable energy technologies in vulnerable households, says Rana Adib, REN21 Executive Director
Despite the promise of a worldwide green recovery in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, this historic opportunity ‘has been lost’.
REN21’s Renewables 2022 Global Status Report (GSR 2022) sends a clear warning that the global clean energy transition is not happening, making it unlikely that the world will be able to meet critical climate goals this decade.
The second half of 2021 saw the beginning of the biggest energy crisis in modern history, exacerbated by the Russian Federation’s invasion of Ukraine in early 2022 and unprecedented global commodity shock.
"Although many more governments committed to net-zero greenhouse gas emissions in 2021, the reality is that, in response to the energy crisis, most countries have gone back to seeking out new sources of fossil fuels and to burning even more coal, oil and natural gas," said Rana Adib, REN21 Executive Director.
The GSR annually takes stock of renewable energy deployment worldwide.
The 2022 report is the 17th consecutive edition and provides proof of what experts have been warning about: The overall share of renewables in the world’s final energy consumption has stagnated – rising only minimally from 10.6 per cent in 2009 to 11.7 per cent in 2019 – and the global shift of the energy system to renewables is not happening.
In the electricity sector, record additions in renewable power capacity (314.5 gigawatts, up 17 per cent from 2020) and generation (7,793 terawatt-hours) were unable to meet the overall increase in electricity consumption of 6 per cent.
In heating and cooling, the renewable share in final energy consumption increased from 8.9 per cent in 2009 to 11.2 per cent in 2019.
In the transport sector, where the renewable share went from 2.4 per cent in 2009 to 3.7 per cent in 2019, the lack of progress is particularly worrying, as the sector accounts for nearly a third of global energy consumption.
For the first time, the GSR 2022 provides a world map of renewable energy shares by country and highlights progress in some of the leading countries.
RENEWABLES IN MENA
The Middle East and Africa invested $12.8 billion in renewables in 2021, an increase of 19 per cent, and added 5.2 GW in 2021, up 3 per cent for a total of 28 GW.
Morocco and Jordan led the region in terms of renewable share in total final energy consumption in 2021, while Iran, Egypt and Morocco were the leading countries in terms of renewable installed capacity in the region.
Off-grid installations grew rapidly, and rooftop PV outside of any regulatory scheme have progressed quickly in many countries.
In the UAE, construction continued on the Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum Solar Park, consisting of a 600 MW parabolic trough facility (11 hours; 6,600 MWh) and a 100 MW tower facility (15 hours; 1,500 MWh).
These installations, expected to be operational during 2022, would bring the total CSP capacity in the Middle East and North Africa to 1.7 GW.
Meanwhile, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia brought online its first commercial wind power project (0.4 megawatts, MW).
The country has a bold plan to rule the $700-billion hydrogen market.
Both Saudi Arabia and Oman announced they would build hydrogen electrolysis plants relying entirely on renewable electricity.
LACK OF ACTION DESPITE COMMITMENTS
In the lead-up to the UN Climate Change Conference (COP26) in November 2021, a record 135 countries pledged to achieve net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.
However, only 84 of these countries had economy-wide targets for renewable energy, and only 36 had targets for 100 per cent renewables.
For the first time in the history of UN climate summits, the COP26 declaration mentioned the need to reduce coal use, but it failed to call for targeted reductions in either coal or fossil fuels.
The GSR 2022 makes clear that meeting countries’ net-zero pledges will require massive efforts, and that the momentum associated with COVID-19 has passed untapped.
Despite important green recovery measures in many countries, the strong economic rebound in 2021 – with global real gross domestic product (GDP) growing 5.9 per cent – contributed to a 4 per cent rise in final energy consumption, offsetting the growth of renewables. In China alone, final energy consumption rose 36 per cent between 2009 and 2019.
Most of the increase in global energy use in 2021 was met by fossil fuels, resulting in the largest surge in carbon dioxide emissions in history — up more than 2 billion tonnes worldwide.
THREATS TO GLOBAL ECONOMY & CHANCE FOR RENEWABLES
The year 2021 also marked the end of the era of cheap fossil fuels, with the largest spike in energy prices since the 1973 oil crisis.
By the end of the year, gas prices reached around ten times the 2020 levels in Europe and Asia and tripled in the US, leading to a spike in wholesale electricity prices in major markets by the end of 2021.
The Russian invasion of Ukraine deeply aggravated the unfolding energy crisis, causing an unprecedented commodity shockwave that weighed heavily on global economic growth, rattling the more than 136 countries that are reliant on fossil fuel imports.
"The old energy regime is collapsing before our eyes – and with it, the global economy," says Adib.
"Yet crisis response and climate goals must not be in conflict. Renewables are the most affordable and best solution to tackle energy price fluctuations. We must boost the share of renewables and make them a priority of economic and industrial policy. We can’t fight a fire with more fire."
Russian threats to halt critical exports of natural gas and oil, particularly to Europe, have underscored the urgency of transitioning to renewables.
To address the crisis, the European Union and national and local governments have updated clean energy targets and pushed numerous measures to accelerate the energy transition, yet they also continue to resort to old recipes.
Although some countries, such as the UK, have announced new taxes on energy majors, most countries have simultaneously enacted new subsidies on fossil fuels.
The coal, oil and natural gas industries have been the main beneficiary of the energy crisis and governments’ responses, gaining both profits and influence.
The GSR 2022 documents that despite renewed commitments to climate action, governments still opted to provide subsidies for fossil fuel production and use as their first choice to mitigate the effects of the energy crisis.
Between 2018 and 2020, governments spent a whopping $18 trillion – 7 per cent of global GDP – on fossil fuel subsidies, in some cases while reducing support to renewables (as in India).
This trend reveals a worrying gap between ambition and action. It also ignores the many opportunities and benefits from transitioning to a renewable-based economy and society, including the ability to achieve more diversified and inclusive energy governance through localised energy generation and value chains.
Countries with higher shares of renewables in their total energy consumption enjoy greater energy independence and security.
"Instead of putting renewables on the back burner and relying on fossil fuel subsidies to reduce people’s energy bills, governments should directly finance the installation of renewable energy technologies in vulnerable households. In the end, the renewable energy path will come out cheaper, despite the upfront investment," Adib says.