• Surge in wind and solar energy output raising possibility renewables may be able to meet the world’s growing demand for electricity
  • The use of fossil fuels for generating power dropped in 2019 for the first time in a decade while overall electricity production climbed.
  • Consumption of fossil fuels such as coal and oil for electricity slipped in the U.S., Europe, Japan and India, while Chinese power plants bucked the trend.

Thanks to surging use of renewable energy sources, power generation worldwide grew last year even while the burning of coal, oil and natural gas for generating electricity declined in most major economies.

The shift may signal the coming to a close of the fossil-fuel era, according to Tomas Kaberger, an energy professor at the Chalmers University of Technology in Sweden, who provided the electricity-generation data to Reuters. The data also showed that renewable power generation increased more than the overall growth in electricity output for the first time, surging 297 terawatt hours, while overall output rose 33 terawatt hours, he said.

“Clean solar and wind power is surging around the world because it’s becoming the most economic power source,” Amanda Levin, a policy analyst at the Natural Resource Defense Council, told Karma. “To address our climate crisis, we need this transition to accelerate, but the trend is now clear: clean energy is winning the day.”

The shift to renewables has been driven by both economics and the efforts of countries trying to meet their commitments under the Paris Agreement on climate change. President Trump announced he was taking the U.S. out of the accord, but renewables continue to grow in the country. Spending on renewables in the U.S. rose 28% to $55.5 billion last year, surpassed only by investments in China, BloombergNEF data show.

China, the world’s biggest electricity generator, was an exception and saw fossil-fuel power increase in 2019, but renewables grew at a faster clip, according to the data Kaberger compiled. Kaberger, who is also the chair of the executive board for Japan’s Renewable Energy Institute and a member of the board at Swedish utility Vattenfall AB, used data from official sources such as the International Energy Agency and the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

The current study is the latest showing the shift to renewables in the electricity generation sector.

Global carbon dioxide emissions plateaued in 2019, as advanced economies switched to renewable power, the IEA said in a Feb. 11 report. While fossil-fuel use increased in the developing world, the decline in richer countries was a counterbalance.

In 2019, EU members produced more electricity from renewable energy sources than from coal for the first time, according to a February report from Agora Energiewende in Berlin and Sandbag in London. Green energy accounted for 35% of EU’s electricity generation last year, while output from coal-fired plants tumbled 24%, driving a 12% decline in the power sector’s carbon emissions.

Renewables are the “cheapest option for electricity generation and that will continue,” Fabian Hein, an analyst at Agora Energiewende, told Karma. “Some Eastern European countries are finally discovering the benefits of renewables as well. The trend of renewables being added to the market will surely continue.”

In the third quarter of 2019, the wind turbines, solar panels and other renewable energy sources produced more electricity in the U.K. than the combined output from power plants using fossil fuels, Carbon Brief said in October. It was the first quarter where renewables outpaced fossil fuels since the U.K.’s first electricity generating plant opened in 1882, according to the website.

The U.S. has also made progress. Electricity generated by renewable sources exceeded that from coal-fired generation for the first time in April 2019, according to the EIA. Renewables will exceed coal on an annual basis by 2021, and surpass natural gas in 2045, the agency said.