Global electricity consumption is set to bounce back this year after falling during the Covid-19 pandemic, the International Energy Agency said in a report Thursday, outpacing growth in clean energy and threatening global emissions targets.
Smoke stack of coal power plant
Electricity demand is set to grow by nearly 5% in 2021 and 4% in 2022 after falling 1% last year, the IEA said in its semi-annual Electricity Market Report.
The majority of this growth is expected to come from Asia where coal, one of the dirtiest sources of energy, is still used widely.
Despite impressive strides in renewable energy — which the IEA said is on track to grow by 8% in 2021 and 6% in 2022 — it will only be able to meet half of this projected demand, with the remainder set to be covered by fossil fuels (45%) and nuclear power.
This could hamper global efforts to combat climate change and reduce carbon emissions, the IEA warned, especially given an expected 5% increase in coal-fired electricity generation in 2021.
The carbon emissions for the electricity sector — which have fallen for the past two years — are now on track to reach a record high in 2022, the agency said.
While carbon emissions dropped during the pandemic amid widespread economic shutdown, they swiftly rebounded to pre-pandemic levels this year. The electricity sector is responsible for the vast majority of the world’s emissions, around three-quarters, of which coal is the biggest source. The growing use of coal, and other fossil fuels, undermines global efforts to reach net-zero carbon targets by 2050 and the IEA has previously warned that fossil fuel use must be scaled back drastically in order to limit global warming to safe levels. Global warming tied to carbon emissions is responsible for worsening wildfires across the U.S., power-outage-causing snowstorms, severe drought and water shortages and devastating heatwaves.
“Renewable power is growing impressively in many parts of the world, but it still isn’t where it needs to be to put us on a path to reaching net-zero emissions by mid-century,” Keisuke Sadamori, the IEA Director of Energy Markets and Security, said, stressing the need for greater investment in the technology. Renewables growth has only exceeded demand in 2019 and 2020, years of noticeably diminished demand due to the pandemic.