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Solar & wind are deposing king coal

Andrew Blakers's picture
Professor of Engineering, Australian National university

Andrew Blakers is Professor of Engineering at the Australian National University. He founded the solar PV research group at ANU. In the 1980s and 1990s he was responsible for the design and...

  • Member since 2021
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  • Jan 3, 2023

Worldwide, coal burning for electricity generation is at record levels. The world is at peak coal. Solar & wind will soon cause rapidly declining coal burning.

Australia is a global solar & wind pathfinder and is demonstrating that rapid decarbonization of electricity is straightforward. Australia’s National Electricity Market reached peak coal in 2008. Since then, the coal fraction of electricity production has fallen from 85% to 58%.

In Australia, coal is NOT being replaced by fossil gas, which only generates 7% of electricity.

Coal in Australia is being replaced by accelerating deployment of solar & wind. Solar & wind production rose from nearly zero in 2008 to 9% in 2017 and 26% in 2022. The Government target for 2030 is 75% solar & wind electricity plus 7% from existing hydro and 18% from coal and gas.


In most countries, coal power stations are being retired faster than new coal power stations are being built. Most of the existing coal fleet will grow old and retire before 2050.

In 2021, about 250 Gigawatts (GW) of new solar and wind generation capacity was installed worldwide compared with only 16 GW of net new coal generation capacity. It follows that solar & wind generation will rapidly overtake coal generation.

Renewable energy capacity (green) was installed much faster in 2021 than net new coal capacity (black)


Solar & wind generators comprise three quarters of global net generation capacity additions because they are cheap compared with fossil, nuclear and other renewables.

The market dominance of solar and wind is compelling market-based evidence that they are the most competitive and practical method of deploying new electricity generation capacity today.

Global installed solar capacity grew 500 times larger over the past 20 years. Further growth of another factor of 60 is needed to fully decarbonize the world by mid-century. Historical growth rates of solar are fast enough to achieve this. Solar installed capacity is tracking towards passing the combined capacity of nuclear, hydro, gas and coal in 2031.

Growth in global solar capacity over the past (blue) and projected future (green) decade (various sources).


Australia is generating 3 times more solar energy per person than in the USA. Australia is physically isolated from neighbouring countries and cannot share variable solar & wind electricity across national boundaries. Australia must cope alone with high levels of solar & wind and is finding the task to be more manageable and less expensive than many people anticipated.

Storage is a solved problem. Australian Governments have announced about 15 GW of pumped hydro energy storage to support Australia’s rapid build of solar & wind. This is equivalent to about 200 GW in the USA on a per capita basis.


Jim Stack's picture
Jim Stack on Jan 4, 2023

Thanks you. Great numbers. As you know the key has also been the added Battery Storage that covers the duck curve hours and lower night time needs. Since COAL was a 24/7 power source we now have the new Battery Storage really covers it all. The stopping of COAL burning also helps our fragile water supply. 

Andrew Blakers's picture
Andrew Blakers on Jan 5, 2023

Storage is a solved problem. Australian Governments have announced about 15 GW of pumped hydro energy storage to support Australia’s rapid build of solar & wind. This is equivalent to about 200 GW in the USA on a per capita basis. Batteries are also important for short term storage

Andrew Blakers's picture
Thank Andrew for the Post!
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